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Southwest passengers, staff a backdrop for TLC series

TLC (tv network)Air Transportation IndustryConsumersTelevision IndustryGreg Meyer

A TLC Channel film crew thinks Southwest Airline's hub atFort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport makes for good story-telling.

TLC wants to take advantage of those moments with a behind-the-scenes look at air travel for its miniseries, "On the Fly."

But capturing compelling images can be slow going.

On Friday, IVT Studios sound mixer Jeff Deeth; and producer/shooter Jack Cahill spent about 8 hours wandering Southwest's boarding areas.

They listen in as customer service representative Brentley Taylor of Wilton Manors helps a flier find the right gate for boarding. "People want assurance they are in the right area," Taylor said.

Traveler Melissa Minnick of North Miami passes by the camera crew unfazed, to return a cellphone she borrowed from Southwest Station Manager Tennina McAnany. Minnick, a freelance graphic designer, was boarding a Jacksonville flight to meet up with friends and college buddies from her alma mater, Jacksonville University.

McAnany, who has been escorting the film crew throughout their project, says there is a concept of modern air travel. Technology has allowed her staff to have "more face-time with customers," she said.

"With cellphone apps for paperless ticketing and check-ins, there are less touch points allowing people to have more time to relax or get a bite to eat before their flight."

Stafford, Va., resident W.D. Scott checks in at the customer desk and then rejoins his wife, Sabrina, at one of several plug, play, recharge stations set up though out the boarding area. They were returning from a cruise vacation in the Bahamas.

Scott likes the convenience of flight but says all the technological bells and whistles don't negate the basics of customer service.

"You still need to bring your people skills with you, and pack your patience," he said.

The film crew captures about three vignettes a day, says Jessica Hudson, associate producer. Filming should wrap up Monday.

In earlier shoots, the team has chronicled a dance troop that mugged for the crew with a few moves when they got off the plane.

"A group of musicians jammed, and there have been other, funny moments that have had happy endings," said Hudson.

The focus is on Southwest passengers and staff, "in every pocket of the country," said Dustin Smith, TLC's spokesman. Filming has been under way at Southwest destinations at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Denver International Airport and Chicago's Midway International Airport.

Smith says Southwest is a good fit for the show because of their transparency and willingness to share a look into their operations, their corporate culture, employees with outgoing personalities and a loyal customer base.

According to airport spokesman Greg Meyer, Southwest carried 3.5 million passengers through Fort Lauderdale in 2011, and Southwest is now third largest carrier at the airport with 51 daily nonstop departures to 23 cities.

Southwest already has some "stage" experience. In 2004, A&E's "Airline" reality show chronicled the stories and the lives of Southwest's employees and passengers.

Stories from the South Florida taping are likely to emerge and make their way onto TLC's "On the Fly" series, expected to premiere later this spring.

If you have a great Southwest experience you'd like to share, submit it here

ckent@tribune.com or 954-356-4662 or Twitter.com @mindingyourbiz

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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TLC (tv network)Air Transportation IndustryConsumersTelevision IndustryGreg Meyer
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