Southwest Takes Me to Crankyfest Tahoe (Trip Report)

Every Fall, we put together a gathering for employees so we can get together, talk shop, and have a little fun. We call it Crankyfest (not to be confused with Dorkfest). Since we all work remotely, it’s important to meet up once in awhile. This year, the 11 of us (one couldn’t make it) settled on Lake Tahoe thanks to a good package from a hotel and strangely plentiful availability using miles to get everyone up there.

[On an unrelated note, if this sounds like fun, we’re hiring again! We need someone to help with award travel in the late afternoon Pacific Time. if you are interested or know someone who might be.)]

Spouses are welcome, so it was the obvious plan for me to use my companion pass and fly up from Long Beach to Sacramento on Southwest. (Yes, Reno is closer, but it only saves an hour on the drive, and the nonstop there from Long Beach on JetBlue is in the afternoon. Not worth it.) I used 2,330 points flying up for me. On the way home, my wife came back earlier on JetBlue from Reno, and I bought my ticket for 4,004 points home.

We checked in the day before and got numbers A41 and A47. (Since I have the companion pass, my wife is on a separate reservation.) As usual, we left the house just about an hour before departure time, but we found this surprise when we arrived:

Holy cow, that was quite the long security line for Long Beach. I glanced at the departure board and quickly figured out the reason: there are now 7 flights leaving between 640a and 719a (Phoenix, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, Vegas, Sacramento, and Salt Lake). The Pre Check line was much shorter, but it still took us about 5 to 10 minutes to get through.

On the other side, the place was humming. It’s nice to see some action at our little airport. We took a seat and waited for boarding. That didn’t take long, and we were soon marching out past the Southwest fleet.

October 14, 2017
Southwest 2121 Lv Long Beach 705a Arr Sacramento 825a
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 1, Runway 30, Depart 1m Late
Sacramento (SMF): Gate B20, Runway 34R, Arrive 2m Early
N266WN, Boeing 737-7H4, Canyon Blue “Colleen Barrett” colors, ~95% Full
Seat 10F, Coach
Flight Time 59m

Upon boarding, I was surprised to see that this early Saturday flight was pretty full. I didn’t quite realize it until the flight attendant made an announcement that two young siblings needed to sit together. Someone immediately volunteered to move, and he was rewarded with free drinks.

We had a wise guy helming the mic, something I generally frown upon on those early morning flights. But he wasn’t overdoing it, and it was somewhat endearing.

He started with “Good morning” as you usually hear on a morning flight. But then he paused and said more emphatically “I said, Good MORNING!” The crowd responded this time. Then he said “I know you’re awake, because you had to walk on to the airplane.” He then continued, “Welcome to Southwest flight 2121 with service to Aruba.” The crowd cheered. He didn’t take it much further than that. It was a good way to set the mood without being annoying.

We were airborne soon after, and the sunlight reflecting on the early morning haze/smoke made for a beautiful setting.

We made our way west and then turned north just past LAX. As soon as I heard the ding, I was on a mission. I would generally never pay for wifi on a flight this short, and never on Southwest since it’s been so unusable. But I’d been told that Global Eagle had given Southwest a lot more bandwidth starting in July. I had to see for myself. Sure enough, it was working nicely for the first time I can remember.

There was some light chop much of the way up, and the winds in Sacramento were howling. In fact, the pilots had the flight attendants clean up early since they expected a rough ride, but they were wrong. It was actually very smooth all the way down. Go figure.

We landed and waited a couple minutes for our gate to open before heading out past the scary bunny. (I mean, have you seen that thing?! It looks like it’s going to eat you.) We grabbed one other person from the team and drove up the mountain.

We had a really productive and fun week up there. The biggest problem? Our hotel, , had really bad wifi. I mean, it was bad enough that they had a couple of portable cellular hotspots on hand for guests. (Even those weren’t fast. Most of us just used our own phone data plans to get something that functioned.) For that reason alone, it wasn’t a great place to have a meeting. But we powered through.

By Thursday, I was ready to head home. We came down the mountain early and met up with one of our small business clients who lives in Sacramento. Then we scattered for our flights home.

I find it strange that you take the train from the ticketing area out to the concourse but you don’t go through security until after the train lets you off. The Pre Check line was a lot longer than the regular one, but I didn’t feel like taking my shoes off and all that so I just waited. It took less than 10 minutes.

Over at the gate, I only had to wait a bit before our airplane arrived. I had pass B16 and figured that would get me a window seat somewhere. I hopped onboard to find out.

October 19, 2017
Southwest 564 Lv Sacramento 145p Arr Long Beach 310p
Sacramento (SMF): Gate B14, Runway 16L, Depart 4m Late
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 2, Runway 30, Arrive 7m Late
N246LV, Boeing 737-7H4, Canyon Blue colors, 100% Full
Seat 4A, Coach
Flight Time 1h1m

Sure enough, seat 4A was open so I took it. It was warm onboard, and I was hoping to just get moving so we’d cool down. I was surprised to find the flight was completely full. (Interestingly, one of the other guys on the team flew Southwest down to LAX at the same time and had empty seats on his.)

As usual, people kept wandering toward the back despite the flight attendants announcing that there were no more empties back there. A petite woman came back and took the middle in front of me. Then a giant guy took the middle in our row. Drat.

I squeezed up against the window and just hoped for a quick ride. As uncomfortable as I was, the guy next to me looked to be in a million times worse shape. I felt bad for him. We pushed back a couple minutes late and headed to the runway. The Central Valley is just not what people think of when they hear “California.” This photo looks like it could have been taken anywhere in the Midwest.

It was a windy day as an approaching front drew near, but that just meant we rocketed up into the sky and were quickly above the low layer of clouds.

I had opened up that week’s issue of on my phone and read it the entire way down. No need for wifi on that flight. I had some water and started to cool down a bit when the pilots came on. We were coming down the spine of the Sierras and they were pleased to tell us we had a spectacular view of Yosemite on the left. A photo never does it justice, but I’ll try anyway. There was still a fair bit of smoke from nearby fires, but you can make Half Dome out in that photo.

We started descending and passed over Malibu and then went “feet wet” over the Pacific as we made our way south. It was very hazy so the views weren’t great. We looped around past Catalina Island and landed. After a quick taxi, I was on my way out.

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