CHICAGO - Voters Tuesday will decide between Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama - a Republican and a Democrat with little in common.
They are more than a generation apart, have completely different political philosophies and life stories.
But each of them has something very special - they know what it’s like to be in what Southwest Airlines travelers often describe as the cattle call.
Just about every average person (Joe the Frequent Flier, if you will) knows about the Southwest boarding process. It’s a cheap airline that doesn’t offer assigned seats, but rather doles out in the order of check-in an A, B, or C line where passengers must line up and board.
(Disclaimer: Lots of people hate this, even though it was improved in the last year to add numbers along with letters to allow for less line jockeying. I absolutely love it. Southwest is a really easy way to travel, especially if you’re on your own and buy one-way tickets at the last minute, as I’ve done more than 75 times in the last year.)
I saw Obama for the first time in person in late November 2004 at the baggage claim at BWI, schlepping his own luggage. He’d just come off a Southwest flight, presumably from Midway.
We’d come in from California and noticed Obama, who had won his election to the U.S. Senate but hadn’t yet been sworn in.
Obama was on his cell phone and nodded as he noticed us noticing him.
In his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” Obama talks about the difference between flying commercial and taking fancy charter flights. I don’t have my copy with me, but he noted that he enjoyed talking to people about their experiences, but also could appreciate the beauty of flying solo above America in a charter.
It turns out McCain also is familiar with the A, B and C boarding process - he used to fly BWI to Manchester back when his campaign imploded and ran out of money.
New Hampshire was his best hope for securing the Republican nomination and so he made as many trips there as possible. A one-way ticket to Manchester runs about $110. You can also rack up frequent flier points pretty easily.
“We learned what it’s like to be in Group C on Southwest Airlines,” McCain told comedian Conan O’Brien in July.
He repeated the line during his final town hall meeting just over the weekend, telling the crowd, “There was a time not so long ago, when I was riding on a well-known airline, Group C, middle seat.”
(Sidenote: Al Gore flew Southwest over the summer when attending the Netroots Nation convention. No word on whether George Bush, John Kerry or Hillary Clinton has ever flown the airline.)
I’ve been planning this post for months, thinking it made sense to say something nice about the two candidates as voters finally head to the polls at the end of this long journey.
I realize it’s a bit ironic I’m writing about airplanes now since I wasn’t able to travel on Air Hope for the final 48 hours of the campaign.
But perhaps it’s fitting that my last flight to meet back up with the campaign in Chicago was on Southwest. The flight attendant sang us a song upon take off.
Meanwhile, on the Obama plane tonight from Dulles to Midway, the candidate came back to tell the press, “You guys have been gracious, outstanding, reasonably easy for our crack team here.” He thanked them for being part of the process.
Several offered condolences for his grandmother’s death.
He teased Richard Wolffe (recently parodied in a Saturday Night Live sketch) and then gave photo rock star Scout Tufankjian some birthday wishes.
He closed with, “It will be fun to see how the story ends.”
— Christina Bellantoni, national political reporter,
The Washington Times
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