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Enhanced Boarding

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Over the past year and a half, I've been fortunate enough to be involved in a project that is focused on improving our Customers' experience with our boarding process.  This is another great example of how Southwest Airlines truly listens and cares about our Customers.  Enough to make changes for you.  So what am I blabbering on about, it's the hottest craze to hit our gate area in the San Antonio airport.  We are testing a new boarding method that tries to improve our Customers' experience in our gate area.  I think it's great, and, no, I'm not biased.  Here's how it works: you check in and get your boarding pass, just like you would today, but now, in addition to the letter A, B, or C,  it also has a numeric position on it.  That numeric position is your spot in line!  We're, essentially, holding a place for you in line so you don't have to camp out in line before it's time to board the aircraft (Old Way: A...New Way:  A6).  You're now free to move about the airport...grab a coffee, a bite to eat, maybe even use the restroom with out having to leave those bags unattended. You don't have to be watching for thar first person to race to the front of the line and then hurry behind them, only to wait 30 minutes utill the plane even lands.  With all the flying I do, I lUV it, and I hope you will too.  Now remember, we're just testing it in the San Antonio airport.  We want to make sure you, the Customers, like it and that it doesn't hurt our "turn times."  So if your travel plans take you to the river walk, come say "hi."  We'll be testing there for a few more weeks.   
154 Comments
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What's a "turn" time?
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Don't like it. This will make it even less fair to those who use those silly automated boarding card retrievers. Go back to the old plastic cards at the podium, and then whatever number you get is whatever order you board in. This solves the problem of boarding area crowding/ unattended bags, and makes it more fair for everybody.
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I for one think it's a terrible idea, the race to make sure you're near a computer with internet to check-in now 24 hours before your flight is bad enough, now it won't be enough to get an A Boarding pass, but the actual order of the passes counts too.
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@John Cantrell - Turn Time is the time between when the plane stops at the gate and wheels are chocked until the plane starts pushing back. You "turn" a plane by getting people off and getting new people on - it's been Southwest's adage since day one that planes do not generate revenue whilst sitting on the ground. @Matthew - I too remember the plastic boarding passes fondly. Remember the ones in California that were die cut into the shape of the state? I also remember my shock when I received a paper boarding pass for the first time - yuck! And I don't understand what you mean by those silly automated boarding card retrievers - are you talking about the renegade websites that offer to get a boarding pass on your behalf? @Tom - You're like me. It will be a terrible idea if you have BP A60 and get to the airport 90 minutes early, but it will be a WONDERFUL idea if you have BP A6 and get to the gate just as the last deplaning passengers are getting off. But you know what's cool about Southwest? They are trying a new system in one airport to make sure it works before rolling it out system wide. Much better than somebody at corporate deciding this is the way it will be and forcing it on everybody from gate agents to passengers. Kudos to SWA for realizing that the solution might not be the best one.
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Hi Susie, Since you broached the topic, and have been involved in testing new boarding procedures, can you talk about how this might work practically? When the plane arrives and your boarding group is called - are their numbers painted on the ground to guide Customers to their spot in the queue? Do you have to go down the line asking each Customer what number they are to find your place in the group? Does the Ops Agent call A6, or A1-10? Or is there a method I didn't think of? Of the processes I mentioned, each seem reduce the impetus to stand in line and reserve an earlier spot in the boarding group. But the methods I thought of also seem to have problems in Customer experience or operational expediency. Thanks, Colin.
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Susie, how exactly do people line up in order? Are there numbered dots on the floor or something? I'd love to hear how the other experiments with seating families and early boarders are going. As for the mad line-up, I've never understood that. Unless I have a tight connection, there's no need for me to have my "pick of the litter". Normally, as long as I can get a window, I'm happy. In that case it wouldn't matter if I had A1 or A45 as I know I'll be able to get what I want. It's only if I get a C card (which would mean I had to change flights at the last minute) that I will look to line up early. Oh, to answer John's question, the "turn time" is the amount of time it takes to turn a plane that has just arrived at the gate to one that has just departed the gate (i.e the time it takes to open the doors, get the arriving passengers off, take care of any cleaning, get the departing passengers on, and then close the doors).
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I applaud you for trying something new for the boarding process. I have several concerns. First, who will monitor to make sure you don't have the cheater who will crowd ahead of everyone? Also, won't this slow the boarding process? There is several more questions I can think of, but I'm sure someone will ask them. I'll be anxious to hear how things are working. Please keep us updated. We can always count on Southwest to find ways to make things better or at least try to make them better.
