I flew for the first time on Southwest to Blog World Expo on a green pass (free for me since I was a speaker.) I was less than impressed with the boarding procedures. (Why doesn't this blog have a preview feature for comments -- I can't tell if a link will be accepted or a blockquote, so I'll do both)
Here's my assessment.
It's still open seating, no assigned seats. Now what you get is a letter and a number and it's like playing bingo only very complicated.
It's supposed to be first come, first serve. But it's not because of the exceptions. They started this new program yesterday. When you check in, you get a letter and number. You are either A, B or C and within each letter group, you get a number between 1 and 60. They have flagpoles up at the gate with letters and numbers posted on them in increments of 5 or 10 and when your letter is called, you have to go stand by your flagpole. First they call the "A" group and if you are an "A" you go stand by the pole that says 1 - 5, 5 - 10, etc. Then they board the A group with #s 1 to 30, and they get the first choice of seats. Then they board the remaining A group, numbers 30 to 60. Then they tell the B group to go to their flagpoles. When everyone's there, they board B 1 to 30 then B 30 to 60, etc. Then the C group. By the mid B group, you're in the back of the plane or a middle seat and the overhead space is gone.
People that check in online can get an "A" pass regardless of the time they check in. You can buy an upgrade to an "A" group boarding pass for $25. (In other words, they hold a bunch back.) But, if you have a paper ticket as I did, because Southwest sponsored Blog World Expo and gave the speakers vouchers, you couldn't check in online and had to stand in a long line at the airport with the people who were just buying tickets or changing their tickets. I checked in over 2 hours early and still got B37. And, I couldn't pay the $25 to get an "A" seat because it's not allowed on voucher tickets.
Passenger confusion was understandably very high at the gate and so boarding the plane took a long time.
There's also no tv or music on the plane and because the flights are cheap, every seat is filled. So its crowded.
I will thank the pilot though (Capt. Mike Smith), because he knew I wasn't happy with the seating process and when I pulled out my $4.00 to pay for my drink (which I definitely needed by that time) the flight attendant told me he had comped it.
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