Southwest Airlines may not be the low-cost carrier they once were, but you can still find plenty of really cheap flights on their website. Orlando is one of the routes from my home of Washington, DC that’s traditionally dirt cheap. It’s not unheard of to see $20 one-way fares between DC and Orlando even at peak travel times. But, Southwest is almost impossible to fly out of Orlando if you have a checked bag. Well, they used to be.
Just to be clear, my checked bag strategy of having the airlines pry my bag out of my cold, dead hands hasn’t changed. However, Orlando always involves two things for me, kids and souvenirs. That can sometimes make checking a bag a necessity.
Our most recent trip to Disney World wasn’t much different from previous Southwest flights. After dealing with unbelievably predatory pricing for a few gallons of gas, we were showing up to the airport just over 2 hours prior to our flight to check a bag.
Even though we’re frequent visitors to Disney World I was still surprised by the line to check bags outside. I asked Michelle to stand in line outside with the bags and kids while I checked what the line inside looked like.
Hard to believe, but the line inside was worse. I asked people near the front of each line how long they had been waiting. Folks outside said almost 90 minutes while the people near the front of the inside said it had been closer to 2 hours. There was an outside chance that we could still make our flight if we waited 90 minutes to check our bags. However, considering my disastrous afternoon at Disney World the day before (nothing like having a crowd watch you get violently ill in front of Tomorrowland Speedway) I didn’t have near enough energy to stand in a line for 90 minutes and then make a run for the gate. Heck, I wasn’t even really confident we could make it.
The moral of the story that day was that I got in the much shorter Business Select line to purchase upgrade so we could check our bags in time. An unbelievable Southwest employee took pity on me (I must have looked pretty horrible) and checked our bags without charging me for the upgrade.
Change For The Better
Fast forward to our Disney World trip last month. The airport is dealing with some construction. Part of that construction is the renovation of the ticket counters. Boy, is Southwest taking advantage of the renovation! I was in the airport in the evening waiting to pick my family up. I had flown down a few days earlier for a business trip. It was easy to notice the drastic changes to the Southwest check-in area.
There are now dozens of kiosks where customers can self-tag their bags! It was late at night and there weren’t that many passengers milling around. Would the check-in kiosks be enough to stem the flow of a real crowd? I asked a few employees standing around what they thought. They said that they hadn’t seen lines longer than 20 or 30 minutes to use a kiosk. Further, most days they said there was barely a line.
The true test of their statements would be on our return flight a few days later. We showed up around the same time of morning as our previous trip. I wasn’t expecting long lines, but I was expecting some sort of line. Nope. We walked right up to a kiosk and tagged our bags. The whole process took less than 5 minutes.
The Final Two Pennies
We have yet to see the new setup during spring break, where Orlando airport represents a slow motion version of the bulls at Pamplona. But, I’m pretty confident the days of 2-hour waits at Orlando to check a bag are a fading memory. The airport still has some work to do on wrestling down long security lines. Until they solve that, Clear or TSA Pre-Check can magically turn the busy airport into an easy trek with Southwest’s new bag check area.
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