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John- Turn time is the time from when one plane/flight lands until that plane leaves for another flight. Example: Flight 1549 is a flight from Baltimore to Buffalo. It takes off from Baltimore at (these are today's figures, as filed) 4:35 and lands in Buffalo at 5:20. That same aircraft then goes back to Baltimore as flight 263, which departs Buffalo at 6:10 and arrives at 6:55. Therefore, the "turn" time in between those two flights is 50 minutes, which is about average from what I've seen. Many flights run better than that, but I'm guessing that the turn time is padded somewhat there because between 5 and 6 is when Buffalo experiences rush hour as far as air traffic goes. Hope this helped.
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Q - "Are there numbered dots on the floor or something?" Q - "are their numbers painted on the ground to guide Customers to their spot in the queue?" Q - "Do you have to go down the line asking each Customer what number they are to find your place in the group?" WTTB found a picture that should answer all these questions - http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/img/v3/08-08-2007.NB_08southwest.GI8271CTG.1.jpg
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Wish we could edit our posts Brian - feel free to put that on your to-do list when you get back to work. I misspelled the West Texas Blog Boy acronym and I meant to add a line saying, "Look closely at the rails. Notice the cut outs every five numbers to make it easy to get to your assigned area of the line."
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Good for SWA for trying something new. I fly SWA every week for business and every week I am irritated by those who run to the front of the line only to stand there for another 20 minutes or more. I always laugh when the "Anxious A's" are in line and the operations employee (guy who scans your boarding pass) announces that there is ONLY an A boarding group. Who cares if you are A1 or A45? You'll get your aisle or window seat no matter where you are in boarding order. With this method, people won't feel compelled to participate in this lemming-esque behavior.
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Please, please, please bring this to Chicago's Midway. I love the ease of online check-in, the frequent flights, and the relatively affordable pricing, but there are times that the cattle-call boarding system makes me want to pay a little more, sacrifice a little convenience, and fly another airline. I get enough pushing, shoving and jockeying for position on the bus or the train every morning, I could really do without when I fly (which is already a trying experience for many). Southwest does so many things well, and always with a healthy (and rare) dose of corporate common sense. I've often wondered when you guys were going to address this headache. Thanks and keep up the good work.
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I had the PLEASURE of experiencing the experimental boarding procedure today as I flew out of San Antonio. My husband and I have flown over 90 flights in the past 12 months and this definitely was a stress free experience. We went online as usual 24 hours before our flight, retrieved our boarding pass, arrived at our gate and had a leisurely (meaning we didn't have to swarm to the "line" to save our spot and then either sit on the ground or stand for almost an hour) wait for our flight back home (to Las Vegas). When the attendant announced the plane had arrived there wasn't the mad chaos at the line but an orderly walk to our spot (we had #A1 and #A2). Thank you to Southwest for an enjoyable boarding experience - keep up the good work. By the way, we have always enjoyed our flying experiences with Southwest - especially the "on time" consistency.
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"Your now free to move about the airport. " I think you mean "You're now free..." as in "You are now free..." not your now...
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I think this is a great idea! Hope the test airport goes well and I see it in my home airport (PIT) soon.
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Why not just assign seats like a normal airline? Even if its for the first half the of the plane for normal people who don't like being treated like cattle? Then for the 'others' that like it, you can continue for the back half of the plane. Tonight I had a HORRIBLE experience on your airline trying to get from Oakland to Burbank, I have had ups and downs with SWA for years, hating the way you treat your customers. This was the final straw (and you're making money on me, because I have 500 plus dollars in unused fare/vouchers). I'd rather put up with LAX and SFO and start using Virgin, they assign seats, they're only 50 bucks each way, and the flight attendants are professional and courteous (yours tonight, were not in the least).
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Trying new things is good...Just don't do assigned seats. I'm not sure what biz travelers are in the focus groups you guys use, but maybe WN should poll their companion pass holders. I'd venture to guess most don't want assigned seats. I know I don't. I can buy a ticket 12 hours before the flight and get a window/aisle seat. It's tough to do that with status on other airlines. Even the flight attendants don't want it.
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I often fly southwest in and out of San Antonio and rarely do I remember to print my boarding pass or even check in before I leave my house, let alone 24 hours in advance. Imagine my excitement when I remembered to check in online (only about 6 hours before the flight) and saw that my boarding pass said A! Then I see the 43 underneath. Aww. What does it all mean?! Basically, my questions are: Is everyone an A now or are there B's and C's as well? If there are other letters, how many numbers are there with each letter (I understand that some planes are bigger than others and that probably helps in deciding) If there aren't any letters, isn't the A a tad misleading? What's the point really? My flight is this afternoon, I'll follow up to let you all know how the boarding process goes.
