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More Boarding Changes at Southwest

Carol Sottili

Southwest Airlines has taken more measures designed to attract the business traveler. But is the move going to negatively impact the average not-so-frequent traveler visiting Grandma for the weekend?

Here's a rundown of the changes announced today:

* A new Business Select fare, which costs $10 to $30 more per flight than current top fares, is now available. Business Select travelers will get to board first, will receive extra Rapid Rewards credit and get a free cocktail.

* Frequent fliers (those who have flown 32 one-way flights or 16 round trips in the last year) get to jump to the front of the boarding line. They'll automatically receive advance check-in, practically guaranteeing an A boarding pass.

Just to recap, the airline -- one of the few that doesn't offer assigned seats -- changed its boarding policy in September. Starting this month, you'll still get an A, B or C designation, but each person will also receive a number, 1 to 30. Passengers will be called up by letter and number, and board in that order.

With the newest changes, your chances of getting A-1 just fell to zero unless you're paying top dollar or you fly Southwest every few weeks. What do you think? Fair changes or a slippery slope away from democracy?

By Carol Sottili |  November 7, 2007; 1:52 PM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Carol Sottili
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I'm sorry to read that Southwest is going the way of the old guard airlines. One reason to love Southwest was there egalitarian system. I'm not sure I see the value in the Business Select fare, but then I'm not that kind of customer.

Posted by: phoebesnow | November 7, 2007 2:44 PM

I used to love SW, and reccomended it to all my friends and family(even with the awful cattle call approach). They were the one airline that treated families with respect. If you have a child in a car seat, it IS harder to get them set up, and it DOES take longer; preboarding allowed parents to set up bulky gear without hearing people sucking their teeth behind you for taking too much time.
Now - I'm not so sure how I feel about them anymore. Talk about trampling others to court the business class. Just assign seats - at least that seems like a more fair solution!
I just had a business trip with them and had no problems with the old system. I'm about to have a family trip late this month; I'll see how it goes.

Posted by: SouthwestLover?? | November 7, 2007 3:30 PM

I just want to know if the $29 flights from BWI to Islip are gone forever!! I have several trips next year and if they're going to be $49+, I may as well suck it up and drive the 5 hours.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | November 7, 2007 3:40 PM

I've never flown Southwest, precisely because I didn't like that cattle call boarding process. However, the airlines need to have the business customers as the bedrock of their business. Making things easier for both the business and frequent flyers is good customer sense. The infrequent fliers go almost exclusively by price, and I would venture that as long as SW continues to offer such low fares it will more than offset any increased boarding problems. I would also guess than most infrequent fliers would not notice the changes anyway.

Posted by: Michael | November 7, 2007 3:44 PM

Hi. I work in the Marketing Department at Southwest Airlines and am monitoring the online chatter today in light of the annoucement this morning. I can see where you might think these changes are Southwest going the way of all the other carriers, but I can tell you from the inside, out - that's not the case at all. We are VERY dedicated to the core of what Southwest is all about - great Customer Service and low fares. As we've grown (and as the industry has changed) we've had to adjust here and there to appeal to a wide variety of travelers. As a business, you can't just stand still in changing times. Unfortunately, sometimes those changes don't make everyone happy but we hope over time, our Customers will come to see and accept that we ALWAYS have their best interests in mind. Thanks so much for the comments...we're definitely listening and appreciate the feedback.

Posted by: Angela Vargo | November 7, 2007 3:46 PM

I'm one of those unbelievably rare people who just doesn't care where I sit on a Southwest flight. My flights with them are pretty short and I tend to go with my husband - he takes the aisle or window and I take the middle seat. I wish Southwest had a bonus program where they gave me money or miles for volunteering to be in the C line!

Posted by: Janet | November 7, 2007 3:51 PM

Thank you, Angela Vargo. Spoken like a true...marketing department. Low fares...check. Great customer service...that remains to be seen.

