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To Assign or Not to Assign, That is the Question

gkelly1
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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! (Click here to see a video of the new procedures.  Also, check out this helpful site.)
525 Comments
Another_Mark
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Flying out of MCO, I look forward to the new procedure. I bet I am the first of a zillion comments. Thanks for listened to the majority..
Mike29
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Thumbs up on the new seating arrangements. I'm looking forward to giving it a try. I only hope you'll be on top of the game to deter the ones that will always come up with a gimmick to try and beat the system. Good going SWA.
andrew_d
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I just heard on cnbc that families and adults with children will not be allowed to board 1st. If this is true, I have officially flown with southwest for the last time.
jim
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I can't wait. This might be the first enhancement any airline has made in the last ten years that is beneficial to the passenger. So many "enhancements" have been considered "de-hancements" by customers.
drew
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The new process looks like a definite improvement and I cannot wait to experience it for myself. Also, thank you for keeping open seating!
Francisco_Delga1
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WAY TO GO SOUTHWEST!!! ANOTHER REASON WHY I WILL KEEP ON FLYING SOUTHWEST.. THEY LISTEN TO THEIR CUSTOMERS AND TO THEIR EMPLOYEES!!!! I WAS GETTING TIRED OF ARRIVING AT THE AIRPORT EXTRA EARLY JUST TO WAIT IN LINE TO BOARD.. I THINK THIS IS GOING TO BE A POSITIVE CHANGE... THANKS FOR LISTENING AND THANKS FOR KEEPING YOUR OPEN SEATING POLICY... FRANCISCO
Matthew1
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Yes!!! Hello Southwest and goodbye Midwest Airlines. I am am weekly business traveler from Kansas City and flew on Midwest becasue of the past boarding procedures. You have earned my business now Southwest, thank you.
Jeanine
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I think it's a great idea and I also like that they are doing away with preboarding for families with children. The only ones that MAY need extra time are families with a car seat.
Mike29
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Thumbs up SWA. Looking forward to the new system.
Mike29
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Thumbs up SWA.
GSK
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I agree with andrew d's comments regarding families with small children. The rationale that boarding children after group A will save time is misinformed. It is difficult at best to travel with children under age 4, and forcing parents to take children through twelve to twenty rows instead of one or two with assorted necessities will impact all those trying to board a plane in a timely fashion. Though I have been a loyal Southwest customer for many years, I will seek other carriers regardless of the price.
Anonymous2194
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Seems to be a great solution that eliminates the "line camping" crowd. And from what I've read, the San Antonio crowd love it! I have also read of a possible plan to place family pre-boarders after "A "and before "B". I believe this would be a wise choice as it would seemingly speed up your critical "turn" time while also allowing families to sit together. I am appalled at travelers who won't move over a seat to allow an 8 year old sit next to his mom if they got stuck with a "C". If you are a solo adult traveler who has not been courteous, shame on you. My suggestion would to allow any family with kids under, say, 12 to board at the beginning of "B". They don't slow down the "A"s but still can get 2 seats together even in a worst case scenario as they will be folks 61 through maybe 70 allowed onto the plane. With 137 seats, no worries there. What I don't approve of is the "stretching" of the pre-board rules (as done now) that seemingly has half the plan loaded before the "A" group gets on. Everyone with a slight limp seems to get on early! Again, fantastic step in the right direction!
Dyana
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I am disappointed to hear about the changes in family boarding. As one of the last airlines to allow families to preboard, Southwest had become our preferred carrier. It also gave Southwest that characteristic "nice" vibe. This change puts Southwest right back in the pool as just another unsatisfying option.
blusk
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Hi Andrew D and GSK, keep in mind that families are always eligible to board with the A group if they have A boarding passes. Also, many of the families in our San Antonio tests initially felt as you two do, but when they tried the new procedures they actually liked it because they felt less rushed to stow their items. All I can ask is that you give it a try before giving up. Brian
James_Rea
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I am confused. If I know what my number is, how do I know the number of other people in line. Does this mean I have to go through the line asking each person in my group what their number is?
