Southwest Airlines

This granddaddy of discount carriers, launched in 1971 from Texas, pioneered "flying for peanuts" with a sense of humor.

Although Southwest's flights, once regional, now stretch from coast to coast, you'll still get only peanuts on shorter sojourns, and you won't get a reserved seat. Just hope you get into Boarding Group A.

But Southwest is looking a little tired these days, judging from the packed, hourlong flight I took from Las Vegas to LAX.

The repairman apparently hadn't made a recent pass through our B737 cabin. My reading light didn't work. The seat in front was locked in half-recline. A couple nearby shifted seats, complaining they couldn't turn off the arctic blast from their air vent.

Although the crew was pleasant enough, they weren't funny. Not one corny joke or silly guessing game. Just the standard safety announcements.

I was grateful for my two bags of free peanuts and an apple juice and for my $47.60 fare, the lowest on the day I'd booked it. Southwest still gets that right.

But for me, on this trip, there was little difference between flying Southwest or United or Ted.

For some, that's the point.

"I used to hate Southwest because it was a bus, and other airlines offered better service," said Martin Fung, a Los Angeles businessman waiting in the Las Vegas airport for his flight home. "But now Southwest is more consistent."

Nearby, Gail Orr, a lawyer from Calabasas also waiting to fly home on Southwest, commented, "They're cheap, and they get you there. What more could you ask?"

But some fliers do ask for more.

Allison Zahorik of Redondo Beach, a handbag designer who was in Las Vegas for business, is a fan of Southwest, having been on flights with more typically jolly crews.

"I like the people," she said. "They make a lot of jokes and make you feel comfortable." For a less-than-avid flier like her, "it makes a huge difference," she said.

Doug Benton, an engineer from Northampton, Mass., whom I met earlier in my journey, explained it this way: "Flying is inherently stressful to me. So any time they try to lighten it up, it's helpful." He "absolutely loved" having his own seatback TV on Song.

I hope the airlines are listening to customers like Zahorik and Benton.

Flying, after all, was once fun. As Song and JetBlue prove, it still can be, even when done on the cheap.