I have to be careful not to be hypocritical. I am a high level FF on American, and perhaps my favorite benefit of same is early boarding. But, then again, we all have assigned seats and it's simply a matter of being sure I'll have room for my (always reasonable) bag, a chance to settle in, and time to find a copy of the magazine with clean sudokus! ;)

But this is not where SWA made its name. When my family flies SWA, we play the game -- check in 24 hours in advance; get to the airport early and get in line; choose seats quickly.

In addition to being egalitarian, SWA's process -- I thought -- was designed to board the plane more quickly and keep on tight schedules. I'm guessing these changes will add time and confusion to the mix.

My kids are anxious flyers, and these new rules will make it very difficult for us to use SWA, as it will challenge our ability to get seats together and in the parts of the plane that make them feel more secure.

Posted by: kidvidkid | November 7, 2007 4:02 PM

I just had my first flight with the new system and thought it worked fine. Despite not being a "business select" person, I got a window seat near the front of the plane exactly where I wanted on a full flight. My number was A52 and although there were some B customers, there weren't many and I was near the end of the "A" numbers. I can see this new system being more of a problem for "groups" that are flying together - but then groups always have problems sitting together when anyone can choose any seat. Although I'm all for equality, I can see the benefit of rewarding frequent flyers and people that pay more for a seat that is exactly the same as the seat I'm sitting in.

Posted by: Rich M | November 7, 2007 4:11 PM

FINALLY. I am a frequent flier of several airlines. The SW boarding process is -- hands down - the worst in the industry. Why force your paying customers to count the hours/minutes before they can log on to the website to secure the coveted A or B boarding pass? And then force your paying customers to line up an hour in advance of a flight to get a decent seat? Most people end up sitting on the dirty floor of the boarding area waiting and waiting (and wating longer w/ flight delays). I have never heard anyone say "I love this boarding procedure" - but I have heard dozens say "I despise it." Long overdue. SW is a very good airline. They can surely continue to provide cheap seats without inconveniencing their customers.

Posted by: Guy | November 7, 2007 4:13 PM

I am a frequent flyer business customer on Southwest. I really don't object to the cattle call system. My assistant usually downloads my boarding pass if I am not in the office, in a hotel or at home. If I happen to get a C boarding pass, it's alright with me. It's worth the hassle for cheap airfairs and my company lets me keep the frequent flyer trips.

When I have to travel somewhere SW doesn't fly I like the luxury of advanced seat selection. However many airlines seem to be dispensing with that anyway. Keep the old system. Let the kids board first, then I woun't be sitting next to them.

Posted by: Baltimore | November 7, 2007 4:17 PM

Southwest has also eliminated preboarding for families with children - they must board after Group A and before Group B. I don't fall into this category but I recently watched a stressed and exhausted pregnant woman flying with two small children try to board in the middle of the pack with half the seats taken, and I felt horrible for her. What a ridiculous rule. I don't know how SW can call that customer service.

Posted by: DC | November 7, 2007 4:26 PM

So I'm almost the only one who prefers SWA's cattle call system? Get this: I travel with my baby, and I deliberately choose seats near other small children, so that people without kids aren't disturbed by mine. I find that most parents flying SWA do the same: we all bunch together near the front of the aircraft. I guess that won't be possible any longer, and crying babies will be scattered throughout the plane, as on other airlines. That's a bummer for everyone.

Posted by: Frequent flyer with kids | November 7, 2007 4:28 PM

I avoid SW precisely because of their cattle call. It is a waste of my time to show up early to get a good boarding number, then show up again at the gate to board early and obtain a choice seat. I fail to see the benefit in this system for me the customer. I may not always get a seat near the front on other airlines, but at least I get a decent seat without the pressure of standing in lines. As if us travellers don't have enough stress getting thru TSA screening!!!

Posted by: sven parke | November 7, 2007 4:30 PM

Forgot to mention: I AM a business traveller, who happens to take my child(ren) with me.

Posted by: Frequent flyer with kids | November 7, 2007 4:30 PM

I'm back again. this time I want to thank the Soutwest folks for their excellent public service in what are sometimes stessfull situations. I do believe they work hard to accomadate their passengers' needs. The times I have had to call with a problem like having to rerout at the last minute or make a change, the live person at the other end of the line has been patient and helpful and I have always got what I needed with minimal loss to me. I LOVE Southwest! and I can't say that of every airline.

