Report: Southwest Airlines dropping Early Bird Check-n

Southwest Airlines does not sell assigned seats. That’s very different than every other major airline where you either pick. a seat when you book your flight or, for certain economy fares, get assigned one close to your trip date (sometimes as late as in the airport).

That’s not how it works for Southwest Airlines (LUV) – Get Free Report. The discount carrier uses an open seating system where people pick their seats as they board the plane.

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The airline assigns customers a boarding group, A, B, or C, and a number 1-60. People who need extra assistance board first in the A1-15 and high-end members of the Southwest Rewards loyalty program get checked in automatically which usually lands them an A group spot (but if they don’t get one, those frequent flyers can board after the A group before the B group along with families traveling with young children.

People without loyalty status check in 24 hours before the flight and are handed letters in numbers in the order they check-in. That means that anyone who forgets to check in exactly at the 24-hour mark likely gets stuck in the back of the B group or in the C group.

Having a late position pretty much guarantees you a middle seat and it’s possible the overhead bins will all be full. If people want to sort of cut the line they have two options. Southwest sells any A1-15 positions that weren’t sold as business-class fares right up to flight time. It also sells “Early Bird Check-In,” which checks passengers in automatically and gets them a spot that’s usually in the A group.

Now, a new report from View From the Wing shared that the airline will not sell “Early Bird Check-In” on some flights.

Southwest has a boarding process that’s unlike any other major airline.

Image source: Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Southwest drops some Early Bird Check-in   

Starting August 15, Southwest Airlines won’t be offering Early Bird Check-in on all flights according to an internal memo seen by View From the Wing. This is the text of the document:

Beginning August 15, Early Bird Check-in will be subject to availability on certain flights and that will mean Early Bird Check-in is unavailable to some customers looking to purchase it. 

Many initiatives are underway across the company to modernize customer experience and and win more customers, aligning with our five strategic priorities. This focus brings an opportunity to evolve out fare and ancillary products, while maintaining the value they bring our customers.

Similar to our fare products and upgraded boarding, Early Bird Check-in might not be available at anyh given time. If the Early Bird Check-in standalone product is unavailable, customers will still have an opportunity to purchase Business Select or Upgraded Boarding, both of which are also subject to availability. Customers who purchase “Anytime” fares will still  receive Early Bird Check-in as part of the benefits of that fare.

Essentially, Southwest is pushing customers who want a better seat to buy more-expensive fares. In a broad sense, Business Select fares and Upgraded Boarding cost significantly more than Early Bird Check-in.

In theory, this action will raise revenue for the airline and eliminate the occasional experience of someone paying for Early Bird and not getting an A group boarding pass. 

“For me what it will mean is that if Early Bird check-in isn’t available and the price gap between the cheapest fare and Business Select is large, I won’t fly Southwest since I don’t want to be among the last to board (and I didn’t renew my Southwest Airlines status last year, so no longer get status-based boarding),” View From the Wing’s Gary Leff wrote.

Southwest Airlines did not immediately return a request for comment from TheStreet. 

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