Meg11
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Y'all need to do a better job of publicizing the "If the family has A" aspect of the new family boarding policy. I'm not wild about the new policy for a reason I haven't heard mentioned: It seems like a very good idea to have the families grouped together. Not only does it spare other travelers the necessary travails of traveling with kids, but it lets the kids make contact with each other (thus reducing boredom). I've heard rumors that Southwest is considering charging a surcharge for A boarding passes. That is the day that I fly SWA for the last time. The main attraction of SWA, to me, is that it is a meritocracy, not an aristocracy -- you get to pick your favorite seat and so forth if you're on the ball, not if you're willing to spend extra. If SWA becomes an aristocracy airline like all the rest, it will have to compete for my affections, and it probably won't win.
Ray3
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Will this new procedure continue to be used only when getting the boarding pass 24 hours in advance of ones flight? Or will a change be made in the future where this system will be effective when booking the reservation? Change to families boarding is a plus especially when the majority of family members are over the age of 20.
Curt_Lader
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After watching the video, I believe it is a better system. However, there may be unintended consequences in the boarding process as a result of how the system retrieves your boarding pass 24 hours before your flight. With a lot of people trying to log in to get their prime "A" boarding pass position exactly at the 24 hour mark, there is a good probability that if a couple has two different reservation numbers (because they are using a single rapid reward for two one-way flights), by the time the second reservation is logged in there will be non-consecutive positions possibly by more than 5 people. So, the question is how does a couple who wants to sit together line up if they do not have consecutive numbers due to the Southwest policy of splitting up their rapid reward reservation. By the way, that is the situation we will be facing in a six hour flight in January from Islip to Las Vegas.
blusk
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James Rea, It is easy. There will be tall columns in the gate area that will be marked 1-5, 6-10, etc. You just stand next to the column that matches the number on your boarding pass. Within your group of five, you don't have to be in total numerical order. Here's some more info: http://www.southwest.com/help/boardingschool/ Brian
Rollie
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I like these changes. One thing still irks me. I am 6'7" and get irritated when I see a small person going for the extra legroom in an exit row. If you can't create more legroom for everyone, at least give us "disadvantaged" folks first shot at the exit row. Further, I have seen some small elderly ladies there that couldn't handle the emergency exit if their life depended on it - and it would!
VME
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Congratulations SWA! It makes perfect sense and eliminates the nasty cattle call before the flight. I also appreciate your decision to board families between A and B - after all, 2/3 of the plane is still empty after group A, right? Plenty of seats still available.
mnichols
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Personally all this drivel about where you sit on an airplane is complete crap. All the seats get to the same place at the same time, as long as all the required parts of the plane stay where they are supposed to is about all one should care about IMHO. With one exception! Famlies with minor children need to be seated together. What happens if there is an emergency and you are seated 15 rows from your 7 year old. Are you willing to depend on a stranger to place an oxygen mask on your 8 year old before his/her own. Preboarding can happen quite early and a family of 4 with 2 kids under 12, i can tell you, is not worried about Choice seating. I fly quite a bit and I've never been on a filght that had more that 10% or 15% of the total passengers preboarding with children. Alternatively, i think you are going to get a tremendous amount of problems where mothers with youngsters that arrive a bit late are running around the plane trying to get someone to give up a seat so her and her child can sit together. Guess Soutwest is now only catering to "Business" travelers. Change the policy - i might come back - but my kids are too important
Deb1211
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BOO to the new way~~ * oh great~~ re-arrange our schedule so we can camp at our computer instead of in line, trying to beat those trying to beat the system anyway. * check in multiple people and possibly be divided getting on, which will encourage "saving the seat" for someone or several, if bigger families are divided up! (that's loss of seat choice freedom once on board.) * tall people have LESS chance of the exit row for VERY necessary leg room. * baby car seats and baby bags and stuff will be dragged down the aisle further into the plane. definitely safety first for them ~~ of course~~ gee~~ did someone drop the "thoughtful" card" when dealing out this new hand to EVERYONE? we have flown swa for years and have companion status for myself, that's how much we've liked you guys. i think you had a good thing going~~ SO, was the wheel ACTUALLY broken? the only one this seems to appease is the squeeky, single, business traveler wheel.... 1 for the bottom line~ 0 for the family boo to the new way.