Posted by: Baltimore | November 7, 2007 4:36 PM

I don't understand why families just can't check in on-line 24 hours ahead. Then they'd be in the top of the A list. Right? Am I missing something there?

My issue is that I don't check my bag (when you wait longer for your bag then your 45 minute flight or your bag gets damaged, you stop checking), so I like to be in the front of the A line to guarentee that my bag goes overhead without me having to sit in the back. Usually it's not a problem, but could be if I don't have access to a computer at exactly 24 hours ahead of time and end up A 52 or something.

SWA -- why not have a phone check in system? I don't have a Blackberry anymore and I don't have Internet on my cell phone either, so when I can't get to a PC at the 24 hour window, I'm screwed.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | November 7, 2007 4:38 PM

Families (like all passengers) are eligible to get an A boarding pass by checking in 24-hours in advance. The boarding enhancements (assigning you a place in line) were made so that you still have the benefit of choosing where to sit onboard the aircraft without having to stake a place out in line an hour before the flight. Our hope is that it's the best of both worlds for business and leisure travelers alike. One thing that sets SWA apart is our People (I know that sounds like Marketing jargon but it's true). Our Customer Service Agents and Flight Attendants work very hard to make sure the boarding process goes smoothly, families are together, and everyone is happy and safe. It's not an easy job and I appreciate all that they do.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 7, 2007 5:03 PM

Sorry - the above comment was from me again.

Posted by: Angela Vargo | November 7, 2007 5:04 PM

One thing to note is that if you are carrying a lap child, you cannot check in 24 hours in advance. That said, so long as you are traveling with someone else in your group, and they check in on line and get group A, you can board with them.

In any event, I think traveling as a family of four, I'd rather have assigned seats on another airline, then face the uncertainty and hassle of checking in 24 hrs in advance, and getting in line A 45 mins to an hour before take off. I just got back from a vacation where they had the new family pre-boarding, and frankly it was just an inconvenience/annoyance that I don't want on a vacation.

But that's just my preference. Others may be ok with the new system as far as family pre-boarding.

Perhaps with the new Letter number boarding system I may change my mind.

Posted by: Cliff | November 7, 2007 5:12 PM

I'll talk SWA any day of the week and twice on Sunday. I recently had to travel to Texas and wasn't able to make the airline reservations myself. I was booked on Northwest. Absolute disaster. Even with assigned seats, they had overbooked and could not seem to figure out in the system which seats could be released and how to get seats for those whose seat assignments were duplicated. The flight was delayed for almost an hour until they finally actually went down to the plane and looked (yes looked, amazingly) to see what seats were available.

Posted by: Columbia, MD | November 7, 2007 5:15 PM

My main reason for not flying SWA has been the drive to BWI, but IAD service makes this an non-issue. Prior to these changes, however, I would never consider SWA for either business or personal travel since I have better things to do with my time than hover over a website or wait around the airport simply to be first in line. I would gladly pay an extra $10-30 in order to avoid this mishegas.

FWIW, I am getting sick and tired of parents with children complaining about the hardship of the new boarding process and how they were "being considerate of other passengers by sitting together near the front of the plane instead of being spread all over". I can appreciate the need to secure a child seat and diaper bag, but it would be a lot easier to accept if you all sat in a group at the BACK of the plane instead of up front where everyone else really wants to sit.

And, to the person complaining about a $49 fare to Islip - are you kidding me? It is going to cost almost that much in gas, let alone your time. Some folks need to get a life.

Posted by: Lester Burnham | November 7, 2007 5:26 PM

I fly a great deal, usually for business, and in the past year have had at least one flight on United, Continental, Northwest, Delta, American, US-Scare/AmericaWorst, Spirit, various regional carriers, as well as Southwest. This has included classes of service from International Business to Domestic First to "you're lucky we don't make you pay for the air you're breathing, too" (that last one on Northwest, of course).