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As a business traveler to Chicago from Kansas City every week, I avoid using Southwest becasue of the current boarding process. If you were to change to this new method of letter and number I would fly SWA weekly.
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Whoops...good eye, William. Thanks! Behind the Scenes Blog Girl
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I've been a Customer since the 70's. Just within the past year I have become sick and tired of spending more time standing in the A line than I spend on my flight (AUS-DAL, or AUS-HOU). I'd love to try this out. I'm finally coming around to wanting assigned seats. Thanks for seeking our input.
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I posted this on Flyertalk before, but here it is again. I think the boarding order should be: Blue sleeve preboards A Group - Full fare tickets, CP holders and their companions, and anyone willing to pay $10 (maximum of 45 or 60 or however many full-fare tickets and CP holders/companions there are if that's higher) Families with Children B Group (and C Group if you still want to have it) WN needs to reward its full fare travelers, increase revenue, and reward its most loyal customers, and this would accomplish that. This would give all those CP holders who have little use for the CP now a real benefit. To reiterate my earlier point, I just don't think it's a good idea to increase the race to check-in online, if anything I'd say it wouldn't be as bad if you just got rid of online check-in and installed more kiosks at the airport for those checking in, give A1 to the first person at the airport (cut the check-in time down to 4 hours before the flight from the current 24 hours).
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How exciting... a season of change.. I think it is a great idea. I usually get to the airport an hour and a half before my departure and there is already a line. I think we should all give Southwest a chance to see if it works. To the customer with the complaint above... While i wasn't on your flight i can say that i have been flying Southwest since I was 9 years old and my family and I have always been treated well. Southwest is ranked high when it comes to customer satisfaction. You should consider staying with them. Low fares, a lot of flight options and the friendliest employees. I often have to remember that employees are humans to and somedays they have bad days. This doesn't excuse unfriendly behavior but it does allow me to walk in the employees shoes for a second. hope you would reconsider your position... USS BLOG BOY
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Chris- I am sure IF Southwest goes to assigned seating they will do it sort of like the "big" guys. By that I mean they will probably not allow all seats to be chosen in advance. Also I would think they would allow those such as yourself, companion pass holders, to select their seat whenever they booked. As it is right now carriers block sections of seats for thier FF. Just take a look on any airline web site. If you were to book say 6, 7, 8 months out you would probably find that not all seats are available. Also with Southwest's new process there will be 60 A's and 60 B's. My feeling is they should go to assigned seating. I don't think there is anyway they will be able stop those nasty line cutters. With assigned at least they can try and keep some of the seats blocked for FF.
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I think this could really work well. I just wish SWA could do something about all of the abuse of the preboarding.
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I'm okay with this as long as SWA keeps OPEN SEATING. I love open seating. The bottom line is that I have generally gotten better seats when flying with SWA. I don't care that much about having a windows. The last times I flew SWA, I was the first person off the plane both times. That's cool. I was in the A group both times. PLEASE KEEP OPEN SEATING.
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I applaud Southwest for continuing trying to improve the boarding process, but sometimes you have to say if it is not broke do not mess with it. I am on SWA as many as 6 to 8 fIigts a week some weeks but most weeks on at least 2 flights and I find the way it works today an efficient and effective and I do not believe that this process will in fact make the boarding process more equitable for the majority. I can see that if your are the person that gets to the airport very very early only to find that you can't be first in line becuase someone else was earlier that it may not seem fair to them but come on is being first only the plane really that important and if it is just get there even earlier. What I like about the current system if it is really important to you to have an A and pick your seat your can in fact do so and you know what you have to do to do it. People who live on the edge and continually arrive at the last minute (you know the same people SWA gate agents have to make annoucements for) should not be able to get a good number and then continually waste it. I contend that people who claim not to like your boarding system are people who do not fly SWA very often. Weekly I talk to a lot of people who do fly SWA frequently and I find a very limited number of people who are not satisfied with the current boarding system and many who are insistent that it not change. KEEP UP THE GREAT WORK!
