Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Southwest Long Beach Inaugural


See my video of the arrival and departure.

March this year, Southwest announced that they were starting service to Long Beach (LGB) on June 5th.  My good friend and fellow photographer Rick suggested us taking the inaugural flight.  Southwest had received four slots at the noise-sensitive, capacity-controlled airport and the airline decided to use all four slots for service to Oakland (OAK).  This further solidifies SWA’s position as the dominant airline in California, flying to all five Los Angeles area airports (LAX, BUR, ONT, SNA, LGB) – 10 cities in total in California with 160 daily intrastate flights and 19 unique city-pairs.  



Our good friend Mike the “LGB Guy”, would be joining us on the inaugural departure from LGB back to OAK, so it would be a fun time with old friends. I have never been on a Southwest inaugural flight before so that would be interesting for me as well. 

Rick had acquired LGB t-shirts for us and we were a big hit!  Everyone wanted to know where we got them (zazzle.com).  

We looked really (Av) geeky together!


We arrived at OAK shortly before 7 am, plenty of time ahead of our 8:30 am departure. Although the security line was short, it still took me about 10 minutes to get through due to slow people in front of me. We wanted to get to the gate early in case there was an event going on. 

Balloons decorated Gate 25 and LGB photos were being put up when we got there. Rick introduced me to our Captain, Cindee Goes, who specifically chose to fly this flight today. Meanwhile, the gate agent overheard our conversation and proactively printed me hard copies of my boarding passes on hard paper stock. What great service!




Starbucks coffee and Heart LGB cookies were put out for all to enjoy. Gate agents made multiple announcements about the significance of this flight and invited everyone to enjoy the coffee and cookies. 







Even though this flight did not have the same “bang” as other inaugurals I have experienced, a lot of enthusiasts did show up to celebrate.  There was a good amount of AvGeek talk accompanied by much camera clicking. 



About one hour before our departure, aircraft N235WN arrived at from Columbus. This old “Spirit” colors -700 would be flying our inaugural today. Everyone was disappointed that it was not a special colors aircraft (California One would have been appropriate) or a new colors aircraft. 



Before queuing up, off duty flight attendants were passing out goodie bags filled with a postcard, a pen, and 100 Grand and Payday candy bars promoting their union. People behind the profits the bag proclaimed. [See this tweet and this followup tweet.]

While boarding, we were given yellow Long Beach Airport sunglasses. They were cheapy plastic sunglasses but it was fun!  Everyone got into the spirit and wore them:  from our Captain to the flight attendants to the wing walkers.  



Flight:  WN 972, Oakland (OAK) – Long Beach (LGB)
Aircraft:  Boeing 737-7H4
Registration:  N235WN (old colors)
msn/ln:  34630/1916
Delivered:  April 2006 (age 10.2 years)
Scheduled Departure – Arrival:  8:35 am – 10:00 am 
Actual Departure – Arrival:  8:35 am – 9:51 am
Takeoff Runway 30 OAK:  8:42 am
Landing Runway 30 LGB:  9:47 am
Flight Duration:  1:05

Flightaware Tracking Map


Once on board, we picked a seat near the front. We were anticipating an event at LGB so we wanted to be able to get off early to take part. 

Capt Goes made her pre-departure announcement in person. What class!  



She told us that she specifically chose this flight today because Long Beach is special for her.  She took her first flight from Long Beach in a Catalina Airlines seaplane and that experience inspired her to become a pilot. She reminisced flying all over Southern California while taking her flying lessons. She gave shoutouts to her family on board as well as to me and Rick as part of the cadre of enthusiasts flying today.  That put a big smile on my face.  So awesome!

We made our taxi to Runway 30 and departed without delay.  




With massive condensation over the wings, the ground quickly disappeared as we broke through the typical June overcast.  With a sharp turn left, we made our way south to LGB.




Sutro Tower (1811 feet above sea level) in San Francisco was peeking out over the clouds.  



Service on this short intrastate flight consisted of beverage with peanuts and pretzels.  Off duty flight attendants helped out in the service along with a little promotion for the SWA Flight Attendant’s Union.




Meanwhile, our lead flight attendant got on the PA and led a guessing game: first person that rings the call button and answers the question correctly wins a prize.  

First question – when is Southwest’s birthday?  (Answer: June 18, 1971)

Second question – which international city does Southwest fly nonstop from LAX?  (Answer:  Liberia, Costa Rica).  The winner received bag of pretzels (as in the big bag designed to serve the entire airplane).  

Third question – what is Southwest’s “last” aircraft type.  He was looking for 737 Max but since the question was poorly worded, it caused confusion and we replayed the question.  The winner received an adult beverage.  



Fun and games now over, Capt Goes announced our descent and destination weather: cloudy and 68°F. Our lead flight attendant announced, “the exciting moment has come – the descent to Long Beach!”  