Of all those airlines, I think Southwest comes in a close second to Continental in getting a lot more right than it gets wrong. Give me the following things, and I will be happy:

1. A comfortable seat with adequate leg room, even at the cheapest fare base.

2. The ability to have some certainty in getting an acceptable seat (checking in 24 hours before to get an A group pass is A-ok by me for this factor).

3. (Usually) friendly flight crews, who get that they are in a service industry, and that I pay their salary.

4. (More often than not) an effort to leave on time, even when the in-bound jet is a bit delayed.

5. Transparency in fare structure and seat availability.

The only one of those factors genuinely impacted by these changes in No. 5 (it is now unclear how many people per flight will be rewarded with A boarding more than 24 hours in advance), and even there the airline seems up-front in what it is doing (that some folks get rewarded, or buy their way into A). I have no problem with the changes (as I will likely be buying my way into A), and if this lets me get a good seat AND walk up to the gate 10 minutes befoe boarding begins, so much the better.

Now if Southwest would just add flights out of DCA and IAD and implement a height restriction on those two coveted seats by the exit rows with no seats in front, so only truly needy tall folks (like me) get them, or makes those two seats available for purchase at a premium, they'd have my business forever.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | November 7, 2007 5:34 PM

For those who said they never heard anyone who likes the cattle call system, I do! Southwest is definitely my favorite airline as they're cheaper (although not as much lately), the employees generally seem to like working there, they've got a good on-time/turnaround record, and I don't mind at all checking in early or sitting early to get my place in line. (I guess the numbers now eliminate some of the waiting in line, which sounds fine also.) BWI to Midway or Orlando direct is almost always a more pleasant trip than trying to go into O'Hare on American or United (my worst pick aside from NWA).

Posted by: Callie | November 7, 2007 5:47 PM

Tomorrow will be my first SWA trip since the new policy went into effect. I fly out of BWI since there is a non stop flight to OKC. That means I have a two hour drive to the airport. I got on line exactly 24 hours before my 4:30 flight tomorrow and got A 26 and 27. I wondered who the 25 people ahead of me where. Now I know. I booked (and paid for) this flight in July in order to get the discount fare. Today, I bought tickets for January for the same reason. I do like SWA and was willing to put up with the cattle call for an aisle seat. Now, I arrange my schedule to be able to access pre board at exactly 24 hours before the flight is scheduled.

Posted by: H Tyson | November 7, 2007 7:16 PM

A third of the seats on Southwest 737s (and that's all they fly) are middle seats. If you are flying alone, you're crazy to risk sitting between an overweight dowager and a smoker with a bad cold. But if you know how to play the game, you can reduce the odds. Look for a couple pretending they don't know each other -- one is at a window seat, the other is on the aisle. They're just trying to preserve some extra space; one of them will move over if you go for the middle seat.

An A boarding pass is pretty much worthless on a flight that did not originate in your city. The ongoing passengers will claim all the good seats before boarding begins for the newcomers.

Southwest is a good airline for the market they originally served -- short flights of an hour or less. But a transcontinental flight? I'm sorry, if that's the way you are going to board me, I'd rather be waterboarded.

Posted by: Ross | November 7, 2007 7:59 PM

And, to the person complaining about a $49 fare to Islip - are you kidding me? It is going to cost almost that much in gas, let alone your time. Some folks need to get a life.

Posted by: Lester Burnham | November 7, 2007 05:26 PM

Hey Lester,

That's each trip -- so what used to cost about $78 with the fees (round trip) now costs over $100. Not to mention parking at BWI, and I use coupons.

I drive a Saturn. I fill up/top off in Jersey for about $25, add the tolls and it's A LOT cheaper to drive. When you add the drive to/from the airport, waiting for the buses to/from parking, waiting around the aiport, waiting for a ride once in Islip, etc. I'm only adding about 2 hours to the trip since it's 5 hours each way.

I LOVE righteous know-it-alls.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | November 7, 2007 8:52 PM

I'm a business traveller who liked the old system. Especially children boarding first. Because then I didn't need to sit near them. Give me the back of the plane over a baby anyday. Because I work on government contracts, I won't be allowed to pay the extra for a "business" seat. Off to the other carriers I go...

