The 10th Circle of Hell is Southwest Airlines

Posted on
Mar 8, 2017

Pictured: Rand, the best person on this plane. Also pictured: Dude in headphones who screamed when people got too close to him.

I have this terrible habit of assuming that most people are generally good, contributing members of society, and not bat-shit barely-functioning assholes. Every now and then we may deviate from this norm (I once woke up angry with Rand because he’d done something to piss me off in a dream) but for the most part we adhere to a social contract that requires us to at least pretend that we’re simply scratching our nose when we are actually digging around for boogers.

And while I have seen all manner of weird things while on the road, I can safely say that nothing compares to what I saw on the Southwest flight that Rand and I took from Albuquerque to San Diego.

Generally, I don’t fly Southwest because I don’t hate myself. I fly Alaska Airlines, and the delta (ha!) between the two airlines is the same one that exists between Donald Trump and Obama: on some level, these two things are fundamentally the same (men who have held the office of president; commercial airlines) – but seriously, fuck no. No way. These things are not the same. One will get you where you need to go and the other is probably going to get us all killed OH GOD HOW DID THIS HAPPEN.


Anyway, Alaska’s big flaw is that they don’t really operate anywhere but the Pacific Northwest. Outside of the west coast, everyone assumes flying Alaska Air means you are from Alaska. They inevitably start asking questions, and I’m too embarrassed to admit I’m from Seattle so I just say things like “YES PENGUIN MEAT IS DELICIOUS”.

For those of you who are itching to point out that there are no penguins in Alaska: that is not the biggest problem you should have with that sentence.


Southwest does not have assigned seating. I mean, I’ve been to movie theaters that have assigned seating. It the cornerstone of any functioning society. It is what separates us from the Italians. Remove it, and people start strangling one another for free t-shirts. I’ve seen it.

Instead, Southwest is a fucking free-for-all. First come, first served. And that is where I think the root of all appalling behavior on Southwest flights originates.

Rand paid extra to have us board in an early group, because Southwest isn’t going to let its running-of-the-bulls-but-with-children-and-old-people-and-carry-ons seating structure stop them from having a social hierarchy.

I should note that the crew was actually lovely. But they are still part of this evil empire so I blame them, too. Sometimes the devil brings you ginger ale.

We boarded, and the crew announced that there was plenty of room on this flight, which meant that everyone became Gollum, screaming “MY PRECIOUS” while lying across an entire row. I’ve seen this tactic before.

Other people go the more passive aggressive route: they wear paper masks over their faces, despite showing no discernible signs of illness, to frighten away hypochondriacs.

Or they just act like assholes, which seemed to be the school of thought that most of the people on this flight adhered to.

We boarded, and as Rand was graciously putting my carry-on in the overhead, I guess he took a second too long to do it, because some woman passed him and said haughtily, “Uh, they check bags for free.”

OH SHIT, REALLY, LADY? THEY DO? Sorry I’m not fucking up to speed on Southwest’s amenities, but since they can’t even get seating right DO YOU REALLY THINK I’M GOING TO CHECK MY BAG SO THEY CAN SEND IT TO A DUMPSTER ON WHICH SOMEONE HAS HASTILY SPRAY-PAINTED THE LETTERS “SFO”?

I wanted to hurl myself at her like a cat thrown from a car. Instead, I restrained myself. For that, I deserved a cookie, which, like social contracts, is something else that Southwest does not have.

The problem with Rand is that when there is a fight for limited resources he is not strategic at all. He will absolutely not push over an octogenarian for a free sandwich, and that is why he will never get ahead in life or on a Southwest flight.

(Sorry. I don’t actually believe this. It’s the airline talking.)

Rand pointed to aisle and middle seat that were free, but taking a middle seat on a non-full Southwest Airlines flight is basically asking to get shivved.

By the time I realized that wasn’t going to work, the nearest seat available to me was an aisle seat a few rows back. There was a woman already in this row, seated by the window. She’d pulled the tray table for the middle seat down – a subtle way of saying “back the fuck up” – and glared at me as I sat down. Over the course of the flight, she proceeded to eat numerous hard-boiled eggs with her bare fingers. I hate her.