We made a turn east over Catalina Island (with a small clearing over Airport in the Sky) and touched down on Runway 30 at LGB to the applause of everyone on board.  “You just helped Southwest Airlines make history!”




As we taxied up to Gate 1, I was surprised to see a stage right on the ramp along with a large number of people awaiting us.  I was very happy to see that we would be walking outside and there would be a celebration of our arrival.  At first I thought we were special to walk out on the ramp, but as it turned out LGB does not use jetbridges.  




Walking out on the ramp make flights like this so special.  Enthusiasts and ordinary fliers alike took photos while wearing their yellow Long Beach Airport sunglasses. Employees on the ground welcomed our arrival.  



Captain Goes unfurled a California state flag out the cockpit window and posed for photos.  



This energy and aura of excitement is exactly the reason why I love these inaugural flights!  I lingered as long as I could as I walked into the terminal, savoring every moment.



Inside Gate 1, the area was quite crowded between the SWA event and a Delta flight boarding next door.  As it turned out, it was Delta’s first day flying an upgauged aircraft to LGB – appropriately with the Boeing 717-200, the aircraft’s production home!  





We met up with Mike and the rest of our gang – long time friends Mark and Doug – and new member Justin – and waited for the inaugural departure from LGB.  Mr. LGB Guy was not all too pleased with me and Rick showing up with LGB shirts and not bringing him one!



At the gate area, off duty flight attendants were handing out cookies and goodie bags, once again promoting the Flight Attendant’s Union.




Once again during boarding, passenger were given the now-trendy yellow Long Beach Airport sunglasses as well as a small California state flag.  Of course, everyone had to get their photos taken.



Though the frenzied boarding, I didn’t notice both forward and rear doors were being used.  I had to swim upstream to get to my friends seated near the back of the aircraft.  




Once again, Capt Goes introduced herself in the cabin, explaining why LGB is so special for her.  



Shortly before the door closed, the company photographer took a photo of the cabin, with everyone in their yellow glasses.  

Photo:  Southwest Airlines (original link)


Flight:  WN 1853, Long Beach (LGB) – Oakland (OAK)
Aircraft:  N235WN (same aircraft as the outbound flight)
Schedule Departure – Arrival:  10:30 am – 11:50 am
Actual Departure – Arrival:  10:31 am – 11:46 am
Takeoff LGB Runway 30:  10:44 am
Landing OAK Runway 30:  11:41 am
Flight Duration:  0:57

Flightaware Tracking Map


After waving goodbye at the crowd at the inaugural event, we taxied past the Gulfstream Service Center (with a hot Korean Air Gulfstream 650) and soon held short of Runway 30.  

Watchout Jetblue...Southwest is now in town!




Capt Goes explained LGB is a busy airport and we had to hold for traffic. After about five minutes, we took to the runway, past the many spotters photographing our departure, and made Southwest’s first departure from Long Beach.  Minutes later, clouds cleared below us which gave us a beautiful view as we made our way north.




Service on the return was identical to previous flight:  drink, peanuts, and pretzels.  



Though the lead flight attendant did note we weren’t as spirited as passengers on the flight down.  Finally, he drummed up some cheer as he led the questions game.  Same prizes as before: big bag of pretzels, adult beverages.  



Only the second “city” question was different:  what new cities is Southwest launching from OAK today?  (Answer:  LGB, RNO, STL and BWI). 

The short flight gave us very little time to socialize.




We started our descent just southeast of San Jose.  Lick Observatory atop Mt Hamilton (elevation 4216 feet) is visible here.



San Antonio Reservoir



Turning west over Niles Canyon and north again over Fremont, I had my eyes glued to the window taking in the sights of the East Bay.  Not being a normal flyer to OAK (in the middle of the day at that), I was thoroughly enjoying the view that I was only familiar with from the ground.  

Fremont and Milpitas.  The white cluster of buildings next to the railroad tracks (below and to the left of the winglet) is the Tesla (former NUMMI) Factory.



Pink salt evaporation ponds in San Francisco Bay; Fremont, Newark and approach to the Dumbarton Bridge.



Wetlands on the eastern approach to the San Mateo Bridge.



Soon, we were skirting the bay waters and touched down on Runway 30, less than one hour after departing from LGB.  “You made history today,” announced the lead flight attendant on the PA.  

Downtown San Francisco as we turned off Runway 30 at OAK.



Eastern 737-800, a NBA Finals charter.



Back to OAK – home of Southwest in the Bay Area!



Five minutes later, we parked at Gate 25, the same gate we departed from three hours prior.

Before deplaning, I asked Capt Goes for an autograph and a photo and thanked her for making this day so special and memorable. With FO Joseph Pankey.

Photo:  Michael Carter

At the gate, Rick and I couldn’t resist for another parting shot.



All the while, someone was waiting for us – not for the captain but us.  He wanted a photo with us wearing our LGB shirts.  Too funny!  Talk about a brief moment of celebrity!