Posted by: Anonymous | November 7, 2007 9:02 PM

I usually travel SW for leisure and for work. As a government traveler, I usually don't have much choice as to airline and no doubt will have to fly SW for years to come regardless of what I think. For work travel, I just got bumped to second class citizen on SW because gov travelers cannot fly "business" or "first" class. For leisure, I would happily fork over the extra bucks to get ahead in line, especially for longer flights. Waterboarding torture definitely beats sitting in the middle seat on a long flight. As for the cattle call, I see no advantage to it but have learned to deal with it - I usually do sit on the floor in the B line - but then as an airline traveler I have gotten used to being treated like a FEDEX package, expecting nothing and getting it. Please, please SW go back to preboarding the people with little kids. Mixing them with regular boarding proves you can have a train wreck on an airplane. All in all, SW is among the best even with the silly boarding procedure which is about to get more absurd. The SW employees are definitely one of the best parts of flying with SW. NW in contrast is the anti-SW. NW employees just radiate hate - they hate the airline, they hate their jobs, and they hate the stupid, annoying, troublesome passengers.

Posted by: mi-ti-bear | November 7, 2007 9:14 PM

Driving to Islip from BWI is probably cheaper but I don't know about the LOT cheaper suggested by WDC21113. Aren't the tolls to Long Island over $20 each way? So, If the gas runs $25 each way, that makes $45 whereas SW wants to charge $49. Also, as I recall, the drive truly sucks unless you go between midnight and 6 AM. Even then, you are like as not to hit roadwork which backs em for miles. Oh yeah, don't forget the miles that get piled onto your car driving from BWI to Islip and back. My wife has to put over 25,000 mostly work related miles per year on her car - what a pain in the wallet. Sounds like at $49, SW to Islip is still a good deal.

Posted by: mi-ti-bear | November 7, 2007 9:50 PM

Add me to the group that likes the cattle call - I really, really don't like to fly, and I like to be able to get on the plane in the closest possible seat to the front so that I can get off as quickly as possible at the end of the flight. I have no problem logging in 24 hours early for a boarding pass, but I do somewhat dislike the idea that I can't just show up an hour early and get at the front of the A line anymore. I will probably wind up paying the extra $10-$30 for early check in, but the flight will still be cheaper than on competing airlines, and the service will be better.

Posted by: KateinSS | November 7, 2007 10:00 PM

Pre-boarding parents, children, and all the contraptions is a fine idea--as long as they sit in the BACK of the plane. Please tell me what sense it makes to have them clogging up the aisle(s) and asking flight attendants for this and that when most people have to move past them? Throw in the airlines with assigned seats and other classes and it gets even worse with business people who look like they've never boarded an aircraft before (let me take off my jacket at the worst time!) and have to have that cocktail NOW.

Posted by: el grunir | November 7, 2007 10:19 PM

Angela, hopefully you are stil monitoring these comments...

This is a slap in the face and a complete 180 for what was the best airline in the business. The system treated everyone on the same level. Now the suits, who aren't even paying for their own tickets, are getting deferential service over the usual SW customer. You're no different from American, US Airways, Delta, and all the other horrible airlines now. Honestly, why would your company think this was in keeping with your corporate image? I've been a loyal SW customer for 10 years, but that will change. I drove an hour-plus to fly out of Baltimore in order to experience the great service of SW. Now that you've opted to cater to a certain segment, I'll just have to compare your airline to the competition, as you've sunk to their level.

Posted by: Chays | November 7, 2007 10:28 PM

I recently flew SW after a few years mostly on JetBlue & United. I forgot how the cattle call worked, and although I didn't really care where I sat, I thought it added a lot of tension to the waiting area. Everyone sitting in their respective alley A, B, or C, afraid to go the the toilet or get a sandwich for fear of losing their place. So silly. I would never fly SW with my family for this reason. Families that now board after A group run the risk of not sitting together. I don't understand how this arrangement, with even more rules added today, saves any money for SW. But hey, I'm not running the airline.

Posted by: Karen | November 7, 2007 10:32 PM

Would have appreciated more information -- when, how soon, available on line? Where is news release link?