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As a leisure flyer, I try to fly SW any chance I get. Reading the comments on the experimental boarding procedure shows that you will never please everyone. I wonder how an idea like paying a few extra dollars for a choice of seat may fly. It would be strictly voluntary, gain extra revenue, and may solve a lot of issues. I personally don't mind getting in line early, but on a full flight when I'm not at the gate early, I'd love the option to pay for my seat. Keep up the good work, I LOVE your airline.
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I had the recent pleasure of boarding using the letter/number system in San Antonio, Texas. It was great. I travel on SWA two to four days a week and the new procedures is the biggest improvement SWA has made in years. Please implement it Texas wide ASAP. The A, B, C lines bring out the worst in some people. Even the smallest space between people in line makes someone want to close the gap. I am sure there has been hundreds (maybe thousands) of studies on the psychology of people that wait in line. The new method proposed by SWA is a significant improvement over the existing method and should be adopted without further wait or study.
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I also think this is a great idea as long as SWA keeps open seating. Thank you.
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I fly Southwest frequently, but HATE the mad rush to check-in @ 24 hours prior and the cattle call boarding process. Perhaps the assigned spot in line helps with boarding, but it will only make the advance check-in for that spot even more frantic. Then do the multitude of families traveling with their little darlings still get priority boarding? I'd gladly pay an additional $10 to reserve my preferred seat in advance.
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Hi, I am an Profitability analyst for an undisclosed(for obvious reasons) other airline. We refer to SWA method of boarding the Cattle Herd. But, I believe this new system will be better although I thought WN was doing good with having people pay $10 for a pre-reserved seating. I mean it seems much better to have the line placement. Although I know what the mad rush is like from non-reving on my airline we are given priority by check-in time starting at a certain number of hours from the flight. WN knows what they are doing though since they seem to keep turning those profits and have grown to one of the largest airlines in the world. I will have to try the new System at SAT soon though.
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I still haven't figured out how planes load passengers faster by letting them choose their own seat. I have seen many times where someone wants a seat in the front of the plane taking 5 minutes to squueze their oversized carry-on in the overhead bin (which shouldn't have made past security in the first place but thats other story) holding up 75 other people behind them. I have flown for many years and noticed that assigned seats loading planes from the back first, tends to get the plane out of the gate faster. This way you have the back half of the plane already in and you aren't holding up the front rows. This also allows me to pick a seat that I want and not show up to the airport 2 hours early to get that A pass or to be the first in line so I get my window or aisle seat that I want.
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I just recently flew from Cleveland to Seattle, and then home from Portland back to Cleveland... Over the course of this, I made a few observations. My flight to Seattle was originating in Cleveland that morning, so that meant no passengers were on the plane from the previous flight. My mom and I both had A group passes, so I wasn't so worried about playing "the game" for boarding. We were the last people to board in A group and still managed to get 2 of the three seats in the exit row with the largest amount of legroom. The flight had a stop in MDW. You can imagine the disappointment of the people leading the A group in Chicago who found that there was only 1 empty seat in this exit row. They began to play 20 questions with me, asking if I had an A boarding pass (yes), how did they not see me in line (I wasn't in their line), oh did I preboard (of course not, preboarders can't sit in exit rows, duh), dancing around their utter disbelief that I got onto the plane before them. Finally, one of the FAs put them out of their misery, advising them that I boarded in Cleveland. This diverted the questions from me, to her (I thought this was an originating flight! - no.). If people are so desperate to be first in line for their flight, then I think we should just let them be. Personally, I've found it is entirely possible to get the best seat on the plane even if you're the last person in A, and it's also entirely possible to get a "bad" seat even if you're the first person in A. I think more fights would be generated by people accusing others of cutting b/c their number is whatever, and just make it harder for people to line up just before boarding. Oh, and stay away from assigned seats. kthx.
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Since Southwest is currently a "point-to-point" carrier (as opposed to "hub-and-spoke") I don't see how it would be practical for assigned seating for similar reasons as the observations Blasthoff posted. Living an hour from Love Field, I would be one of those people who "waste" a good boarding number because traffic in the D/FW Metroplex is so unpredictable. No matter how soon I leave my house, I can arrive at the airport 90 minutes to 90 seconds before my flight takes off. I have never missed a flight, but I have hurried onto a plane almost having the plane door hit me where the Good Lord split me, and I still got my preferred seat (aisle). I live in Fort Worth and drive past D/FW to Love Field to fly Southwest when I can. For all the naysayers, there are plenty of other airlines for them to choose, but the "cattle call" is, for me, the best way to fly! I trust Southwest to experiment with different procedures and only implement the ones that are actually beneficial, even if they are "counterculture" to the rest of the airline industry.