Allen_D
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I do hope that persons flying together to a destination will be allowed to board together. If I am a low 'B' but my friend is an upper 'A', hopefully we can still board together to ensure we can sit together. My favorite thing about Southwest over the years has been that it provides the opportunity for a more social experience. I often fly alone, and Southwest is the only airline that allowed me to carry the conversations I had at the gate with whoever I met onto the plane. I've had great conversations over the years and hope that friends and even new acquaintances will be able to continue that great trend.
Rick211
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Great move- I was too worried about switching to an assigned seat system which I felt would have slowed everything down. Not having to line up anymore is very fair and so much less stressful. Kudo's to you all
Alex1
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I miss you guys so much already, and this only increases my desire for you to start flying to Atlanta. I moved down to Atlanta earlier this summer and have already had to fly Air Tran twice and it's not even close to the same. The employees don't have the same LUV that Southwest employees do and in general the experience just isn't the same. The new policy is just one way SWA continues to further do everything they can to create the best possible experience for each and every customer. As a customer who used to 1) check in early and 2) sit on the floor to make sure I got the seat I wanted I can assure you I'm delighted about the new policy. I'm just bummed I won't get to use it much. Please Please Please start flying to Atlanta - and congrats on the great new policy, good luck with implementation...
James_Rea
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Thanks Brian, the Boarding School page makes it much clearer. I must agree with the others and favor the pre-boarding plan for families. I do not have any young family members and pre-boarding allows me to see where all the young families are and get as far away as possible. I guess I will have to invest in noise-cancellation headphones.
carol_linker
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I happen to like the policy of allowing children to board first. That way I can avoid sitting next to a child who might bellow for an entire flight, as just happened on my recent San diego to Chicago flight. How can I accomplish this very important (to me) goal, going forward?
jim
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Andrew says, "If this is true, I have officially flown with southwest for the last time." Then GSC states, "Though I have been a loyal Southwest customer for many years, I will seek other carriers regardless of the price." Then Dyana pipes in with, "This change puts Southwest right back in the pool as just another unsatisfying option." And finally mnichols let's us know, "Change the policy - i might come back." I figured it out Brian. No matter what SWA does, somebody is going to whine. Heck, you could announce tomorrow that all seats are now $15 each, 10 rows are being removed from every plane to create more legroom, and everybody will be served a complete seven course meal on all flights - and somebody would say, "That does it, I'm never flying Southwest again!" I would be willing to bet at least 3/4 of the people who blog here with statements like "I'm never flying Southwest again" haven't ever flown SWA, or, at best, have less than five lifetime flights on WN.
Kim10
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I love Southwest and am thrilled that you kept the seating policy essentially the way it is...however, as a Mom (y'all knew we would write...and complain), I do think families traveling with children under 12 should get to board first. I saw a lot of folks write that boarding in between the A&B groups would suffice just fine for the family travelers, but what if you are boarding a connection? What if the majority of that plane is full and you have to find 2-3 folks to move in order to try to sit together? I think families - since they are buying tickets also - should get first priority only in order to sit together. Southwest will still be my carrier of choice, but I think they will hear from more than a few families on this one...
Teresa5
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I am very unhappy that families with young children will no longer be allowed to board first. Please don't proceed with implementing this portion of your new procedures nationwide. I live in Nevada, have three daughters under age 4, and travel Southwest each time we visit my mother in North Carolina. We always use car seats on the flights for each girl. Even with pre-boarding, it takes my husband and I quite a while to get all three car seats buckled in. And even though I try, I might not always be in the "A" group. If we are not "A"s, our chances of finding 5 seats adjacent to each other just substantially decreased as well. I would say I won't fly Southwest with my family again, but I think I'll continue to do so in part so you can see how much time our not boarding first actually COSTS instead of saves. It may also spread my children throughout the aircraft to give more passengers the "toddler on a 5 hour flight" experience.
dickster
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If this assigned seating is the best Southwest can come up with, heaven help us.
Anonymous4371
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The thing is ... All the people who are saying, "IÃ
Robert_Harrop
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Having flown SWA for the first time on Monday I am thrilled with the new system. I didn't like waiting to see who was going to be first to start the stampede. My wife flies SWA frequently for business and wasn't bothered by the system but I think that she will like it even better now.
