Southwest Testing Assigned Seating

Starting July 10, Southwest Airlines will begin testing assigned seating onboard 200 flights that depart San Diego over a series of weeks. The airline will assess the results before making any decision on whether to retain its current methodology of seating by groups of passengers who then take any available seat, or to switch to the industry's more standard practice of assigning seats for all passengers. Southwest's current group seating plan is easy for the airline to implement and good for those in the first seating group who can get the seats they want. But increasingly passengers in other groups, and particularly business travelers, are not so enamored with the program, as they tend to end up with middle or other less desirable seats. Some customers also dislike standing in group lines in the terminal prior to boarding, but know if they don't, there could be an extra 20–30 people in their group who will get seats first. San Diego was selected for the test because it has a good mix of flights and good weather. Staff trained for the new seating process will monitor customer satisfaction as well as airline operations. Southwest officials have said that any decision about a change in its seating system would be months away, and even then, it's unlikely any assigned seating process—if adopted—could be implemented before 2008. By then, Southwest will complete work on computer systems that will allow it to assign seats system wide.

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