Opposite me was seated the asshole in headphones pictured above.

I call him an asshole because when another another passenger asked if they could take the window seat, this guy yelled, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? THE ENTIRE PLANE IS EMPTY.” He then refused to move, but the other passenger just stood there, calmly waiting, and finally the guy stood up, visibly pissed, and let him take the window. He then mumbled a bunch of unrepeatable things under his breath.

And while I think there is a special circle of hell for all of these people, it does not compare to the gentleman who was seated across the aisle from me and one row back.

His actions made me question whether or not I was hallucinating. I thought my club soda had been drugged.

Roughly halfway through the flight, I heard a metallic clicking sound.


I furrowed my brow. I knew that sound. But … no. No way. I turned, trying to identify the source.

And then I found it.

HE WAS CLIPPING HIS FINGERNAILS. I kid you not. They were flying everywhere like some unholy confetti. There is never a time in which that many pieces of genetic material should be airborne.

There are so many questions that I wanted to ask him.

What is wrong with you?

Are you actually an alien who is pretending to be human, and failing in the endeavor?

Why didn’t you do this in the bathroom? OR AT HOME?

You’re going to pick that shit up when you’re done, right?

What is wrong with you?

Is this your first time on a plane? And around other humans?

No, seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you? 

Alas, only one of these was answered. When he was done, HE. SWEPT. HIS. FINGERNAILS. ON. TO. THE. GROUND.

THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DO NOT HAVE ASSIGNED SEATING. Everyone has an “it’s me or them” mentality that extends to the entire flight. *I* want to sit here. *I* want to be an asshole. *I* do not give a fuck that other people exist.

I stared, disbelieving. I looked around, to see if anyone else was appalled. Rand was asleep and rows ahead. Asshole dude was watching some video, oblivious to his surroundings. Hard-boiled egg woman was … holy shit, where did she get more eggs?

No. I was the only one who witnessed it. On Southwest, no one can hear you scream.

Leave a Comment

  • KateMorris

    All I can think of is the roommate on Buffy. Her nails kept growing after they were cut!

  • Ashley Seffernick

    So true, although I find there is usually at least one person on the plane that leaves their manners at home! On our recent Air Canada flight the couple next to us brought out their camembert and proceeded to enjoy the world’s stinkiest cheese for the next 45 minutes, while the lady behind them was filing her nails (we all got to breath that sh*t in). On the return flight the flight attendant brought out her leftover Kimchi Dinner (I kid you not!) – which she heated up in the galley!

  • J Tidrick

    I question where we as a society are going. I think the screaming ” no you can’t sit here guy” is worse than the fingernail clipping guy (although dear god why couldn’t he do that at home?) At least it was a relatively short flight time. God knows what the woman next to you might have eaten next.

    • Aaron

      Probably more eggs.

  • michka88

    Hahaha oh my goodness! I don’t mean for this to sound totally creepy (and as I typed that out I realize… too late… it does… it sounds totally creepy now….but) I want you to be my best friend. Haha no but really thank you for the laugh. I love your writing style. Thanks for brightening up a day that desperately needed it. So funny.

    Also noted. No Southwest Ever!

    • Everywhereist

      It sounds only moderately creepy, I swear. 🙂

  • I hate when those completely unbelievable moments happen and there’s no one around to share in the moment with. People think I’m exaggerating all the time because no one is ever there to see this shit!

  • Geoffrey Taylor

    Next person to board this plane – “Excuse me, mind if I sit right next to you while I make an ear wax sculpture? It’s for the stewardess up front that I think has a crush on me.”

  • I want to live in a world where you can say, “I’m sorry, I feel like i must be mistaken. It looked for a second there like you were trimming your toenails.”

  • Lizz

    I work in retail and I’ll never forget the day I came to work and there was some lady relieving herself in the front row handycap parking. Later in the same day, I went to the counter to ring someone up and found him clipping his nails there. It’s days like this that I understand how Trump got into office.

