Some love it and others hate it, but Southwest handles boarding much different than other airlines. Forget seat assignments: Passengers line up 60 at a time, file onto the plane, and pick any unoccupied seats they want. But now, Southwest is trying out something different.
The airline is in the midst of a trial allowing families with young children to board the plane first (before Southwest's A boarding group) … but only if they sit toward the back of the plane. Southwest first announced this pilot for flights departing Atlanta (ATL) last month during a media day event, Travel Weekly reports.
Southwest already has a “Family Boarding” process in place all across its network, allowing up to two adults traveling with children six or under to board the plane after the A boarding group, but before the B group. But they're moving that up in this test, giving families an even earlier head start on boarding before A boarding group tickets in exchange for picking seats behind row 15.
It's unclear when Southwest may decide to make this test a permanent part of boarding or ditch it. But it comes as a welcome pilot for flying families, and, if implemented, would be another flyer-friendly policy Southwest can hang its hat on along with free checked bags and free change or cancellation on every fare.
So if Southwest already has a Family Boarding policy, why make this change?
Angela Marano, Southwest's vice president of transformation, explained that the airline is trying out new ways to speed up turnaround times between flights – and boarding is a massive piece of that. If Southwest can shave five or ten minutes off its boarding time, it means more flights can operate in a day with more paying passengers.
By allowing families with young children on board first, Southwest might be able to cut down on the delays as families struggle to find seats together, getting those planes in the air faster. It would also take the pressure off families to check in as early as possible, securing an earlier boarding position to board sooner and pick seats together.
But this test also comes as federal regulators have pressured U.S. airlines to ensure families can sit with their children without paying additional fees. From American to United, almost all the major airlines allow travelers to pick seats in advance. But buying a basic economy ticket – or a fare with an ultra-low cost carrier like Spirit or Frontier – may mean you have to pay extra to sit next to your child.
But Southwest is different. The airline doesn't sell basic economy fares and has promised it never will. More importantly, there's no advanced seat assignment with Southwest.
When you check in with Southwest starting 24 hours before departure, you're given a boarding letter (A, B, or C) and a number (1 through 60). A1 is the first to board and C60 is the last. The earlier you check-in, the earlier you can board the plane – though Southwest sells “EarlyBird Check-In” and offers earlier boarding positions to flyers with status or Business Select and Anytime fares.
If it expands after a brief test in Atlanta, Southwest would cut through that convoluted system for families, letting them board right away.
Southwest is trying out a new spin on its boarding process, allowing families to board the plane first (and pick seats toward the back of the plane) in hopes of speeding up the boarding process.
Whether it expands to Southwest flights nationwide for good is anyone's guess. But if so, it should streamline the boarding process, help out families, and cut down turnaround times for its aircraft, too.