Southwest's new plan: Open seating, better boarding

Bay Area travelers flying on Southwest Airlines will still be able to pick their own seats on the day they fly after the airline announced today that it was modifying its traditional seating system instead of abandoning it in favor of assigned seats.

Southwest began testing a traditional assigned seating system, similar to what it used by other major airlines, in San Diego last summer for possible adoption on all flights.

“After testing assigned seats in San Diego last summer, we quickly learned that the majority of our customers did not want us to abandon our open seating but they did challenge us to enhance the way we board our aircraft,'' Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said in a prepared statement.

The airline is modifying its seating system in hopes of eliminating the long lines that come when travelers “camp-out'' at their boarding gate.

Beginning in early November, Southwest customers will be assigned a letter and a number on their boarding pass when they check in for a flight, for example A32. Southwest will board its planes in groups of five based on the letter-number combination with the As being allowed to board in numerical order followed by the Bs and finally the Cs, according to the airline.

The new system, complete with new signs and alignments at Southwest gates, is scheduled to be in place at all three Bay Area airports by early November.

— Bay City News

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