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.