Southwest Airlines has made a big change to its hated boarding process

Southwest Airlines’ customers now have to pay as much as $149 if they want get on the plane early – a huge hike on the previous cost. 

Unlike traditional airlines, Southwest does not assign seats on tickets. It has open seating – so those that board first get better options. 

The Texas-based carrier offers customers two paid services that allow them to board earlier than they otherwise would to snag a preferred seat.

It has increased the price of both of these – by as much as 300 percent. 

EarlyBird Check-In now ranges from $15 to $99 one-way per passenger, rather than $15 to $25 before.

Upgraded Boarding is now from $30 to $149 per passenger per segment. Before tha was $30 to $80. 

Southwest Airlines hs increased the fees that allow customers to board earlier - which then gives them a bigger choice of seats

It means those wanting the early check-in option could pay four times as much. 

Southwest does not allocate seats when passengers check-in. 

Instead, passengers board in a specific order based on whether they are in Group A B or C. Once on board, passengers can sit in any available seat.

They can get boosted to a higher group three main ways – loyalty program status, burying a business seat, how early they checked-in, and whether they paid extra for early boarding.

Anyone paying for upgarded boarding – available 24 hours before deaprture – typically gets to be in the A group that goes first.

Only customers with disabilities preboard before them. Families with children board after Group A, then it is B and C. Each group has 60 people. 

Those would get EarlyBird improves the passenger’s group so they get bumped up the boarding process – though it does not guarantee A. This service is available within 36 hours of a flight’s departure

‘This price range increase is a result of our regular evaluation of pricing for ancillary products based on market trends and customer demand and will generate incremental revenue in support of the company,’ Southwest said. 

Every other major US airline sells first or business-class seats with more room and amenities. 

The likes of Delta, American and United assign seats before passengers arrive at the airport. 

Increasingly, these airlines charge extra if economy-class passengers want to pick a particular seat, such as one in an exit row or near the front of the cabin.

Those policies generate significant ‘ancillary revenue.’  Eight US carriers – the three above plus Allegiant, Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit – took a total of $4.2 billion from seating fees in their domestic networks in 2022, according to WorksCompany.

Southwest allows open seating - meaning passengers can sit wherever they want. But it can create a scramble to get on board

Soutwest CEO Robert Jordan is looking at changing its longstanding open seating

Southwest said last week it lost $231 million over the first three months of 2024

CEO Bob Jordan gave a clue in April that change was coming at the airline’s quarterly earnings, as he revealed it lost $231 million over the first three months of 2024.

‘We’re looking into new initiatives – things like the way we seat and board our aircraft,’ Jordan said in an interview with CNBC.

Southwest sparked vacation chaos in April when it announced it was axing flights to four airports and firing 2,000 staff.

Since it began flying in the 1960s, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines has distinguished itself from competitors with a very different seating approach. 

At the same earnings event, Ryan Green, Southwest’s chief commercial officer, reassured cutomers it would not start charging for baggage. It’s the only US carrier that lets passenger check one or two bags for free. 

He said Southwest also won’t install curtains like those that separate premium cabins from the economy-class section on other airlines.

Southwest Airline’s seating explained

Southwest doesn´t have a first-class cabin or assigned seats. 

Passengers line up in the gate area in an order determined partly by who checked in first and – increasingly – who paid extra to move up in line. 

The lucky or high-paying ones get in the ‘A’ boarding group, followed by the middling ‘B’ crowd and finally the dreaded ‘C’ group, whose unfortunate inhabitants usually wind up in a middle seat, maybe in the back of the plane.

Over the years, Southwest customers learned to check in online exactly 24 hours before departure to get the best shot at grabbing the seat they wanted. 

In 2009, the airline began charging an extra fee – called EarlyBird – to move up in the boarding line.

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