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Southwest Experiments with New Procedures to Shorten Travel Time

Southwest Experiments with New Procedures to Shorten Travel Time

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Southwest Airlines is experimenting with several new boarding policies that may just get you to the magic faster! Check out these policies and let us know if you hope they stick around for good.

Southwest Airlines Boarding Policy

Credit: Southwest

Southwest Airlines has a very loyal fan following (despite recent issues), and part of that is due to the customer-friendly policies that set it apart from other airlines. For example, they allow passengers to bring along 2 carry-on items and provide complimentary checked luggage.

If you have ever traveled with Southwest Airlines, you know that they also already have a unique open-seating boarding policy. In other words, seats are not pre-assigned. Once onboard, travelers simply choose any available seat and stow carry-on items in the nearest available overhead bin or under the seat in front of them if they fit.

Travelers either pay for or receive an assigned boarding group upon check-in, either A, B, or C, along with position numbers 1-60. When it comes time to board, passengers are expected to line up in order at numbered posts. They then board group by group in numeric order and select any available seat on a first-come, first-served basis.

Credit: Susan

The more quickly you check in for your flight (up to 24 hours in advance), the better the boarding group and position number you will snag. Of course, it is also possible to purchase early-bird check-in to increase the odds of landing a good group and position.

Passengers are also able to purchase early boarding pending availability, which allows them positions A1-15 and first pick of the seats. Passengers flying business select receive guaranteed positions in A1-15. Some people love this policy. However, for others, it is a nerve-wracking experience.

Experimental New Policies

Credit: Susan

Now, Southwest is trying out 11 new processes which could reduce your travel time by improving and expediting the boarding process and cutting down on the time it takes to get everyone aboard. Currently, the average boarding time can take as much as 40 minutes. Southwest is looking at slashing that.

Credit: @atlairport

Will my flight have any of these new procedures? Maybe! Remember, currently all processes mentioned here are still experimental and are not enforced across the entire company yet. However, you might encounter them if your next flight takes you out of Atlanta or if you have a connecting flight there.

Many of these methods are being utilized at gates at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Part of the busy airport is serving as “the innovation zone.” This zone includes 4 of the 18 Southwest gates.

Innovation Zone Projects

Credit: Susan

One such innovation is playing upbeat music on the jet bridge. According to research, fast-beat music gets people moving. Here, the hypothesis is that this practice will get people moving along quickly and prevent some of the bottlenecking that occurs.

Another is to add video monitors to the boarding zones. These monitors will provide visuals so that passengers can see which group is boarding. This means that they will not have to rely completely on auditory cues from announcements over the noise of the airport.

These monitors were available on my most recent flight, and I (KatieP) have to say that I thought they were a fantastic idea. It is not always easy to hear what is happening in a busy airport, and it is easy to get distracted or to miss or even mishear an announcement. The addition of the monitors seems like a common-sense approach to organizing the chaos.

Credit: Susan

Additionally, Southwest is experimenting with color-coded carpeted areas that provide a visual cue for where to like up for various preboarding zones. This will eliminate the confusion of where these passengers need to wait and could get them lined up and ready to board faster. These were initially yellow, but they started showing dirt and spills very quickly, so they are being replaced with blue!

Another factor that can slow down your process is having to wait in line to talk to a gate agent. Southwest is working to eliminate some of the waits by installing self-serve kiosks that allow travelers to do things like generate tags for gate-checked carry-ons, add infants to a reservation, reprint boarding passes, and even purchase last-minute boarding upgrades.

This is especially helpful in terms of speeding up the gate-check process. It speeds up the process if passengers can go ahead and anticipate that there will be no room on a flight for their bags and stage them prior to boarding instead of circling around to do it later.

Credit: Disney

Next, agents and other staff members have a new app available to them with a group chat feature. This allows them to communicate efficiently without having to walk back and forth from place to place, saving valuable minutes. Gate agents can communicate with the onboard crew and better monitor when to board the next group, whether they need to begin gate-checking bags, etc.

This all comes in addition to the “Families First” policy that was also being tested at the Atlanta Airport. You can read about it here.

Does it Work?

Credit: Marisol

From my own experience, it looks like some of these adjustments are great ideas. While I am not a researcher, anecdotally the changes I experienced made boarding smoother.

The flight I took from Atlanta was already delayed by about 20 minutes. However, our gate was part of the Innovation Zone with some of these features. Our agent cheered us all on in utilizing teamwork and boarding swiftly so that we could arrive at our destination as close to the originally scheduled time as possible.

Interestingly, we took off and, in turn, arrived sooner than anticipated! Whether it was due to these boarding practices or some other factors I do not know. However, I am sure Southwest’s research will lead to positive shifts in permanent policy should data indicate that the innovations yield consistent effectiveness.

What do you think of these new Southwest Airlines procedures happening in the Innovation Zone? Would you love for your airport to embrace them? Let us know in the comments. And, be sure to pass the word along to anyone who is traveling out of or through Atlanta on a Southwest Flight!

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