Southwest tests better boarding methods

Southwest Airlines will soon begin a limited test of several boarding methods to see how much time is required to “turn” the aircraft if Customers are holding an assigned seat. This test is being conducted on select departures from San Diego starting July 10 and running for several weeks.

The test is part of Southwest’s ongoing look at assigned seating and how it could possibly be adapted to Southwest’s unique business model.

This test will not evaluate assigned seating procedures or the computer functions that go along with it, including the actual assigning of seats. That will be done manually to accomplish this initial test.

“We want to make sure that we have studied all the possibilities and aspects of assigned seating before we make any change to what has been a very successful formula for the past 35 years,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest’s CEO. “This evaluation is an important step to determine the feasibility of assigned seating, but this is only a test.”

The efficiency of Southwest’s boarding process has played an important part in the carrier’s successful 35-year history. By limiting aircraft time on the ground, Southwest has maintained an enviable ontime record at a significant cost advantage over its competitors. The airline has assured that it would not implement a policy change that would negatively impact that position.

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Southwest also has said it would consider Customer Satisfaction enhancements, like assigned seating, if such a move would attract new Customers and maintain or improve overall operational efficiencies.

Several different boarding methods will separately be tested on approximately 200 departures from San Diego over the next several weeks. Staff trained specifically for this test will monitor Customer Satisfaction as well as the efficiency and time needed to board each flight.

Southwest is not on a particular timeline for deciding if and when it would change its current “open seating” policy. It has said no change would be made before 2008.

Southwest Airlines, the nation’s largest carrier in terms of domestic passengers enplaned, currently serves 62 cities in 32 states. Based in Dallas, Southwest currently operates more than 3,000 flights a day and has 31,000+ Employees systemwide.

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