TV Review: TLC's 'On the Fly' shows inner workings of Southwest Airlines

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TLC's "On the Fly" (9 and 9:30 tonight), set behind the scenes of operations at Southwest Airlines in hub cities such as Baltimore and Denver, may seem like an infomercial for the airline, but the show may also have some unintended consequences that benefit travelers more than the airline.

The show depicts the everyday hassles of passengers and the heroic, helpful Southwest employees who are on the receiving end of their anger. If that sounds familiar it's because "On the Fly" is pretty much the same show as A&E's "Airline," which aired from 2004-05. That series also focused on Southwest operations.

'On the Fly'

When: 9 and 9:30 tonight on TLC.

In the second episode of "On the Fly" airing at 9:30, titled "Delayed and Enraged," a college student tries to take a fish with him on his flight. The fish swims in more than the 2.5 ounces (or whatever the number is) of water the TSA allows through security. A woman is angry she missed her connection when Southwest won't put her up in a hotel room. A customer service rep must deal with a passenger with body odor.

When confronted in private by a Southwest gate agent, the stinky passenger (her face blurred) says, "All I know is I've waited a long time to go to the bathroom. I might have peed in my pants."

The gate agent's response: "Other than that, you're fine. No other issues?" She later says she smelled B.O. but no urine. The scenes do serve as a reminder that on Southwest there's no opportunity for a first-class upgrade: You are in the cattle car no matter how much you paid for your ticket.

Another customer service agent has to deliver the bad news that a passenger's luggage became a "drag bag" that was destroyed when it was dragged a long distance.

As someone who's done perhaps more than his fair share of commercial travel, I'm predisposed to liking "On the Fly" because I genuinely like Southwest. Its employees are generally friendlier than those on other airlines and seem to enjoy their jobs, nightmarish customers on display in "On the Fly" notwithstanding. (And for the record, I'm sure I could easily be one of those nightmarish customers, as could anyone with enough aggravation during a trip.)

But what most surprised me about "On the Fly" is that it sort of gives away some trade secrets that might not be in Southwest's best interest.

For instance, with the woman with the B.O., the gate agent plans to offer passengers around her a $75 credit at the end of the trip. I've sat next to smelly people on Southwest before, but I had no idea I could be eligible for some compensation. Thanks to "On the Fly," now I know.

Similarly, the woman who gets her bag destroyed ends up with a great deal. Not only does Southwest compensate her for her loss, turns out the airline has a stash of new luggage on hand to give out as a replacement. Who knows what the quality of the replacement luggage is, but I have a pretty old suitcase I'd gladly sacrifice to the luggage gods in exchange for a similarly sized replacement.

But does showing customers who generally get what they want accurately represent Southwest or does it give a false impression and create unrealistic expectations for viewers who watch the show? I guess we'll find out.


TV writer Rob Owen: or 412-263-2582.


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