New Boarding Rules at Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is known for its whimsical, no-frills approach. As far as I know, it’s the only airline that mails out birthday cards (I get one every year), sends free drink (read: beer, wine, liquor) coupons to frequent flyers, and operates what may be the industry’s simplest free-ticket program (8 round-trips and you’re done….They don’t care about air miles.) For the most part, they get it right….at least for the casual or flexible flyer. I actually listened once to the safety monologue at the beginning of the flight because the attendant started it with “There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 6 ways to get off of this aircraft, so you might want to listen up!” For my uptight, retentive friends, it’s a little too loosey-goosey, but hey, the fares are relatively cheap, and the flights are pretty well on time.

Perhaps the most defining element of the airline, however, is what so many of us travelers have dubbed “the cattle call”, or as the industry calls it: open seating. At first, this was pretty cool. Show up early, earn the right to board ahead of others and pick your seat. Show up late…you’re likely stuck in the middle seat somewhere near the back. (Maybe that’s what the drink tickets are for.)

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any goofier, Southwest Airlines has done it again. They have changed their trademark boarding system. Arriving at the gate for a recent flight, I found a number of 8-foot tall, chrome signposts adorned with placards covered with a somewhat confusing array of numbers and arrows. Granted, once I sat down, ate a yogurt parfait for breakfast, and considered their purpose for about 20 minutes, I seemingly figured it out. The senior citizens who showed up closer to boarding time, though, were utterly confused.

It seems now, instead of receiving a boarding group status of A (flyers 1-30), B (31-60), or C (61-90) + everyone else; now each boarding pass has not only a letter, but a sequential number as well. Today, I was “A-29”. I had checked in online last night from home and printed my pass this morning at the office….HOURS before I could have done the same at the airport. This new system was best described by this retired fellow who seemed both annoyed and entertained at the signs. “I guess three lines (A, B, C) of a bunch of people was too difficult, so now they have about 20 lines of 5 people.”

(Note: The following day, on my return flight, I arrived at the gate to find much better designed “line markers”–see photo– bolted to the floor and much less confusing….Let’s call it a “quick learning curve”.)

Do you think the new boarding procedure is a success, or a failure? Sound off with your comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.