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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