New boarding procedure at Southwest Airlines

From the Arizona Republic:

Southwest Airlines ends ‘family first’ boarding
By Dawn Gilbertson, The Arizona Republic
Families traveling with small children will no longer get to jump to the front of the boarding line at Southwest Airlines.

The airline, which carries more than one in three Phoenix passengers, is eliminating early pre-boarding for families beginning Oct. 2 in a bid to speed the boarding process.

Families with children four and under will now board after the first regular boarding group unless they have an A boarding pass to be in that first group. Southwest famously doesn’t assign seats. Passengers board in three groups, A, B and C, with their letter determined by when they checked in.

Passengers can check in online 24 hours before their flight, and many people fanatically watch the clock to make sure they snag an A boarding pass and their pick of seats. Families didn’t have to fret if they didn’t snag an A pass since they preboarded.

The airline tested the new system this summer in San Antonio.

“We decided that it works for us,” said spokeswoman Brandy King.

Other boarding and seating changes may be brewing. Southwest, which has been studying alternatives for more than a year, on Wednesday plans to announce its long awaited decision on whether to switch to assigned seating or otherwise tinker with its open boarding policy.

It has long been derided by some business travelers and others as a cattle call, but also has legions of vocal fans who don’t want the airline to mess with a good thing. The debate has generated more comments on Southwest’s blog than any other topic.

King was mum on which way the company is headed but did say the changes would not be implemented immediately.

It may not be as simple as a yes or no decision. Even if the airline decides against assigning seats, it appears likely it will at least alter its boarding process after testing several methods in San Antonio this summer.

It tried out a more orderly boarding process, with passengers called in groups according to a number on their A, B and C passes. That eliminated the need to form the snaking, confusing A, B, C lines Southwest is famous for at its airport gates.

Some analysts expect the airline to eventually charge for an A boarding pass and/or give them to travelers who paid full fare for their tickets.

“Our customers have been waiting for this answer for a while,” King said.

From the Dallas Morning News

Southwest to keep open seating, but with a twist
Southwest Airlines Co.'s open seating policy is here to stay. It’s the long wait in line that’s going.
By SUZANNE MARTA / The Dallas Morning News

“That’s right, I’ll say it,” Gary Kelly, the airline’s chief executive said in a press conference Wednesday morning. “No more cattle call.”

Mr. Kelly said last month’s tests in San Antonio were a “dress rehearsal” for the new boarding system, which will roll out nationwide in November.

While customers won’t be assigned a seat, they will be assigned a place in line.

“Customers like choosing their seats, they don’t like standing in line,” Mr. Kelly said. “Our goal is to give customers back what they value most, which is time.”

Southwest announced on Tuesday that it would institute a new family boarding policy on Oct. 2. Instead of boarding early, families who don’t hold an “A” group pass, will board before passengers in the “B” group.

Southwest’s 36-year-old open seating policy has a passion point for many passengers. On the airline’s blog, an entry from Mr. Kelly describing plans to reconsider the policy elicited more than 700 comments most of whom wanted the policy to stay in place.

Critics resented having to line up in boarding groups and the uncertainty of knowing where they’d sit. And while Southwest continues to rely mostly on short-haul trips its customers’ average trip length is growing as it expands its route network across the nation making the seat issue more important.

Fans of open seating especially corporate customers who often made last-minute travel plans said the policy meant they could easily get the seat of their choice by checking in 24-hours in advance. It was considered an example of the airline’s egalitarian attitude eschewing dividing travelers into “elite” and “non-elite” in the cabin.

Some customers even shared stories of meeting a future spouse because they were able to choose their seat.

Southwest’s open seating policy has been a hallmark of the airline’s simple operations strategy. For years, company officials said unassigned seats allowed them to maintain the quick turn times that made Southwest the industry’s most efficient airline.

But during the last seven years have brought significant change for Southwest.

Its legacy, network competitors have gotten leaner, and better able to compete with lower operating costs. And new and fast growing low-cost carriers such as JetBlue Airways Corp. and Frontier Airlines Holdings Inc. all offer assigned seats and have made waves in the market with flashy inflight entertainment.

In the face of that competition, analysts have said Southwest would have to make changes to avoid losing marketshare.

For the last four years the carrier has invested heavily into technology, building a new technology backbone that could handle more sophisticated operations.