  • Kate Lyons

    I worked in retail for a while (never again!), and had one customer pull out his clippers and trim his nails (of course the clippings fell to the floor) as I was leading him across the store to the section he needed – maybe your fellow passenger was a relative!

  • I was all ready to go on the defense on this one despite the obnoxious cattle call because, at least in recent experience, the employees/crews on my SW flights have been like smiling, chocolate-dipped angels compared to what I’ve had to deal with on the bigger commercial airlines. But then you got to the nail clippings guy. WHAT.

  • Stacy Egan

    Wow, that’s gross about the guy clipping his fingernails! I have to say though, our experiences on Southwest have been better than United or American by far. Using the Southwest app, I check in 24 hours ahead. I always end up in the A or B group, and we are able to sit next to each other. The added stress is a little annoying, but the customer service on SWA is always exceptional. The one time we were delayed about 6 hours, we each received $400 in vouchers. I also like how SWA has figured out how to do drink service without those annoying bulky carts. AND they are the only airline that gets us there on time like 90% of the time. With American and United, it’s hit or miss whether we’ll even arrive the day we are supposed to.

    • Everywhereist

      United is one of the worst airline experiences I’ve ever had in my life, and that includes nail clippings guy. I would sit and collect all the nail clippings before I flew United. Probably.

      • Stacy Egan

        Agree! United needs to make big improvements. I also forgot to say that the SWA rewards program is good too. We usually end up with 2 free flights a year just from using the SWA credit card.

  • Jenn P.

    The line “holy shit, where did she get more eggs?” made me actually giggle. I love Southwest, but I still enjoyed this tremendously. 🙂

  • Oh my gosh this is HILARIOUS. I generally have had okay experiences on Southwest, but I totally understand – people change on airplanes. Also, RE: Fingernail guy. There is not one, but two, high ranking men in my office who clip their fingernails AT WORK. Granted, I assume they use a trash bin. But. Still. SO GROSS. Why??

  • Kelly

    Aw man, this bums me out! I live on the east coast, and Southwest is far and away the cheapest and most convenient option for my travel. I’ve never had an experience like this, and I fly them 3-5 times a year, often more. in my experience, folks are orderly when grabbing seats and no more rude than you’d find on any airline. I really do think you get the best value for your dollar with them, especially considering the free checked bags and the no-penalty flight changes. Flights are rarely delayed — I used to fly Delta more often, and nearly every single flight was horrifically late or otherwise screwed up.

    That said… it sounds like you had a real hellscape of humanity on this flight! Cutting nails in public should probably be illegal. So gross, and the sound is hideous too.

    And I swear I’m not like, a paid PR person or brand ambassador for Southwest!

  • Josephine Robertson

    I abhor Southwest. Everyone’s like “they’re so CHEAP” and I’m like “yeah so is rat poison but that doesn’t mean you should EAT IT.” : The no assigned seating thing is the first problem. The second it seems most of the people who fly them have NEVER been on a plane before and have zero understanding of how the whole process works, or that it is really rather rude to clip your nails, or eat horrific smelling curry, or not bathe for three weeks before your flight.

    Alaska is my precious. I get seriously grumpy if I have to fly anywhere Alaska doesn’t fly. The. Worst. (I always check everything but my purse because shoulder and neck issues mean I’m not allowed to haul a carryon through the airport, but I would rather fly Alaska and PAY to check my bag than fly Southwest.) They are that bad.

  • Big Murth

    I agree with most that SW does get you everywhere with the highest reliability and knock on wood… (0 (zero) fatalities at Southwest in their entire history not counting people who checked out instantly with heart attacks, etc.). So, it does become a trade-off between that consistent service and delivery as promised….and the one-size fits-all cramped and intimate seating they subject you to. This is why they invented Bose noise-cancelling headphones, tablets, laptops, and Ambien….so you can insulate yourself from the boors who occasionally invade your space. I prefer to get to my destination as planned and put up with the conditions on the cattle car, rather than be subjected to the erratic track record of an airline that invariably falters if there’s crappy weather 2000 miles away, and has created ala carte pricing for every trip that makes it seem to make sense, to drive instead!

