As many of you know, the question about whether to keep our open seating or to assign seats has been the Southwest question for the past couple of years. Proponents of each process have been very vocal and heartfelt in support of their positions, and my post of last summer generated more than 700 comments (including those on a followup post). To those who weighed in on this issue, thank you, and I assure you that your voices were heard.
After much investigation, which included extensive "real life" testing in San Diego and San Antonio, we are ready to close the book on "the great seating experiment" and announce our decision. (If we had drums, we could have a drum roll at this point, but we don't, so imagine one in your mind.) Southwest has decided to keep open seating, but to adopt a new and improved boarding process. These decisions were based on the input we got from you, our Customers, through this blog, written correspondence, and surveys taken during the tests. While a substantial majority of our Customers prefer the ability to select their own seats onboard the aircraft, many of those folks have told us they don't like our existing boarding procedure that sometimes has Customers doing everything possible to be at the front of their boarding group. Instead, many of you suggested, why not board the aircraft in the numerical order of the boarding pass?
Well, we listened to you! After initial tests in San Diego last fall, we conducted a full-scale evaluation in San Antonio last month, and the responses we received were very favorable. Basically, the new boarding procedure divides the airplane into groups of five Customers, based upon the order in which a Customer checks in. The first Customer gets an A 1 and so on, and they will line up to board in their group of five. (To the extent possible, our gates will be modified with marked columns that reflect these new boarding groups.) Customers will know where their boarding pass aligns in the process as soon as they check in, and this will eliminate the need to "camp out" and hold a spot in the boarding lines. For a full description of the new process and to see the comments, click here to read Susie Boersma's August 23 post.
Our goal is to have the new boarding process up and running systemwide by early November. I am fully aware that this news will excite many and disappoint others. To those of you who are skeptical, I can only ask that you give the new boarding procedures a try. After everyone gets used to it, I bet you will wonder why we didn't think of this years ago!