Here’s the official press release from Southwest. It gives details on the boarding process. (That’s the section I highlighted)

I’m glad to hear the open seating is staying!!!

      Southwest Streamlines Its Boarding Without Assigning Seats

DALLAS, Sept. 19 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ – Our Customers have spoken! Southwest Airlines embraces and celebrates its unique open seating heritage, announcing today that Customers will continue to choose their favorite seat while onboard the aircraft. The airline does plan to make changes to its boarding; however, saying goodbye to the perceived “cattle call” and eliminating the need for Customers to “camp-out” in their boarding line at the gate. The boarding transformation will enhance Customers’ Southwest experience, while maintaining the carrier’s core values and Maverick character.

“Our open seating has served us exceptionally well throughout our 36-year history, and, after much research, deliberation, careful evaluation, and significant feedback from our Employees and Customers, we’ve decided that it is here to stay,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines’ Chief Executive Officer. “When we began our extensive exploration into the way our Customers board the aircraft, we set out to accomplish two things: improve the Customer Experience and increase Customer productivity. The new boarding delivers on both accounts and complements our legendary open seating.”

**Beginning in early November, Customers will be assigned a letter and a number on their Southwest boarding pass when they check in for a flight (for example: A32). This unique combination represents the Customers’ reserved spot in their boarding group-boarding positions are separated into groups of five. When a Customer’s boarding group is called, they simply find their designated place in line to board the aircraft. The A group will queue first in two lines: A1-30 on one side of marked columns and A31-60 on the other side, followed by two groups of B, and then the remaining Cs. Click here to a view video of the new process: ( ).
“After testing assigned seats in San Diego last summer, we quickly learned that the majority of our Customers did not want us to abandon our open seating but they did challenge us to enhance the way we board our aircraft.” Kelly said. “Through innovative thinking and a lot of long hours, I am confident that our Employees have successfully built a solution that answers our Customers’ direct request, while protecting and even improving our aircraft efficiency. All the while, I am proud to say, preserving our out of the box thinking that makes us different.”

The airline began experimenting with several boarding processes last year at San Diego International Airport. Based on encouraging results, a new boarding option emerged using frontline Southwest Employees and Customer feedback. Next, Southwest began constructing technology for a 2007 implementation in response to the initial San Diego results. In August 2007, the airline performed a “dress rehearsal” at San Antonio International Airport to confirm the carrier’s preliminary findings and fine tune the process.

“Feedback from our San Antonio Customers and Employees has been overwhelmingly positive,” Kelly said. “One of our primary goals with the new boarding is to give Customers back what they value most – time. All of our research proves that this new way to board does just that.”

The carrier plans to introduce the new boarding at every airport it serves by early November 2007. Over time, Southwest also plans to modify its gates with columns and signage that reflects the new boarding groups.

Southwest Airlines announced a plan to enhance its product in late June 2007. Today’s announcement is the first step in a laundry list of items the carrier will introduce over the next several months. The new style of boarding opens the door to future enhancements for the carrier, allowing for product customization and additional incentives for the business and leisure traveler.

Southwest Airlines is one of the most honored airlines in the world. Among Southwest’s recent honors was being named to Business Week’s first ever list of “Customer Service Champs,” which ranks the best providers of Customer Service. For eight years in a row, Southwest Airlines was named to Business Ethics magazine’s list as one of America’s “100 Best Corporate Citizens” for excelling at serving a variety of stakeholders and for leadership roles in corporate citizenship. And, for an impressive 11 consecutive years, FORTUNE magazine recognized Southwest Airlines as one of America’s Top Ten most admired corporations.

I think the new family policy is fair. I didn’t fully understand the new boarding procedure described in the second article but it sounds good from what I make of it. They are keeping open seating which I prefer.

I still miss the club seating, why did they get rid of that? Seems like they can fit more people into the plane with that arrangement.

According to a flight attendant I talked to a while back, the club seating took away space. Whatever the reason, I wish they would bring it back. I loved the club seating.

Southwest currently has a number on the boarding pass. I usually get something below 5 or 6, indicating that I’m one of the first to get a boarding pass. Now, with the new procedure, I don’t have to get to the gate an hour early in order to be among the first to board. Like someone said in the video on the new procedure, why didn’t they do this 5 years ago?

Glad we agree on something!