  • Hilarious, as usual, Geraldine! I can sympathize… back in the day (’70s), I used to have to fly out of Dallas 3-4 times per week, and usually ended up taking Braniff. They were the cheapest fare in most cases, and Southwest usually landed only in secondary airports. When they first started up, they had new aircraft, an aggressive customer service policy and some great meals. Over time, all three declined… until surprise! One day they went belly-up. Go figure!
    In that era, the only thing SW really had going for them besides low fares was the hot-pants they made their stewardesses wear. They, too, went downhill.

  • I am SO glad I’m not the only one who HATES Southwest!! There are people out there who love the airline, and God bless ’em, they can have it. I am at a point in my life where I can afford to pick and choose what airline I fly, and damn it, like you, I reserve my seat in the movie theater and I am sure as hell reserving my seat on the plane!!

  • Nick Montgomery

    I haven’t had a bad experience on SW ever but have certainly had them on other carriers. My wife was flying with our 1 and 3 year olds (now 4 and 6) a few years back and she told me some guy in front of her dropped the f-bomb on my 3 year old son, a very sensitive boy, for kicking the back of his seat, once. Man oh man that guy is lucky I wasn’t on that flight because there would have been an incident.

  • btabke

    I rarely do brand loyalty in flying anymore – seems less valuable every day.

    For me, flying comes down to criteria:

    1) Direct flight wins. Unless it is stupid expensive. Direct flights rule. Jet lag multiplies with every takeoff and landing.
    2) Southwest. I always get a seat near front or exit row, with whoever I am flying with, and seats are reasonable sizes (important for those of us over 6ft) I have flown them 6-10 times a year for 15 years.
    3) JetBlue love em, but rarely get the chance to fly em.
    4) American. Ok sigh. I have a gazillion miles on AA, but they are worthless. Planes are full – no upgrades – ever – anymore – seats are smaller than ever – you pay for everything – you only get to choose between the 5 seats they show you when booking – f* are they charging for air now?
    5) BA – I love BA, but they fly no where I fly regularly.
    6) Virgin – I love Virgin, but again they rarely fly where I want to go.

    My SouthWest funnies:
    – The flight attendant that could really sing, belted out a funny ballad over the Mic as we were landing in Vegas.
    – Toilet Paper roll races. First side of aisle to get tp unbroken to back of plane, gets to Deplane first.
    – I’ve flown her flights twice:
    – I have never been late or lost bags on a Southwest Flight. *****

    Down side:
    – Their fares are rarely the cheapest option anymore.

  • I wished you’d say it was all a dream. Or that you were indeed drunk and drugged that you hallucinated all that. But I remembered SW doesn’t give free booze nor drugs so….damn! Flight to hell indeed! So sorry you endured all that. Don’t you wish you could sue SW for emotional and psychological distress?! 😉

  • Colleen Stameshkin

    I have never had anything but good experiences on Southwest, and have often chosen to fly them rather than other airlines. And as I am not a frequent flyer on any airline, I have many airlines to compare them to. Really, don’t ever just rely on your own experiences to judge anything! It is ignorant.

  • If you’re flying with kids and nobody will move so that you can sit with your child, I recommend making a big show of getting out an airsickness bag and loudly and clearly instructing the child to remember to throw up in the bag and not all over the place like on the last flight. Not a bluff, in the case of my son.

  • Cgrothaus

    We just started flying on Southwest using a companion pass – which makes our air travel ch-eap! Flights are like $20 max and it’s 100xs better than Spirit Airlines.

  • Vignesh S

    Unbelievable writing. You had me in tears!