Ralph
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I honestly will fly them less because as a business traveler I want space for my luggage. I don't always have access to a printer or sometimes a computer from the road and in the past I've spent too much time in line C on my return flights.
Steve_Dillinger
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The reason I fly SWA is family pre-boarding. Southwest is the ONLY airline that guarantees my family will sit together. As others have mentioned it works the other way also. Before I had children I would be sure to sit far away from infants and small children. What happens if I get on the plane and I cannot sit my family together? Do I decide which two strangers to sit my 5 year old between? Maybe I could put my 3 year old with dead-heading crew, along with her sippy cup and some Cherrios. Or, and this will REALLY speed things up, I can spend 20 minutes negotiating seat moves with 5 different people. Of course I will have to permute the possibilities with the 3 other families doing the same thing. I assume Southwest will provide me a whiteboard, handheld computer and flak jacket to assist in this process. I DO fly Southwest and I WILL be forced to fly it less if I cannot guarantee my kids won't **EVER** have to sit with strangers. That isn't a threat it is a fact (for anyone I assume). On top of all this we still have to get on the plane, so where does the time savings come from??? DUMB IDEA Southwest. Now where's that Mileage Plus card....
Anonymous1693
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I'm all for the new boarding process. It bothers me to see people camped out under the different letters, plus, it always makes it seem like you need to hurry if you are going to fly Southwest just so you can get a spot in line. What bothers me though is the article I read today that Southwest will stop letting those will children board first. How will this save time? I don't see it saving time. Now the delay will be dispersed rather than at the beginning. Considering that you are still letting people choose their own seat, you are going to have a harder time explaining to two parents with a small child why they can't sit together because they didn't get the good boarding letter/number and only single seats are left. For fear that I will have to sit separately from my husband with a 1 year old will likely keep me from flying Southwest, which is a pity since the airport closer to me has Southwest. I'd rather drive the 45 minutes across town and have my assigned seat than be told we won't be able to sit together.
Jim_Jones
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I fly out of San Antonio all the time and the new boarding procedures are FANTASTIC!!! For those of you with doubts, keep an open mind. Then "Try it, You'll Like It!!!
Sky_King_Jr
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As a passenger on the first 737 to arrive from Boeing I am very of aware of SWAÃ
Dave_Rave
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Unless you are 6 feet 6 inches or over, you have absolutely no idea how uncomfortable it is to fly. After over 30 years of Southwest in operation, there is STILL no provision to accomodate extra-tall people. Why not give us first priority to the exit rows that have more leg room? Additionally, the "new" system still requires me to either arrive hours before I need to for an early boarding pass, or have my finger on the computer key exactly 24 hours in advance. Even having an early boarding pass is no guarantee that I will still get an exit row seat. It is infuriating to spend hours to get an early boarding pass to then get on board only to find that all the exit seating is already taken by "normal" height people. For this reason, I only fly Southwest as a last resort. Flying Southwest is like going to a restaurant or a theater that doesn't take reservations, and upon arriving, finding out there are no seats available.
Occassional_SWA
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I only occassionally flew Southwest and tried to avoid it due to open seating. But this new arrangement sounds like a nice hybrid approach, and I commend you for trying something a little different and using your blog as a vehicle to listen to customer input. I'll be flying in October and hope this new rules apply to me during that trip -- I may be more of a Southwest fan after that point.
Nicole10
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Andrew D and GSK (And Brian!), As a traveler with a two year old and an 8 month old, let me give you my perspective on boarding a plane with children. In our experience, itÃ
blusk
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Hey Ralph, You don't need a printer to check in online in advance. All you need is access to a computer or a PDA (for wireless checkin). Go ahead and check yourself in, even if you don't have a printer. Then, when you get to the airport, just go to a kiosk and reprint the boarding pass. And Steve Dillinger, again, all we ask is that you try the new procedures before making a decision Brian
Anonymous1693
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I just had the chance to read all of the blogs, and my comments are not knee-jerk. I have flown Southwest a lot - ever since high school. However, as people who live 1,000 miles from their family, the only sane option is to fly when you have small children. It just concerns me that flying Southwest when I was childless showed me how thoughtless people were. Once at their seat, you almost need an act of God to get someone to be nice and even let you sit by your husband on your honeymoon. So thinking of that is why I hesitate to want to try a 2-hour flight to Nashville with my small child - let alone if I have another one. If people are willing to allow my baby to sit between them while my husband and I sit somewhere else, I will be all for it. But that will never happen. I used to be one of those people who couldn't stand to sit anywhere around other children on a plane, actually, I still am one of those people. However, I have more compassion now for what it takes to travel with a child. Yes, it is my choice to bring a child on an airplane - I should know better - but all people fly out of necessity or else we wouldn't do it. Yes, I would be thinking of other people if I just drove the 20 hours it would take to get home, but how seldom are people on an airplane considerate of other people? You bring larger than allowed carry-ons that clog up the overhead bin, refuse to even have one single thing under your seat to give room for other people's things, take an arm rest that isn't yours, take up leg room that isn't yours - are you seeing a pattern here?
