My Secret Shame: That Time I Cheered On A Southwest Plane For A Free Trip To Vegas

My parents love Southwest Airlines. Both of their jobs when I was growing up required heavy midwestern travel (the only thing my parents love more than Southwest Airlines are the many years they lived in the Midwest), and Southwest Airlines, with its lack of baggage fees or assigned seating, and its khaki-clad, perky dad-joke peddling flight attendants were essentially a fifth Shah family member. My dad still stockpiles Southwest drink coupon booklets, which he’ll dole out one slowly-torn coupon at a time if he hears you’re flying the airline, while staring at you somberly to make sure you understand that taking one of his coupons is akin to kidnapping my older sister (the favorite child, after Southwest). No similar reservations are bestowed upon Jet Blue cocktail credits.

Back in the mid-aughts, I was doing a lot of solo traveling between my house in Los Angeles and college at UC Berkeley — a school I’m half-convinced my parents pushed me towards attending simply so they could rack up the Southwest Rapid Rewards points at an alarming rate. Why else have kids, you know? Because I would only fly on weekdays under the guise of “Mom, Dad, I just want to spend more time with you” (real reason: “Mom, Dad, I’ve already flunked Astronomy 10, making it back to class not so urgent”), I often found myself on 45-minute puddle jumper flights filled with Silicon Valley types taking a meeting for a day, which always forced me into trying to act a little more “I too am on important IPO-related business,” and a little less “I flew home just to get my laundry done.”

Enter Summer 2007, and Southwest Airlines is smack in the middle of their 40th anniversary celebration, Summer of Luv, and giving away all sorts of prizes on planes just like the one I happened to be flying one day in June. The majority of the prizes seemed to come in the form of t-shirts thrown out to people who knew answers to Southwest Airlines trivia, and let me tell you, you don’t grow up in the Shah family and not know everything there is to know about Southwest’s check-in and boarding policies, okay? But as a college student, we already trafficked in free t-shirts and cheesy bread, so it was going to take a hell of a lot more to get me to risk public shame, my uber-competitive streak be damned.

And then the flight attendants asked for some quiet and announced the best prize: two round-trip tickets to anywhere Southwest flies, a two-night hotel stay at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas, and two VIP tickets to Cirque du Soleil’s incredibly sexy new Beatles show, Love — a clever tie-in to Southwest Airlines LUV motto, which came from growing out of Dallas’ Love Field Airport, and is also their stock ticker symbol on the NYSE. (Did I mention that I knew a lot about Southwest Airlines?)

This got even my faux-disaffected attention. If Southwest Airlines is my parents favorite thing in the world, Cirque du Soleil shows are a close second, and the Beatles are definitely in the top 10. (Very white, those Shahs.) All you had to do was be one of the first two people on the plane to correctly name Southwest Airline’s president, to get a chance to perform your best version of a clever safety demonstration. While I was hesitant at facing near-certain public humiliation, when no one else raised their hand to name the president (how are you not going to instantly check the masthead of Southwest:The Magazine that was so graciously provided upon arrival people??), I threw my answer out – and immediately had to start prepping my safety announcement. Which I had to perform in 15 minutes, in front of the entire airplane, on the PA system.

Luckily, I used to be a cheerleader. Unluckily, my rhyming abilities, while prolific, were significantly more Jennifer Aniston rapping “Baby Got Back” on “Friends” and significantly less ODB rapping “Got Your Money” to Kelis. But knowing not what the competition would look like and being insanely competitive myself, I busted out my best four-stanza cheer, scribbled on as many cocktail napkins as I could find, making sure I hit every major part of both the safety details and Southwest’s current “friendly skies” and “summer of love” slogans with vim, vigor, and crisp arm motions throughout. I did not know that my competitor, an nice old lady in a sweater set, would follow up my Routine with a capital R with a phoned-in three line poem (that’s not even a commonly accepted rhyme scheme!) and a weak shrug. By a show of applause, I won that free Las Vegas trip in a landslide, but the public humiliation at my over-eagerness? That was just a bonus.

I ended up giving my parents the Cirque tickets and the hotel stay on the condition that I had to hear nothing about their sexy vacation, and like any good Southwest flyer in the know, I used those open-ended tickets for hauls longer than just Las Vegas (hello, Miami!). And though it is still the most embarrassing thing I’ve done in public other than appearing on “Wheel of Fortune,” it is also my best/worst awkward first date story. How Southwest Airlines hasn’t adopted this as their actual in-flight safety announcement (especially since Virgin America made a play for the safety announcement crown in 2013) is kind of a slap in the face. Here’s my announcement. Your move, Southwest.

Welcome to Southwest Airlines
We hope your time is grand
Before we get this flight under way
There are just a few things at hand

Remember to keep your seatbelts fastened
And emergency exits are in the front back and side
Listen to our in flight instructions
And it should be a nice easy ride

If there’s a drop in cabin pressure
Don’t fret you know what to do
Put on your mask and breathe calmly
And get yours on first if you have kids traveling with you

We don’t anticipate any problems
It’s friendly skies up above
Welcome again to Southwest Airlines
And enjoy our summer of love!