Home Airlines Southwest To Experiment With Changing Boarding Order

Southwest To Experiment With Changing Boarding Order

by SharonKurheg

Compared to virtually every other major airline in the U.S., Southwest Airlines is very much an outlier in terms of how they do things. They don’t charge for the first two checked bags. They have a flexible cancellation policy. And, of course, they don’t have assigned seating. Instead, they opt for a “first come, first served” open seating system that’s based on check-in time and paying for opportunities to board earlier.

Southwest typically allows family boarding (read: Up to two adults traveling with a child six years old or younger) in between the “A” and “B” groups. This gives families more time to get settled once they’re boarded. However the airlines is going to experiment with a different system for families to board, to see how it goes.

For a week in mid-December, families traveling together will be offered the opportunity to board before those who hold an A-list boarding assignment. However, those families would be required to sit behind row 15. As per vice president of business transformation Angela Marano at Southwest’s Media Day last week, the experiment is scheduled to occur during mid-December, at four of the airline’s gates at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL).

The reasoning for the trial is twofold. Southwest is trying to see how they can shorten aircraft turn times (read: get planes in, unload passengers and bags, reload again and then out of the airport gate), as their turn times have been creeping up in recent years. They also want to comply with the DOT’s pressure on airlines to keep families sitting together without having to incur extra costs (i.e. being forced to purchase assigned seating on virtually all other U.S.-based airlines). Families sitting together from the onset will also help avoid playing “musical seats” (and the potential difficulties when a fellow passenger is not willing to change their seat to accommodate a family sitting together before the plane takes off).

People with lower-numbered “A” boarding usually look for seats in the front and/or window or aisle seats. Even with families boarding before them, the thought would be the “low-numbered ‘A’ people” would still be able to get the seats they want (families having to sit behind Row 15 would would mean 30 window seats and 30 aisle seats would be available to these “low numbered ‘A’ people”). And by the time the latter half of Group A loaded, I guess they’re hoping the families will be settled so those who have boarding position A31 and beyond could get past them quickly.

It’s just Southwest’s way to make small changes, see what works and what doesn’t.

“The idea is that we want to put these things out there tested with real-life customers, tweak them, see if they work, make a decision,” said Marano.

Feature Photo: Southwest Airlines/YouTube

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Artie December 2, 2022 - 5:27 pm

Because you breed, you go first, what non breeders money isn’t the same?

SharonKurheg December 2, 2022 - 6:32 pm

As an adult, you’re probably able to get settled into your seat much faster than a family with, let’s say, 2y/o twins. I can deal with that; sorry you can’t.

Gregory December 6, 2022 - 10:03 am

My last flights I PAID for Early Bird and got B. After all the handicaps, people who need extra time and families boarding between A and B I ended up a window row 19. I feel like I got boned, hosed whatever.

SharonKurheg December 6, 2022 - 10:06 am

Sorry. However Early Bird isn’t very “early” anymore, thanks to A-List and this: https://yourmileagemayvary.net/2022/10/06/southwest-ruined-my-trick-to-get-on-the-plane-first/

The February 3, 2023 - 10:30 am

Making early bird almost worthless. Let them pay for EB

SharonKurheg February 3, 2023 - 11:31 am

The US gov’t is encouraging airlines to figure out ways to keep families with young children together. I think that’s reasonable.

Bob December 2, 2022 - 9:02 pm

Southwest should regulate wheelchair passengers. Should have to show a letter from a Dr. I saw a person walk from the parking garage with two bags only to be seen in a wheelchair to board first. Other airlines do not have 15 wheelchairs passengers. Or make them wait until the plane is empty then they can disembark. That will cut the wheelchair line down to two or three persons.

SharonKurheg December 2, 2022 - 9:06 pm

Demanding proof of an actual reason for requiring wheelchair access is a medical privacy issue. But besides that, how would that help Southwest’s boarding time? If those requesting wheelchairs don’t need one, they’ll still get settled in the plane quickly. Those with the aforementioned 2y/o twins? Not so much.