David_Ross3
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GREAT! I've thought for a long time that people should be boarded in the order they check in. I've noticed each boarding pass as a number on it already so now the number actually means something. For the people with small kids who are complaining that they don't get to board first: No longer will you be able to get the bulk head seats! It gives the rest of us a chance now. (Speaking of kids: On my last flight on Southwest there were two old "bidies" who complained about everything. They even decided to pre-board, although they didn't follow th procedures. They knew I wanted the bulkhead seats for my girlfriend (she has a bad knee) but they went ahead and took them. However, no bad thing goes unpunished. Right behind a family with a toddler boarded. This 2 year old had the greatest set of lungs around! I noticed the biddies were covering their ears for most of the flight from SEA to OAK!) Anyway, back to the subject of the new boarding procedure. Again, I say this is great. For those who complain about having to sit at the computers to get an A boarding pass, don't forget that you can check in via cell phone and just print your boarding pass out at the airport. For the long-legged people: Granted, I'm only 5'6" but for most people taller than that, there is still plenty of legroom. Southwest's seat pitch is 32 inches in most seats, more in the bulkhead and emergency exit rows. That's 1 to 2 inches more than most other airlines have in coach. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK, SOUTHWEST!
Anonymous2194
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The biggest complaint I see is that some folks are upset about the changing policy for family pre-boarding. I submit that a family does have the right to sit together, but does not necessarily have the right to be the first people on the plane. Seeing as they are guaranteed a boarding slot beginning with #61, I find it difficult to believe that finding 2 adjacent seats or 4-5 in "close proximity" will be too difficult. I would even argue that those with somewhat older kids should be accomodated whenever possible. I'd ask all to consider whether family pre-board has been abused by some. I've seen the 3 yr. old with his 8 favorite uncles and aunts in the pre-board line. That never seemed fair to me. By the time my kids were 6 and 4, we tried to get an "A" and lined up like anyone else. And if we were "B", we got there darn early. Once we had a "C" on a connection when they were still quite small (but not pre-board age), and the gate attendant (and the other passengers in line) insisted that we go ahead. A little help from "friends" went a long ways. I believe SWA has crafted an excellent compromise.
Allen1
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To me, the new system sounds like an improvement, and I'm willing to try it. If flying isn't tiring enough, passengers don't need the added fun of having to sit on the floor for an hour and a half before a flight. I do not believe that families should go first, as I feel that many people abuse that, however, I do think that families, or any group should have the option to check in together so at least they can be in the same order in line.
Anne7
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NO PRE-BOARDING FOR FAMILIES!!!! I canÃ
Stephanie8
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I understand the tall folk's irritation at the short folks that end up in the Exit Row. But a lot of SW's flights are direct, which means they have through passengers, and as soon as the local passengers have deplaned, those through folks scramble to the front seats or the exit row. So saving the exit row seats for tall folks would not work. But I do feel for them.
Mike_G
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Kudos to you SWA. I like the new plan a lot. One question though. Your website says "an adult" may board with a child 4 or under. I believe the website used to say "families with a child 4 and under". Will the GAs only allow one adult per child 4 and under or the whole family of the child? I personally would like it to only be one adult per child in case I am unable to secure an A group pass. As for charging for As in the future, I have no problem with it as long as the charge is nominal ($20 each or less). I would object to tying As to higher priced tickets (full fares) as that would shaft the Ding flyers, IMHO.