Posted by: Charli | November 7, 2007 11:28 PM

I don't fly SW because of the cattle call. I have no problem with them doing it, I just choose to fly other airlines - that's how a free market works. I don't understand why if they are going to start letting frequent fliers and business travellers board first and such that they just don't go to assigned seats. But that's their choice and I have plenty of other airlines to choose from.

Posted by: dennis5 | November 8, 2007 10:23 AM

I will be the first to say that SWA has great service. But I'll never fly them. Why? Go to BWI on a weekend morning and look at the check-in line. It doesn't matter how many flights you've made with SWA, you still have to stand in that same line. I know people who have been in that line for 3 hours.

Give me my Elite Access pass on Continental. I have my own line and can check in quickly.

I used to say that SWA was the airline of the great unwashed, but sadly, unless you are in first class, it all the same in economy on any airline.

Posted by: Dandemain | November 8, 2007 12:24 PM

Families who care about sitting together should not fly SW. The next time a family approaches me and expects me (doesn't *ask* me) to change seats can take a hike. Let families board first, and direct them to the back of the plane near the facilities they need -- the bathroom and the galley.

Posted by: Likes kids, but... | November 8, 2007 1:59 PM

Driving to Islip from BWI is probably cheaper but I don't know about the LOT cheaper suggested by WDC21113. Aren't the tolls to Long Island over $20 each way? So, If the gas runs $25 each way, that makes $45 whereas SW wants to charge $49. Also, as I recall, the drive truly sucks unless you go between midnight and 6 AM. Even then, you are like as not to hit roadwork which backs em for miles. Oh yeah, don't forget the miles that get piled onto your car driving from BWI to Islip and back. My wife has to put over 25,000 mostly work related miles per year on her car - what a pain in the wallet. Sounds like at $49, SW to Islip is still a good deal.

Posted by: mi-ti-bear | November 7, 2007 09:50 PM

I can't believe I feel the need to defend myself. Anyway, I don't drive to Islip, I drive to the North Shore. It's 5 hours door to door if I leave about 6 or 7 AM (weekend). Considering I commute on the train during the week and don't drive anywhere other then the grocery store and the mall, a little highway mileage is good for my car (I put 6,000 on my car in ONE year).

It's not $20 in tolls each way. You only pay for some of the bridges going in one direction. And, I'm pretty sure I can make it there and back on one tank (wouldn't want to try it of course), I just choose to stop in NJ because it's cheaper.

And things just got worse. Right now, it's $59 each way for a weekend I wanted to fly home in April.

So, yes after almost three years of traveling back and forth at $29 each way, it's sticker shock when it pretty much doubles.

And for what it's worth, I had my friend check in for me tonight at 8:45, exactly 24 hours before my flight (Albany), since I wasn't near a PC and I'm A-42!

Ha, Fox news is talking about SWA now...It's all about the biz flyer.

Posted by: WDC 21113 | November 8, 2007 10:19 PM

I totally agree with Arlington's 5 points above. I usually fly United for business and international trips (not that I love it -- but they have my FF miles and lots of flights from Dulles), but always Southwest for personal domestic trips. They meet all of those 5 concerns, and there's no airline I'd rather deal with over the phone, such as when I've had to cancel and reschedule flights due to illness or weather. (And I love the one-year-credit-for-cancellation policy.) I'm a bit skeptical of these changes -- I was happy with the cattle call, especially once online check-in was added -- but I'll reserve judgment until I see it in action a couple of times. If the business and FF passengers keep me from getting my window seat, I'll have to reconsider my love for SW.

Posted by: jane | November 9, 2007 3:35 PM

wdc21113 thx for the update on your travels to long island. wish i only needed to put 6000 miles per year on my car. I have to do about 18,000 per year. You must get tired of the train but it beats driving. As for the trip to NYC from the Baltimore/Washington area, I like the train best. For the reasons you point out in your earlier post, short hop flying does not save much time and can be quite a hassle. If airlines like SW could figure out how to speed up the security and other airport related processes, I would fly more. For anything within 5 hours or less, cars and trains rule.

Posted by: mi-ti-bear | November 9, 2007 9:26 PM

For the reasons you point out in your earlier post, short hop flying does not save much time and can be quite a hassle.

