My parents warned me not to fly Southwest to Phoenix, but I bought a ticket anyway. I had flown low-cost airlines like Frontier and Jet Blue and had a great time. In fact, I enjoyed those two more than the major US airlines.I ended up liking Southwest far less. What annoyed me most was the boarding process—which though it has been around in some form for decades I hadn’t known about.
How it works is passengers are assigned to groups based on how much they paid for their ticket and when they checked in. Each group in turn boards the plane and the passengers get to take whatever open seat they want.
Flying to Phoenix alone this was a surprise, but not too annoying. I was in Group C and got to take my pick of a variety of middle seats.
Flying back to New York with my girlfriend, however, the boarding free-for-all was aggravating.
We were in Group C because we hadn’t paid extra for the ticket and hadn’t checked in early. When we boarded and walked to the back of the plane we saw that every window and aisle seat was taken. Elisa and I would have to sit in separate middle seats. And I didn’t dare ask anyone to change seats so we could sit together, since that would mean that person would have to give up his window or aisle seat and take a middle.
Elisa ended up next to a woman who said “Thank God your boyfriend isn’t sitting here” when she sat down, and then who proceeded to use an electronic breast pump for the entire flight. I ended up squeezed between one guy playing Risk on his iPad and another guy who snored the entire flight.
This isn’t a rare occurence on Southwest. Any couple or family who flies without knowing how to work the system will probably get split up. And on every flight there will be many people who didn’t buy the more expensive ticket who end up with no control over where they sit.
Southwest claims the process saves them 15 minutes, but it also annoys people, and it if it were such a success then other airlines would have copied them.
What do you think?
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