On Saturday, October 4, 2014, we were scheduled to fly out of OMA at 4:20 PM, through LAS, into SNA. We sadly departed our visiting with family in Elgin, Nebraska at 10:10 AM that morning in order to make our flight. I had forgotten my camera’s charger at my aunt’s house, so we wanted to swing by and pick that up on the way to the airport (a 30 minute detour). While Tony drove the 3 hours into Omaha from the country, I checked our flights online (thanks to Smartphone technology), and I discovered the flight was delayed from OMA to LAS. We continued onward and upon arriving into Omaha, discovered the flight was even more delayed.
I called Southwest customer service to clarify what was going on, and was informed that there was a “ground stop” in LAS. She said our flight from LAS to SNA was on time, however, our flight from OMA to LAS would be arriving into LAS too late to make the connection. Basically, our connecting flight would be taking off while the flight we were on was over Colorado.
She presented us with an alternative to depart the next morning, Sunday, October 5, 2014, at 8:15 AM (OMA-PHX-SNA). We took the last 4 seats available on this route, as all other flights that day were sold out. This left us with no option but to stay the night in Omaha and, as such, we needed to extend our rental car reservation for an additional charge.
The customer service rep also indicated that when we checked in at the airport to note to the gate agent that we would be eligible for pre-boarding due to the inconveniences we had experienced. Particularly, since two of the people in our party of 4 had purchased Early Bird Check-in, which given the lateness of the flight change was a moot point (putting us in the “C” boarding group). Additionally, remember, we were on a full flight and got the last 4 seats.
The next morning, I spoke to the supervisor at Gate 18 about issuing us pre-boarding passes, and he refused to do so. Since he was unwilling to honor the promised pre-boarding, we requested, as an alternative to pre-boarding, that he change our tickets to Business Select. He said we would need to pay $40 per ticket. The only concession he made was to refund the Early Bird fee that we had paid. Despite explaining our situation, and knowing that our flight from OMA to PHX was sold out and would be a full flight (meaning 30+ people in front of us), and pointing out that in PHX we would only have 35 minutes to make our connection, and less time than that if our flight from OMA left late (which it did indeed end up departing late). Upon arriving in PHX, and waiting for the 30+ people in front of us to deplane, our connecting flight was already boarding… and actually ended up departing early! We easily could have been stuck in an airport again! It is shocking to me that, given all the extraneous variables explained to him, that he absolutely refused to accommodate us in any way, and didn’t seem to care at all whether we made our connection in PHX.
Also, contrary to what I was told on the phone from Customer Service Rep, about the reason we had to reschedule our flight (she said that it was due to a ground stop in LAS), the supervisor at the gate in Omaha informed us that the delay out of OMA the previous evening was due to the Chicago fiasco from the previous week… I’m not sure which story was true, but it seems to me that there was ample room for Southwest to be more accommodating, helpful, and plan better.
Finally, as if it were a grand finale to Southwest’s incompetence, after we made our connection in PHX and settled in our seats to head to SNA, I began to nurse William who was coming down with a cold (ear issues). If a child is coming down with a cold, their sinuses and ears are more sensitive to elevation changing, and breastfeeding can help alleviate that, as well as provide comfort. I was asked twice by the male flight attendant on that flight to cease breastfeeding and buckle my son into his seat during takeoff and landing. All three of the female flight attendants on that flight walked past us, noticed and said nothing, but he felt it necessary to say something twice? In retrospect, he had taken a special interest in William, commenting on how big is is, and then to note that we were breastfeeding on top of it, kind of left me feeling as if I had been singled out by him.
In all the previous flights that I’ve flown with Southwest, or any other airline, I have never been asked to stop breastfeeding my son while taking off or landing. Before flying, I always check the airline’s policy concerning traveling with children, with breastmilk, with nursing, etc., and the only thing that Southwest’s website states about breastfeeding is the following, “Southwest welcomes nursing mothers who wish to breastfeed on the aircraft and/or within our facilities.” Perhaps Southwest is intentionally leaving its breastfeeding policy vague so that it can be interpreted liberally by its flight crew, or perhaps Southwest thinks that by keeping its policy vague they are helping nursing moms. Obviously, my situation demonstrates otherwise.
As a nursing mom, it is difficult to “follow the rules” if I don’t know in advance exactly what the rules are. For instance, I would NEVER have latched my son, who had been through the wringer this past week with travel fiascos, prior to take off, if I had known that I would be asked to stop nursing him for take off. Generally speaking, one doesn’t just “stop nursing” once you’ve just started and your child has gotten a letdown. My son was on his last bit of sanity and had been in meltdown mode because, among other things, we had turned off the movie he was watching when we were landing on the previous flight (and I nursed him to calm him down while landing without comment from the flight crew, by the way) and had to unlatch him, much to his displeasure, to make our extremely tight connection and promised he could continue nursing once we got on our next plane, because I didn’t know there would be a problem with it.
If there is a difference that a child under 2 (lap child) may nurse upon take off and landing, but a child over 2 (or a child who has their own seat) must be in their own seat during take off and landing (no nursing), then the airline’s policy should state that explicitly. I have always chosen to fly Southwest in the past for many reasons, one being that I’ve always believed them to be a family and breastfeeding friendly airline.
Either way, as a breastfeeding mom, I strongly suggest that Southwest educate all its employees and flight attendants about Southwest’s breastfeeding policy, as it is stated on the website. If the breastfeeding policy on Southwest’s website needs to be clarified, then I strongly suggest it be done immediately.
I mailed two letters last week, one addressing our outbound flight issues and the other addressing our return flight issues. As I stated previously, there were so many ways that Southwest could have made these situations OK, and they failed on every single one of them.
It’s a good thing I don’t have anxiety attacks about traveling anymore, because I would be a serious wreck after all this mess.