Inside look at Southwest Airlines team at Phoenix Sky Harbor

PHOENIX - Southwest Airlines arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor on January 31, 1982. Now, more than 3,700 of the company's employees call the Valley home.

Service in Phoenix started with 13 daily nonstop departures to five cities: Albuquerque, El Paso, Houston, Las Vegas and San Diego.

More than 30 years later, Phoenix Sky Harbor is Southwest's fourth busiest airport in terms of daily departures.

ABC15 recently had the opportunity to see what it takes to get 175 daily nonstop departures to run on time at Sky Harbor.


The first thing you need to do when you get to the airport is check in your bag and get your ticket. If you have ever traveled out of Phoenix there is a good chance you have been helped out by Wendy Parkinson.

Parkinson has been with Southwest Airlines for about 30 years.

Her job is to process the customer; she makes changes to tickets, reroutes and makes gate changes.

Parkinson gets into work at 4:30 a.m. for customers who are on the first flight of the day to Chicago. The ticket counter opens at 4:15 a.m. and passengers are lining up at 3:45 a.m. to get processed.

Parkinson said patience is the biggest thing about her job. “I want to treat the customer with the same respect I expect.”

“I embrace the challenge; my challenge is to make the customer happy. They might have a bad experience, but you have to be compassionate," Parkinson said.

“I always try to put myself in their shoes...I have to take ownership of their problems.”

Parkinson told ABC15 the best part of her job is getting to know the customers. "I have become friends with frequent fliers.”

She has even gone to weddings, birthdays and funerals of frequent travelers.

"I care so much about the passengers that I sometimes will look the next day to see if they made it onto a flight."

Another employee you might see at Sky Harbor is Cesar Enriquez. He is the Manager of Ramp and Operations and has been with Southwest Airlines for 20 years, and in Phoenix since 2006.

Enriquez’s job is to make sure the customer's experience is positive -- everything from checking in at the curb to the ticket counter. His job is to make sure the entire check-in process is fluid and efficient.

"Seeing the smiles from customer is great, it's a unique feeling you get from customers," Enriquez said.

He also said Southwest Airlines is a great company to work for. In Enriquez's work area, you can see the Southwest purpose, vision, values and mission on many walls.


The team you don't often see is the team that could arguably be most important for some passengers.

Ramp workers are in charge of getting your bag onto the plane and to your correct destination.

Chris Henry has been with Southwest since he graduated from South Mountain High School.

Henry got hired in Phoenix when he was 19 years old. He has never worked at another airport, and told ABC15 he would never want to transfer to another airport -- he loves Phoenix.

Henry's day starts at at 4 a.m. as he sets up carts for the day. He also looks at a computer to see how many bags are expected for each flight.

Like Parkinson, the first flight every morning for Henry is a flight to Chicago. Henry says that flight is always full and has a lot bags.

Once Henry loads the luggage onto the cart, he drops off the bags and another worker loads the bags onto the plane.

The Phoenix summer is something Henry has had to deal with for 27 years at the airport. "When it is 115 degrees outside, its 130 degrees on the ramp," Henry said.

Henry's supervisor, Scott McRae is very familiar with the warm weather as well.

"The best thing for guys to do when it’s hot is to stay hydrated, seek shade and know their limits," McRae said.

McRae has been with Southwest Airlines in Phoenix for 17 years.

McRae is the Manager of Operations. A typical day for McRae is overseeing the ramp workers, filling out paperwork and completing data reports. He also gathers equipment to get the job done.

"With our job you always need a backup plan for every situation."

McRae said safety is the number one priority. "I always make sure all the equipment is set up properly."

Being on time is also a big part of the ramp worker's job. If the flights go out of Phoenix on time, they stay on time, McRae said.


All those drinks and snacks that end up on your tray table all come through this warehouse.

Everything from water to alcohol is stored in here...

Once outside of the warehouse all of the goods are loaded onto this truck and driven to the gate.


Every time a plane comes into the hangar, it can be checked for various types of things. Some checks take a couple hours, some take a couple days.

Rob Mabry is the Maintenance Quality Control Supervisor at Sky Harbor. He has been with Southwest for 23 years.

Mabry’s job is to oversee all operations in the hangar.

“Quality, that’s my whole job...airworthiness, I have the final say if an airplane taxis or not," he said.

According to Mabry, on a typical day, one to two planes will be in the hangar to be

checked out. Most planes are worked on overnight so the flight plan is not disrupted. A bad day would be having five planes in the hangar.

Southwest Airlines only operates Boeing aircraft, whereas most major airlines have multiple types of aircraft (Airbus, Boeing, etc).

Mabry said,  “It’s great to have all Boeings. The training for the mechanics are basically the same.”

Mabry echoed what many other Phoenix Southwest Airlines employees said, “It’s a career, not a job. I wanted to do this since high school. The job I have is what I always wanted.”


Mike Miller is the Station Leader for Southwest Airlines at Sky Harbor and has been with the company for 21 years, 12 years in Phoenix.

Miller’s job is to oversee the entire Southwest operation at Sky Harbor, from the gate to the curb.

Miller said the customer service workers have the toughest jobs, they have to put a smile on their face no matter the situation.

When you are working with passengers every day, “you have opportunities to make a difference," Miller said. “We have the highest highs and the lowest lows.”

Weather problems are the worst feelings in the world. “We want to help so badly, but it’s out of our control.”

ABC15 asked Miller about future plans Southwest Airlines has at Sky Harbor.

Miller said the airline is always looking at ways to grow and anticipate what the customer needs.

Miller said there won’t be many changes with the US Airways, American Airlines merger. There is nothing on the radar to add flights. "But, if US Airways, American were to add flights, we would add flights," he noted.

With the AirTran Airways acquisition, Southwest Airlines now offers international travel.

Connecting service to international destinations from Sky Harbor is now available. Non-stop international service from Phoenix has not been announced.

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