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Southwest, it's time for an intervention. The problem is that you're stuck in the past. There was a time when open seating worked wonderfully. That was back when flights didn't almost always fly at capacity. Those days are long over. Now it seems as if boarding takes forever as all the standbys and stragglers make their way down the aisle, trying to find an open seat (or those precious couples, hoping against hope that boarding three minutes before pushback that they'll find a pair of open seats). This new scheme... it's not a step in the right direction. In fact, it sounds needlessly complicated and potentially irritating. I don't want to figure out your boarding fad of the week, and neither do most of your other passengers. Southwest, it's time for assigned seating. Break the pattern of denial. You know it's true.
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Please keep open seating. As a frequent flyer on Southwest ( my wife has had a companion pass for 3 years now) having the option to pick seats is great. With online check in an A boarding pass is usally available, if it means that much to you. In our case, tickets are usally purchased less than 30 days before the flight, with open seating all the "good seats" are not reserved and unavailable. With small children preboarded it is possible to pick a seat away from the cute little seat kickers, not so with reserved seating. For people with only carry on bags, sitting in the front of the plane and a fast exit is a small time saver, for the rest it's just a mad dash exit, only to get to the baggage carousel and wait. Travel an any airline today takes time and patience, Southwest does a great job for us.
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I would be willing to use Southwest as something other than a "last resort" airline if a more organized boarding system such as you describe was instituted. Given the popularity of Southwest I am obviously in the minority but imagine the additional passengers (like me) that you could attract by making boarding more civilized!
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I think this is a great start from Southwest. I do hope that they eventually go to assigned seating. I feel that you should be able to pick your seat when you book your ticket.
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I am posting again...I think that assigned seating would be really good for southwest. I mean you can still pick your seat when airlines have assigned seating. most allow you to do it at check-in, I know we do. I do believe that assigned seating would allow for faster and more organized boarding. The "hub and spoke" has nothing to do with why other airlines use assigned seating and the "point to point" is done everyday in other airlines. At our company and most companies in the industry you have through flights or cont. service. The computer software will automatically know which seats will be available and which are not. SABRE which if I'm not mistaken is what already Southwest is using already has a software program to do just that. I just think it would be a good move for them to go to assigned seating. I mean it is bound to happen but the sooner the better.
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My husband, a friend and I just flew out of San Antonio this Wednesday evening to Las Vegas. We did do the online check-in, and were nos. A3, 4 and 6. It was a treat to be able to sit and relax before the flight, and the crew at the gate were very informative on how the system worked. No more cattle call! When we flew out of Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon, I had checked in previously via my cell phone, and received A boarding (later found out they were 7, 8 and 11 - not fast enough fingers then!). We arrived at the airport 2-1/2 hours early, but had a drink before leaving. By the time we got to the gate 30 minutes before the flight, people were already standing in the A & B lines. We were the last to board from the A group, and if the system in San Antonio was in place in Las Vegas, we would have been right in front. Loved (or should I say "luved") the San Antonio process, and think it would be great for all airports, as there would not be much involved to set it in place. Aren't the numbers already on the boarding passes anyway? All San Antonio did was have either posts with the numbers on them or queue lines with numbers. It didn't look like there would be much to do in the way of preparing gates for this system. Thanks for the great flights!
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Intersting experiment with numbers,. Just another way for the cheaters to cut in line.. As a very frequent flyer on Southwest (BWI-PVD and BWI FLL), I am beginning to agree with the assign seats group becuse of the cheaters. How many disabled poeple are NOT? How many people limp on and make believe they are disabled, while us early arrivals wait in line and let the late arriving alledgedly disabled people get on first and take all the window and aisle seats, even though I had an A boarding pass and got there two hours before lfight time? It's time to stop the cheaters and assign seats... MZ- A former Cattle Call advocate...
