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Nancy Parode

Does Southwest’s New Boarding System Really Work?

By February 13, 2008

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Last fall, Southwest Airlines introduced a new boarding system. Passengers now line up by boarding group (A, B or C) and number (1-60) and board in order. Each Southwest gate has a group of poles or pillars with number groups on them – 1-5, 6-10 and so on – to help passengers arrange themselves correctly. There’s still pre-boarding for children traveling alone and for travelers who need some extra assistance. Families with young children board after group A and before group B. (Tip: Check in online exactly 24 hours before your departure time to get a good boarding group and number. I checked in at 8:26 A.M. for an 8:25 A.M. flight the next day and got position A27.)

Today I had three opportunities to see the system in action because I flew from Ontario, Calif., to Baltimore, Md., via Phoenix and Austin. Each time, Southwest’s gate agents explained the process to waiting passengers. In Austin, my final stopover, I was a little mystified because several passengers clumped up near the jetway, but no one lined up in group A’s first 20 positions. The gentleman in front of me explained that Southwest saves these positions for “Business Select” passengers at certain airports. The people in the clump were Business Select passengers, and they boarded first.

All in all, I think that Southwest’s boarding system is much better than the old process. I don’t have to get to the airport extra early, race through security and stand in my group’s line. Instead, I can take my time and make sure my children have something to eat before we board. I can sit in the boarding gate area or stretch my legs. Thanks, Southwest!

(Tip #2: If you're planning a trip, check out Southwest's fare sale. Prices are good through February 21.)

Photo © Alex Parode

February 14, 2008 at 12:49 am
(1) Steve says:

As an old hand on Southwest, their new seating system hearkens back to their old seating system, with the well-worn plastic boarding passes you received when you checked in. Each pass was numbered sequentially, and it gave you the freedom to move around the terminal prior to the first boarding call without losing your priority.

In order to make internet check-in more workable, Southwest adopted the boarding group “cattle call” method – A, B, or C, and we all became prisoners of the “cattle chute” (unless you were fortunate to have urchins in tow or another qualifier for pre-board status), becasue the seat selection for the first person in Group A, B or C and the last person in the same group were all VERY different.

Southwest must have upgraded its internet check-in software so that they could equitably track and divide the check-in time for on-line check-ins making it possible to return to the sequential numbering of check-ins and free us loyal customers from the cattle chutes. Thank them by buying more Southwest tickets!

Some simple Southwest seating information: every 737-300, 500 or 700 has six coveted first row seats, five roomy emergency exit row seats and one amazingly roomy exit row seat without a seat in front – my favourite – (but no drop down tray table so if you’re a little broad in the beam, this one is not for you); 40-46 window seats (no entertainment is provided on Southwest flights) and 40-46 aisle seats. The remaining 40-46 cramped middle seats are left to the unfortunate Group C boarders. Check-in early on-line for a chance to land one of the 92-108 better seats on board!

Southwest may not appeal to everyone, but I choose them over all other airlines except jetBlue and Midwest Airlines, who have an unbelievable quality of service and seating but significantly limited rate structure. You are free to move about the country!

February 2, 2012 at 7:57 am
(2) Tracy says:

I do not agree. We checked in right at the 24 hours before mark and got boarding group C. It is great for single people who insist on an isle or window seat. Not so great for people who are traveling with a spouse or a child. I asked several different people if they could switch so my husband and I could sit together and people all out said NO. It is almost funny to board in the C group and get onto the plane to see the only seats available or the middle seats.. I would rather pay more and be able to sit with my husband on a 4 hour flight. At least when you get assigned seating they would sit you with your spouse

April 12, 2013 at 10:20 am
(3) Kim says:

I agree with Tracy. I have two young children and I checked in over the internet as soon as my phone displayed 11:05 to the second (exactly 24 hours in advance) and we were placed in group B, number 43-48. How can that be? Perhaps a lot of people use the “early bird check in” which costs more money. Just another way for airlines to make more money.

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