New Seating Policy Coming for Southwest
Anyone who has flown Southwest Airlines knows the drill. No seat assignments. You check in online as soon as you can -- 24 hours before the flight leaves -- because you want to be in the coveted A group. But if you can't do that, and wind up in the B group, or if something goes terribly wrong, and you get the dreaded C boading pass, you will likely wind up standing in the cattle shute at the airport an hour before flight time.
A student of human behavior can have real fun watching the scene. Most everyone will sit at first, waiting for the first person to head to the line. And then the mad dash is on. No one wants a middle seat. Even worse, no one wants to have to check his or her luggage at the last minute because there is no more space in the overhead bin. So even if you need to use the bathroom or you would die for a Coke, you don't dare move from the line and lose your place.
Well, the Southwest "cattle call" will soon be history. The discount airline is going to change its boarding policy by early November, but it's not joining the rest of the airline establishment and assigning seats. Instead, when passengers check in, either online or at the airport, they will receive both a letter and a number, and boarding will proceed accordingly.
Business travelers have been whining about the open-seating policy for some time. Last summer, the airline started testing different seating procedures in San Diego. The letter-number system was the clear winner, and they then tested that one out in San Antonio. It worked there, so now it's going systemwide.
"The new boarding complements our open seating and reduces the time our customers spend in line," said Gary Kelly, the airline's chief executive officer, in prepared remarks. "That's right: I'll say it. No more cattle call."
You'll still get an A,B,C designation, but each person will also receive a number 1-30. Passengers will be called up by letter and number, and board in that order.
Most experts are cautiously optimistic. My only question: It may have worked in San Diego and San Antonio, but how are they going to convince a bunch of New Yorkers at Islip Airport to line up in an orderly fashion? What do you think?
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