Thursday, October 11, 2007

Extreme Makeover: Southwest Style
The End Of the Cattle Call!

The Southwest "cattle call" will soon be history. Sort of! My favorite airline is going to change its boarding policy but it's not joining the rest of the airline industry and assigning seats. Instead, when passengers check in, either online or at the airport, they will receive a letter and a number, and boarding will proceed according to the group and the number on the pass. "The new boarding complements our open seating and reduces the time our customers spend in line," says Gary Kelly, the airline's chief executive. "That's right, I'll say it: No more cattle call."

Southwest, in their normal sense of humor, sent an e-mail to their Rapid Rewards members notifying them of the change and even offered them the chance to go to "Boarding School." Upon completion, you get a beautiful diploma to display in your home or office. Have some fun and Click Here to try out the Boarding School.

The change was made in response to passenger complaints, especially from business travelers who resented having to wait in lines like sides of beef ready for slaughter that often form an hour or longer before flight time. Kelly said the airline was leaning toward switching to assigned seating until it surveyed customers and found that only about 30 percent favored the change. The airline began experimenting with assigned seating last year but found that it added a few minutes to the boarding process. The new system, which was field-tested in San Antonio, divides passengers into the familiar A, B and C groups, but each person also receives a number, 1 through 30. Passengers will be called up by letter and number, and board in that order. A traveler with B-16 would board ahead of someone with B-35 even if passenger B-16 rushed over from the food court just as boarding began. Now I can casually get my coffee and still get that spacious exit row seat!

Not everyone will be totally happy. Boarding policy changes also include a decision to end the current system that allows families with children younger than 4 to preboard. Basically, families with young children who do not get A boarding passes will be permitted to board before the B group but will not be preboarded.

Early birds who arrived first at the gate -- or now, those who check in 24 hours in advance on the Internet like me feel they earned an "A" boarding pass that guaranteed a window or aisle seat. The "B" passengers probably wouldn't get an aisle seat, but they might find a pleasant-looking hottie to sit next to. But those stuck in the "C" line have to rearrange contents of the overhead bin to make room for their carry-on bag, then wedge into a center seat. Critics called open seating an undignified cattle call. Oh well, you snooze, you lose!

Also announced was an updated gate design to take your airport experience to new heights. Soon, you'll start seeing the gate redesign in airports across our system, with an anticipated completion date in the first half of 2008. The new design features things like comfortable padded seats, power stations with USB portlets and power outlets, kid-size tables and chairs, family-friendly television programming, TV monitors to indicate boarding groups and even pretty Stainless steel columns. Check out the new look by Clicking Here.

I'm sure some people will continue to bitch about this change but I think it's great. Their on-time service and discount fares make some of the inconvenience worth the trip. Now if only I can get the lady with the big hair mole on her face to sit in the back...Mooooo!