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San Diegans - From Cattle to Lab Rats

Boy, aren't we San Diegans lucky. Southwest Airlines just announced that they will be testing a variety of assigned seating programs at our airport, Lindbergh Field. America's Finest City (despite the corrupt local politicians) was chosen by Southwest because, "San Diego has a good mix of short and long haul flights, and it's our 10th busiest location," according to CEO Gary Kelly.

Beginning July 1st and continuing for several weeks, passengers on about 200 flights will have to give up their A,B,C boarding passes and accept an assigned seat. Details are sketchy on how/when passengers will be informed that they are one of the lucky "lab rats," but Southwest has stated that their primary focus will be analyzing the turnaround time for an aircraft under various boarding programs. In other words, is there a faster and more efficient boarding process than the ABC cattle call?

Personally, I enjoy flying Southwest and being a member of their Rapid Rewards program. Unlike United, American, et al. when I earn a free round trip ticket on Southwest, I can actually use it because there are no seat restrictions (ie, unlike other airlines who only make available 10% of seats on any given flight for freebies, if ANY seat is empty on a Southwest plane you can get it with your freebie--even the day of flight). I also appreciate being able to break my Round Trip award into one-way segments if I choose--giving me flexibility to pay for a really cheap leg of a round trip flight, while using 1/2 of my Round Trip credit for a more expensive return leg.

I also prefer the notorious ABC cattle call line up and open seating method. I'm convinced that the only people who HATE it and complain about it are those disorganized travelers who repeatedly end up stuck in the "C" line (ie-"Crybaby" line)--and, therefore stuck in a middle seat. True, there have been occasions when I, too, have ended up in the "Crybaby" line--ususally when I have been on the road and unable to print off a boarding pass before arriving at the airport. But, most of the time I am able to log on to a computer 24 hours in advance and print off an "A" boarding pass. Then, once at the airport, I don't even bother standing in the A line till they announce boarding because I know I'll get a window seat (only 60 people get A passes and a typical 737 has at least 64 window seats--32 rows x 2). Most of the "B" liners get a decent seat too, so really, it's only the C-liners that get hosed.

I think Southwest should keep people standing in line not only because most people end up getting the seat they want, but also because it's likely the only time most Americans (Southwest does not fly internationally) remain on their feet for an hour straight. Yes, that's right, I'm putting an exercise and fitness spin on this story too! The airport is one of the few places remaining in our society where couch potatoes and 1-block automobile drivers are forced to walk and remain standing for a prolonged period of time.

If we can't keep the Southwest ABC line up because of efficiency, we should consider keeping it in place as a matter of public health and well-being!

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to do my part. When boarding a Southwest flight with an assigned seat test ongoing, I'm going to move slower than a couch potato and stagnate the airplane aisle. Hopefully, my delays will skew the results and make the ABC line process appear much faster. Ding!

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