  • All my friends hate me because I fly business class and have never flown SW. I will gladly spend months leading up to an event doing tricks in bus stations to afford the ticket. As my friends are herded on parade past the only seat on the plane that can fit my big ass, I raise my complimentary alcohol to them and wink. It’s so worth it. And I can check my bags, because they mark them with a large orange sticker that says, “Don’t lose this baggage, this customer actually paid the value of the miracle of flight.”

  • And they say natural selection is a “theory”

  • Cindy Karthauser

    I laughed at the nail clipping… because on one flight I too had a person who decided the down time on the plane was a good time to do some clipping… however, this occasion was their toenails…

  • Lee Ann O’Toole

    I’m employed by SWA, so by default I’m very protective of this awesome company (which is not immune to the industry flaws that are bestowed upon us all especially in the last 5 years, but that is another story..). HOWEVER this article is spot on! Every single detail. Written perfection and relatable humor! Passengers are the hell, we are merely their vessel.

    • Cynthia Rambeau Bruno

      I love SWA ….its not their fault.
      Passenger behavior is the problem. People do gross things in assigned seats too.

  • Susan Mangigian

    this was hysterical.

  • wildnwonderful

    it just seems like you made every moment hugely annoying and then blamed it on an airline!

  • Tracy Grammer

    funny. sad. but — i am a musician and i fly swa exclusively. only airline that never, ever, ever gives me flak about carrying on my guitar. delta breaks them, united breaks them, other airlines have inconsistent policies that vary broadly based on which airport you’re flying from. i pay the $15 for the earlybird boarding and it’s the cheapest insurance available for my instrument.

    now, sure: i’ve seen a turdy person or two on a southwest flight. i’ve also seen people give up their seats, be extra helpful with luggage, and y’know, do what people do. as for the crew, i’ve seen them handle crazy weather, lame delays, and medical emergencies calmly and efficiently. to be fair, they’ve also “misplaced” my luggage once or twice. still, as much as i travel, i think the odds are good any airline would do that. so: i’m a fan.

    sorry you had a bad experience. i don’t think you can blame open seating though. people are all right. they really are.

  • LEK56

    We called it “Cattle-Car Airlines” and avoided it when possible… but sometimes the cost outweighed the convenience of assigned seats and flying with actual human beings. Alas, you are in for the “Greyhound of the Sky Experience” so plan accordingly.

  • Oh, I feel you! One of my most memorably horrifying SWA moments: crew made an announcement politely requesting we all refrain from eating peanuts on the flight due to a fellow traveler’s severe allergy. The power of suggestion apparently prompted the dude next to me to IMMEDIATELY bust open a giant bag of Peanut M&Ms he chomped on for the next hour! What is wrong with people?!?

  • I fly SW a lot because I have to to get to my hometown, but that incident with the guy who screamed and kicked his feet because Lotte (the baby) was doing the same was on a SW flight. This is all very accurate although it sounds like a sketch from The State. I would not recommend SW if you have a baby, but I usually don’t look a free flight in the mouth. I prefer Delta, better snacks, much nicer people.

  • Bruce Little

    As one who lives next to a SWA hub, and flies them nearly weekly, I agree that there is a great deal of diverse personalities that parade down the aisle. However, as a former non-commercial pilot, I do value the fact that their planes are among the youngest all Boeing fleets in the industry. Rarely do I experience mechanical delays, but when there is a big one, they quickly bring out the vouchers, usually north of $200. Delta’s record was not so pretty over the many years I flew with them. Admittedly, I have experienced some “stupid people blunders” from those who fly once a year. Kudos to the flight attendants who must attend special seminars on how to handle them – with a smile. Agree that the companion pass is also a valuable benefit. For me efficiency and direct flights from a hub wins out hands down. Great story though, thanks for posting.

  • Human Man

    This was really funny. Will I wonder tomorrow why I thought so? Made me laugh tonight.

