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Boarding Card Scare on Southwest

Andrea Sachs

This weekend, I thought my mother was going to disown me, and I was ready to blame Southwest for my being orphaned. But, alas, Southwest was completely innocent; I was the misinformed culprit.

I arrived at BWI Friday at 12:27 p.m. for a 1:35 fllght, allowing myself what I thought was a generous cushion of time. (I still count pre-travel time in dog years--a bad habit, I know.) Southwest customers can retrieve their boarding passes from a kiosk up to a half-hour before departure time; after that, they must go directly to the gate counter.

Despite what I considered loads of time, the kiosk did not spit out a boarding pass. Instead, I received a white card that said I was not checked in and that I would have to proceed to the gate to receive my boarding pass. Uh-oh, was I going to lose my seat? And my family as well, who were expecting me at my sister's baby shower in Massachusetts? In the security line, I started searching for a new family who might like to adopt a 30-something who'd already had braces. No takers.

When I arrived at the gate, the agent told me that since the carrier started its new Business Select service on Nov. 8 -- which allows you to board with the front-of-the-line A1-15 crowd, plus other perks -- 15 seats on every flight are reserved, so only 122 of 137 possible boarding passes are issued. Whitney Eichinger, a Southwest spokesman, explained that until the system's kinks are worked out, fliers who check in late might not receive a boarding pass. The agent must manually release that reserved Biz Select seat for a regular passenger. That meant I still had a seat, but sadly no special treatment (you need to pay $10-$30 for that VIP-ness). Yet I still had a family!

Of course, I was punished for my lollygagging: I was assigned a C22 boarding pass. I was not just bringing up the rear, I was the rear.

So, how can you avoid this faux-scare? The agent told me to always check in online. And so, on my return flight, I printed out my boarding pass from my parents' house and was granted an A19. A number my family would be proud of.

Speaking of Business Select, has anyone flown it and is it worth the extra expenditure?

By Andrea Sachs |  November 20, 2007; 6:54 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Airline Industry , Airplanes , Andrea Sachs
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