On the Fly: Southwest employees, passengers are just as ridiculous as they were on Airline

TLC’s new series On the Fly, which follows Southwest Airlines passengers and crew in several airports, is essentially the same series as Airline, which aired on A&E for three seasons in 2004 and 2005. That’s great, because both are engaging series that capture what happens every day: shenanigans at airports involving passengers and employees who sometimes behave in baffling ways.

There are occasional quirky human interest stories, some fun (drunk passengers, Southwest ground crew having snowball fights when the airport is closed), some sad (the college kid who tried to fly with his Betta fish whose mom said it was his best friend), and some just weird (the guy who had his grandmother’s face tattooed on his arm, and first joked that he’d had it tattooed on his groin). But most of the big stories fall along two primary lines:

  • People ignore rules, thinking they do not apply to them, even as ridiculously kind Southwest employees do their best to help. It’s often baffling how people demand special treatment, especially when there’s something like weather that’s out of everyone’s control. We’re a nation of self-centered, demanding jerks–especially when we’ve paid a lot of money for something.
  • Southwest is a ridiculously bureaucratic company that applies arbitrary rules both inconsistently and without regard to the reality of the situation. Two weeks ago, an episode included a segment with a man who was wearing a sticker that said “Go to hell Auburn,” and he was pulled off the plane and told to remove it because it was obscene. Really? Then, a ridiculous Southwest employee actually threatened to call the police. Southwest is, sadly, well-known for this kind of fascism.

Yes, those two things are contradictory, but that’s real life, and it’s great that the series doesn’t flinch in showing the good and bad. On the whole, Southwest probably comes off positively, especially because of its relatable employees, which is why they’d agree to do this, never mind the hour of advertising every week.

On the Fly‘s greatest weakness is that, in its 22 minutes or so, there’s really maybe 15 minutes of story, but it feels like there’s 10. It moves quickly between stories, and there’s a lot of repetition, especially with the ridiculous pre-break “coming up” and post-break inclusion of the exact same footage that we just saw. (This isn’t the show’s fault, necessarily, since networks demand this crap, but it does hurt it.) I’d rather there be more depth or additional stories or both. But two episodes a week make for a fun hour.

On the Fly: B+

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.