I’m still confused about how the new procedure will work.

don’t have to get to the get an hour early

I think you just coined a new term that will rapidly become pop lingo “get to the get”. I like it! :stuck_out_tongue:

My only complaint with the current system is with connecting flights. If you’re on a connecting flight you most likely get a “D” boarding pass.

I’ve often thought that connecting passengers should get first choice! After all, in reality the connecting passenger paying a higher fare to get from A to B (connecting through C).

When you have a connecting flight and check in online, you get both boarding passes. The odds are pretty good that you will get an A boarding pass.

You bring up a good point about higher fares on connecting flights. However, you can’t blame Southwest or any other airline for that. The reason you pay higher is that you have a segment charge on each takeoff/landing. A connecting flight gets you two of these. Plus, you have the stupid Passenger Facility Charge (if the government was honest, it would call it a tax) and other assorted taxes. The bottom line is that on short-haul flights the taxes paid make up as much as 30% of the fare!

Thanks for pointing it out to me, Wazzu. I think this forum ate the “a” in the second “get” - it should have been “gate.” I’ve corrected the error.

Online “check in” is a concept I’ve never understood. When I was a passenger service agent (MANY years ago), checking in meant you were actually at the airport and we could assign standbys etc. accordingly.

I’ve always thought the same thing. Your comment is especially true now that airlines have so many self serve kiosks at the airports. All that said, I do like the ability to check in the day before the flight.

I really like the phrase. Speakin of which, I need to go get to the get!

I’ll be impressed if Allen agrees too! I think the world will implode if Allen and Dave agree on something.

Instead of having just and A, B, or C, your boarding pass will have an A 1, A 2, A3, etc, so you won’t have to compete will everyone else who has an A, you’ll just have to compete with the 5 or so other people with the same letter and number. No more long lines of people who got one of the last A’s but can get first in line if they’re willing to stand there long enough.


THANK YOU…I mean thanks for the opionion. No need to shout to get your point across, though.

Hey, shouter. Have you actually flown on Southwest? All this hype about “cattle call boarding” is pure bunk. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve flown Southwest and have rarely (<5% of the time) gotten a seat I don’t like.

All you have to do is check in early (up to 24 hours). You can do it on line or via cell phone.

You are right - free enterprise (actually, capitalism) allows for choice. It’s your choice. If you want to pay more money just for the privilege of getting an assigned seat then hooray for you, Me? It’s not worth the extra money, which can be over $200 more, to get an assigned seat. In many cases, if you are taking a last minute flight, you won’t be able to get the seat you want. With Southwest, all I have to do is check in 24 hours ahead of time and I’ll get the seat I want.

With the announcement of the modification of the open seating system,
Southwest has released a good presentation of how it should work.

Source:’s home page

SHOUTING ASIDE, I partially agree with you. I don’t fly Southwest much because I don’t have time to sit around the airport and often end up with a poor seat even when I check in online. This new process probably won’t change that much, but will improve the situation a little for times when I can get to the gate before the A’s start boarding.

Let’s say Damiross booked a SWA2841/1800 from Oakland to Hobby.

Damiross will get to check in for BOTH boarding passes at the same time beginning at 10:40 AM Central Time the day before his flight.

The poor soul who simply had the non-stop flight from San Diego to Hobby
doesn’t get to check in for his boarding pass until 1:05 PM Central Time.

I’m not sure what your point is.

Let’s say we are flying on a Thursday. I get my boarding passes for both flight at at 0840 PDT on Wednesday because that is 24 hours prior to the first flight. Because I am connecting to another flight in order to complete my trip, it only makes sense for me to get both passes even though my second flight was actually more than 24 hours later than 0840 PDT Wednesday. Why should I have to check in a second time when it is more efficient to complete the transaction in one setting?

The guy in San Diego gets his at 1105 PDT on Wednesday, which is also 24 hours prior to his flight.

It’s 24 hours prior to the flight in the time zone that the flight departs from. For example, my mom flew HOU-LAS-ONT. I don’t remember the time so let’s say it departed HOU at 1400 CDT and LAS at 1700 PDT on Friday. I was able to get her boarding passes here on the west coast for both flights at 1200 PDT because that was 24 hours prior to her first flight. Again, it only makes sense and is more efficient to be able to get both passes at once.

The whole point of coming with the letter and number system is to make lining up at the gate UNNECCESSARY!!! Your spot in line is on your pass under the new system.