Posted by: BooBah | November 14, 2007 12:05 PM

I was happy with the cattle call, especially once online check-in was added -- but I'll reserve judgment until I see it in action a couple of times.

Visible Technologies
www.visibletechnologies.com

Posted by: boobah | November 14, 2007 12:10 PM

For those of you that want to force families to the back of the bus (oh, excuse me, airplane) - get a life. We travel all over the US and the world with our 3 year old and pay the same fares that you do - we have just as much right to sit in front as anyone else. By the way, don't assume that every kid you see is a bad traveler - most aren't.

Posted by: Texas Traveler | November 14, 2007 4:28 PM

Has SWA also changed pre-boarding for handicapped persons? This would be a great disservice to handicapped individuals and a blot on SWA's customer service.

Posted by: Sandy | November 14, 2007 10:00 PM

I would love to see swa get gates at the Atlanta airport. Delta seems to have the airport locked up but it would be nice to get the low prices and more competition would keep the prices low in spite of the fuel spikes.

Posted by: Art Friedman | November 15, 2007 7:26 AM

I don't like the most recent change, but must admit that when we flew under the previous version, we were able to choose our seats even with B boarding passes on return.

The problem with "...just print the passes in advance" is that we don't take a PC on outdoor vacations and our budget motel didn't have one available.

Posted by: Debby | November 15, 2007 2:38 PM

I had my first experience this week with the new system and it worked like a charm. Although I checked in 24 hours in advance to the minute, I received A-20, since A1 through A15 are reserved for the new business flyers. However, when it came time to board, there were not 15 people in front of me, so presumably those set-asides were never issued. I really liked the fact that I didn't need to camp out on the floor in the A line and could relax in a real chair. The boarding process went very quickly and smoothly. So, kudos to Southwest. (Although I'm still bummed that it got rid of its non-stops between Oakland and Philly.)

Posted by: Bay Area Traveler | November 15, 2007 7:52 PM

I just called the Southwest consumer relations department today to explain what I consider to be a real problem with their new system and the way they are trying to protect it. My concerns got me a response of "fly more as a revenue passenger to get the guaranteed A". That's not really a very nice thing to say to someone who flys a lot as a revenue passenger that is also on even more SW flights as a non-revenue companion pass customer.

The company wants to shut down any other way to obtain priority boarding other than paying them. The TOS for online check-in that they are trying to enforce with cease and desist letters are such that ONLY the person that is flying can do the check-in. According to the interpretation of the SW legal minds you are breaking the rules by having anyone else check you in. So, no secretaries or family memebers better check you in or you are violating the terms of service. This means that all of the free automated services that would check you in on your behalf are being threatened with litigation. SW has resorted to defining them as "travel services business" to enforce the SW TOS.

As a frequent flyer I see multiple problems.

1. There are now 60 A boarders. They renamed a fair amount of previous B boarders and now call them A's.

2. Anyone traveling on a companion pass is on their own and doesn't get the same A pass as the person they are tied to in the ticketing system.

3. As a person that flies frequently with multiple trips, check-ins right at the 24 hr mark are sometimes impossible. Sometimes it's the SW system that refuses to allow check-in unless you have flown all your previous segments, sometimes it's that you are in the air and can't get it done. Your buddy get the A and you get whatever there is by the time you can check in. And I really don't want to hear "your buddy should save you a seat" nonsense.

When I clearly explained these issues to the "consumer affairs" rep, I was told I need to take more paying flights and then I'd be guranteed and A boarding pass. Maybe it's time to go elsewhere as the "customer service" and appreciation is gone at SW.

Posted by: Companion Pass Frequent Flyer | November 28, 2007 10:15 AM

The new SW boarding system stinks. They need to either go back to the old system or finally update to the rest of the world and go to reserved seats. When I log on at exactly 24 hours before the flight and get numbers 22, 24, 31, and 36 for my family, that's rediculous. Much less consider that now its difficult for my family to sit together. Get rid of the new boarding system!

Posted by: smichels | December 25, 2007 9:46 PM

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