Why I luv Southwest:
* Pleasant, fun staff
* Non-stop PHL to SAT and AUS
* I can buy a ticket within 2 weeks for a fair price and usually avoid a middle seat
* No fees for changing my flight, and even a credit if the price drops
* No luggage fees (2 checked + 1 carry on is plenty for me)
* No extra, complicated fees to deal with [Oops! Now, not so much]
* Fair and simple boarding procedure [Oops! Now, not so much]
EBCI feels like a fee for what I used to get a shot at for free. Until now I could tell someone SW had no fees (meaning no fees that they'd normally have to worry about). But no more. EBCI hurts your strong image of simple fares done right.
You had also achieved simple boarding done right -- numbers on the A/B/Cs, Business Select, and boarding families with small kids after the A's. Everyone I know said this is great -- fast, fair, no standing around in line, you choose who you sit next to, and if you want seats together just go to the back.
So why make it more complicated? Your current customers liked boarding as it was; if not they'd fly another airline. This change is going to degrade the experience for most of them without attracting new customers (who will still want assigned seating). So it isn't an improvement for either group, or for SW. And it dilutes your strong clear brand -- simplicity and no fees.
My suggested 3-step profit-neutral fix:
1) Drop EBCI
2) Offer a drink or WiFi coupon to those with a C boarding pass
3) Raise fares $2 or so
And to improve both fairness and flexibility in boarding:
4) Explicitly prohibit seat-saving except in the last 5 rows
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I would like this option when I am traveling with other people and can't be at a computer at T-24, and $10 seems fair. That said, you have a great "no fees" brand image (even if that isn't strictly speaking true), and this optional fee breaks that image. If I were you I'd drop it. Gut feel always wins out over rational logic, especially in marketing. Sorry.
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