Pay To Board First (Almost) On Southwest

One of the things I appreciate about Southwest Airlines is its egalitarian spirit, which is not coincidentally one of the things I like best about the United States in general.

Yes, we may be crammed into a 737 without much more sustenance than a bag of peanuts but the price is right, the attitude is cheerful, the flights tend to be on time and we’re all in it together because there’s no first class. Hell, there aren’t even assigned seats. This is not always entirely pleasant, but it’s usually fair.

A while back, Southwest started letting passengers buying certain business fares and those with high status in its frequent-flier program board first. When there are no assigned seats, boarding first allows you to get exit rows or aisle seats with more leg room and all the overhead space you can fill.

I didn’t love that move on Southwest’s part because it seemed to chisel away a little at the egalitarian thing, but I understood why. Revenue in a troubled industry, building customer loyalty etc. and all that.

It must have worked out, because now Southwest will let you board right after those high fliers and before the general population if you pay an extra $10. People who pay the fee will be able to insert themselves ahead of the passengers who got the first “A” boarding passes the old-fashioned way — by checking in as early as possible online.

This further erosion of the egalitarian spirit depresses me, although it’s not necessarily unfair. You spend more, you get more is the way the legacy airlines have done it forever. And some of them are charging extra to assign exit rows and aisle seats in coach.

It’s just that Southwest was different, and I wish it could stay that way.


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