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I really don't know where else to vent my frustration with the NEW rapid Rewards policy! So.. Today I tried to use a RR ticket again, only to be told there were no more searts available!!! I have been able to use 1 ticket since this was intstituted - on the 4th of July, when no one was flying!!! My request was a flight on September 30th at about mid day to KC from Chicago. The flight status on the internet indicated that the really cheap flights were sold out, but there were still 3 categories being sold! I feel the new way of doing the RR is descriminating against SW most valued customers. For over 15 years I have been touting SW's RR program to anyone who would listen - the best thing out there - if there is a seat available on the plane to be sold, it can be yours!!! Blah, blah, blah! No one will tell you how many seats are available - and my feeling is that when the "cheap" seats are sold out, SW declares there are no more available RR seats, so that we are forced to pay more for our flights!!! I feel that SW has figurted they will make more money this way. Why do we want another American Airlines or Delta type program? SW hooked us with their RR program and now they are letting us down!! I know that the blackout dates were sometimes a pain, but the majority of us expected this and consequently, we PURCHASED these seats well ahead of time and used the RR tickets for last minute travel, or schedules that were uncertain. As a self-employed individual, these tickets were a life saver to me to be able to get onto a plane the next day and fly to wherever I had to go at the last minute. These tickets were also excellent for family emergencies etc. If enough people feel the way I do, PLease contact SW and let them know. Now when I get on a SW flight, I let everyone know about the changes to the program and to make them aware that they will be terribly shocked when they go to use one of these tickets which they have been saving for that emergency situation - and they cannot use it!!
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I must say I'm very excited to see such a broad spectrum of reactions to our test. Let me give a little history on some of the tests we have done. Last year we tested different boarding methods with both assigned seats and open seating. These tests were conducted in San Diego. We tested for impact to our turn time and feedback from our traveling Customers. We took it a step further and tested in a different market, San Antonio. Thanks for posting your comments regarding families, preboarding Customers, and paying extra. We need to and do look at all areas that surround the boarding process. We have to remember to keep it simple. Nowadays there are so many changes with the airline industry. We just want Customers to be able to conveniently get their boarding pass, via Internet, PDA, or airport, then have a pleasent and relaxed experience with the boarding. Keep your ideas coming. I've always been so proud to say we listen to our Customers!
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Dear Southwest, please stop mucking with the boarding process. The current system is the best thing about your airline! I can't imagine having to line up in order, 1-139; that would be awful.
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SWA has always been a pleasant airline to fly. I have never been a fan of the "cattle call" boarding system, but on-time flights are much more important. On-line checkin is great, and I believe the testing in SA is a step in the right direction also. Finally, if all airlines limit carryon baggage to a woman's purse or a man's briefcase, all boarding and deboarding would be faster, making turn times faster and more profitable, not to mention security checkins would be simpler and faster. Keep up the good work SWA and thanks for years of great service.
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Your assigned number boarding priority plan seems like a great idea. I usually check in online and get an A pass but I cannot stand in line for an hour or longer in order to get an exit row seat which I prefer for the extra room. I would hate to see you go to assigned seating because I don't have the flexibility to book my trips months in advance and I think it slows down the boarding. I will anxiously await the results from your SAT test. I flew out of John Wayne Airport last week for the first time in many years. I really liked the way the seats were arranged perpendicular to the boarding podium. Everyone just took a seat and stayed seated until it was time to board. Very civilized. I know you don't have room to do this at very many airports but where you do it is a great idea.
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I travel with my family, so having open seating means we have to be at the airport REALLY early in order to have all 5 of us sit together or in the same area. Not young enough for pre-boarding, but too young to sit by themselves. So I've stopped flying SW and gone to Frontier where we can all sit together.
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I have to react to Don's suggestion that carryon baggage be limited to a woman's purse or a man's briefcase. First, I find it sexist that he doesn't just say a briefcase or purse but assumes that no women carry briefcases. Second, I cannot imagine letting go of my laptop when getting on a plane. So I need a bag that will hold it allowed as a carryon. I don't abuse the carryon rules, but if I am travelling abroad or to an important event I want a rollaboard bag with a change of clothes. I was under strict orders from my mother to carry on my bridesmaid dress for my brother's wedding. When we bought the supplies to have the dresses made my luggage was damaged on the trip home. By some miracle, all the supplies survived intact and only my brand new (never wet) bathing suit was lost. I did not want to tempt fate by checking that dress again. Nine times out of ten I have very little to carry on, but on that 10th trip I need what I need.
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My husband and I travel on SW almost exclusively. Southwest is by far the absolute best domestic airline. In regard to this question of boarding; the quick turn around and the on time arrival is an important advantage of flying SW. The "cattle call" lineup is a myth. If you have an " A", don't worry you will get the type of seat you desire. If you have a "C" , relax, you will get the left overs, which will probably be a center seat. The only group that is on the edge, are the B's, which may want to stand in line OR walk around the airport and get some exercise, which will make you happy to sit down, even in a middle seat. My recommendation is for SW to keep it simple. I think most of the FF have "A" seats, as they checkin online.