Kim December 12, 2022 - 3:09 am

Bob, as one of those wheelchair passengers, first of all, we already DO have to exit last. And I would LOVE to be able to give up the wheelchair, and have to wait to board. I haven’t been able to skip the wheelchair in over 7 years, which also means I had to give up hiking and climbing.

T Hall December 2, 2022 - 9:15 pm

The logic doesn’t make sense. If families today board between A and B group then using their logic the early “A’s” will already be taking the first 15 rows before the families board. So why not let the A’s just go before the families like they can today? Instead if larger numbered A’s want to sit behind the exit row (which a lot do) then we will be gummed up in the aisle waiting for the families to get settled. The A group moves faster than I think this experiment considers.

DG December 2, 2022 - 11:52 pm

Allowing families to board first, allows those in the lower A group to pick and choose if they want to sit next to said screaming child after they paid extra to pick their seat. As a mom who’s flown with small children, it still can be difficult to hear another child as their screaming. Even when my kids cried I felt bad for other passengers. Kids are kids, but having the option to be next to a potentially unhappy child makes it uncomfortable for most, one way or another, especially if the lower A is not a kids person.

SharonKurheg December 2, 2022 - 11:55 pm

Good point.

Donnie December 3, 2022 - 10:13 pm

Wait until the family groups refuse to go beyond the 15th row. Who will make them move?? Sounds like trouble to me.

Dolly December 7, 2022 - 10:43 am

Talk about holding up a flight…
And it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.

Darrell Neer December 6, 2022 - 2:04 pm

Having been a companion pass holder for over 15 years and traveled extensively with wife and 2 kids, I can assure you that the blatant abuse of handicap “privileges” causes more of the boarding delays than anything else. Besides the large number of people pretending to be handicapped, the ones that really are won’t stay in their seat when asked to upon arrival. The wheelchairs aren’t ready for them so they hobble up the jetway slowing down everyone that is blocked behind them. This not only slows down the deplaning of the arriving flight and next departure, but can cause delays for a connecting flight with little layover time. The families are a much smaller part of the problem. Frequent travelers deserve to be rewarded for their loyal business. If the perks aren’t there, they’ll just switch to an airline that wants their money more and let their old airline become a zoo.

MICHAEL WOODWARD December 6, 2022 - 6:35 pm

Why don’t the just assign sests and let the people in the back of the plane board first? That would go a lot faster. Then the kids and then the A listers.

Tommy December 12, 2022 - 8:49 am

Perfect, but B&C would have to check their bags. Also can cut out all the extras traveling with pre boards…I saw 6 people pre board with a wheelchair person this morning

PA December 12, 2022 - 3:47 am

Does Southwest have early boarding for non-wheel chair bound disabled/handicap passengers? I get yelled/cursed at a lot since my disability/handicap is internal so peeps think I’m fine and well aka don’t judge a book by its cover…what one sees is not as is 😢

Eddy V December 14, 2022 - 5:33 am

I hope you are joking or just being sarcastic. Having a physical disability isn’t a joke (yea some folks may “overplay” or take advantage).

CHRIS December 17, 2022 - 5:26 pm

Exactly ZERO flight attendants will police this row 15 thing. Just another devaluation of what few elite “benefits” WN has.

SharonKurheg December 17, 2022 - 5:52 pm

And if that’s the case, I’m sure elite members (and anyone else with “A” boarding) will complain to Southwest, the experiment will run its course and never be heard from again. No harm, no foul.

CHRIS December 18, 2022 - 3:53 pm

You’re giving them too much credit. There’s a simple solution that families can exercise….purchase early bird. For a fee they can all bug guarantee that they can sit together just like they can on every other airline.

SharonKurheg December 18, 2022 - 6:16 pm

Except the government is currently pressuring airlines to allow families with young children to sit together without having to pay extra fees – just like every other airline. This is one way to allow that to happen. But again, it’s just an experiment; who knwos if it will “stick” or not?


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