  • Katie Hamachek

    DITTO, Geraldine, this post is everything. The only time I’ve been compelled to give in and tweet about #whyiflyalaska was when I had to take a Southwest flight and realized how good I usually have it on our little NW gem. Full disclaimer, my loyalty is likely in no small part due to the free evening wine/beer + Cheez-Its on the SEA-PDX shuttle 😉

  • Hahaha great writing, thank you! I quote Sartre: Hell is other people

  • I usually catch up with your posts through my RSS reader but happened to catch this one on your website. Always loved how your site looked. This new revamp is also great. Kudos to whoever worked on the design. I love it

  • Sometimes people cut their nails on the subway in New York. I don’t get how people think doing this is communal space is ok!!!

  • Crystal Ramone

    Humor aside, you sound like an elitist asshole. Have had nothing but positive experiences with Southwest, and as a traveling musician and poor student I’m always grateful for this affordable and accommodating airline. Only takeaway from this post is that if you’re looking for a shit experience you will inevitably have one.

  • Sonal Kwatra

    If only I could write as well as you do….

  • LambAround

    People are the worst. We recently had a patient at our dental office who clipped their toenails in the waiting room. They left thick, yellowed clippings scattered across our carpet. My initial thought was that this had been done maliciously, but they’d seemed happy with their care and scheduled a follow-up appointment.

    • Everywhereist


    • Alex Putman

      I’ve found nail clippings while sitting on the floor of meeting rooms at at least three different convention centers.

  • Katie Bell

    Haha this makes me think of Ryan Air although that joke of an airline is 1000% times worse. I quite like South West apart from the free for all when it comes to seating – the staff are always nice, flights changes are free and you can check bags for free. I have never seen such appalling people on any of my flights with them though – if I had then maybe I would think differently

  • Demssuck

    It is totally appropriate to tell someone that is clipping their nails in public, especially in a confined space, that it is disgusting behavior. If one of those pieces of shrapnel were to hit me I would not be responsible for my reaction.

  • Annabelle O’Brien

    I know this is an older post but OH MY EVERLOVINGFUCKHELL?! I fly SW whenever I possibly can, so I found this funny…appalling, …Funipalling? I personally love the airline, but maybe its because the attendants are almost always friendly, and I have a routine. I make it my personal mission to check in right as the time rolls to my check in to get an A seat, and always make a beeline to the back of the plane where no one is (safest spot I’ve learned, -I’m a nervous flyer!) From there I just pop a xanax and port a shot, -Did I mention I hate flying? So maybe I’m in a haze and don’t notice other people? But good grief! I really don’t know how we all havn’t just imploded as a society. I mean, what the heck ever happened to treating other people the way you would want to be treated? Do people even have mothers anymore?! I feel the same way about public fingernail clipping as I do people that leave a public toilet stall a mess. Like, WHY?! What are you an animal?! Ugh. Sorry, reading this post combined with my already news fueled misantropicism is making me want to build a bunker. 😉

  • Matt Clayton

    Wow. You blame passengers’ behavior on the airline? There’s a former flight attendant who has an Instagram account shaming disgusting passenger behavior (cutting nails, putting their feet on the seat in front of them). Having bad apple crew members or irritating passengers isn’t exclusive to one airline or the other.

    I flew SW to Orlando several weeks ago, and didn’t have any problems either way. Crew was terrific.

  • Kallia Adventures

    Oh my gosh! Your article made me laugh, but our perspectives are so different! Southwest is the ONLY airline I will fly domestically in the US (except for Delta, and that’s only because I have status with them from flying overseas). They don’t charge me an arm and a leg to check my skis for ski weekends, they actually smile at you when you check in for your flight, and they board SUPER fast and it makes sense!

    Yes, I will acknowledge that I pony up to board in the “A” list – but I’ll take a “pick your own seat” situation over the attitude I’ve gotten on big domestic carriers any day of the week! And don’t even get me started on Spirit Airlines… EW!

    • Everywhereist

      Hey, like I said, everyone who worked for Southwest was delightful! 😀

  • Sarah Winston

    Southwest is a fetid, proletariat pit of an airline that caters to soft brained mouth breathers and poverty stricken fatties. There is no first class. There is no assigned seating..there are only throngs of inexperienced fliers and thugs using walmart bags as luggage.

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