southwest winglet over mdw Southwest tests families only section on planes. Voice your opinion in the poll!

For the past two weeks, Southwest Airlines has been experimenting with family-section seating for its flights departing from San Antonio.

For those that haven’t flown Southwest: The airline uses an “open seating” model, which means that there are no seat assignments on boarding passes. You get assigned to boarding group A, B, or C, depending on how early your check in. The A’s get to board first and choose their seats from the pick of the litter. (If you want to ensure that you get that “A” boarding pass, see here.)

There have been a few different family-boarding variants: For example, one version has the gate attendants calling up boarding group A to board first, as usual. Thereafter, families are asked to board.

In another model, one section of rows on board is “reserved” for families to sit together. (Perhaps they should call this “Mullet Seating” — business in the front, party in the rear.)

Other experimental boarding models are still pending.

The concept isn’t just designed to appeal to families traveling together. That’s a side effect. The reality is that it’s in the airline’s economic self-interest, and helps them turn planes around faster:

“The goal here is to speed up the boarding process,” [spokeswoman Brandy King] said. [...] Families that board with the last groups often are unable find adjacent seats. So flight attendants have to move some passengers around so that families can sit together. It’s a time-consuming process, King said, but it’s necessary.

But individual travelers who played by the rules to get an early-boarding pass might be ticked off that a family of six could trump their seat choice.

So the question is put to you: Is family seating a good idea or not? Should other airlines try something similar, or avoid this like the plague? Vote in the poll below, and hit the comments!

southwest family boarding poll results Southwest tests families only section on planes. Voice your opinion in the poll!

- Getting the best seats on Southwest just got harder
- Confirmed: Southwest Airlines to test assigned seating; Northwest abandons boarding by rows
- Southwest to maintain unassigned seating (for now)
- Seat selection, highbrow and low: Eos, Maxjet, Southwest
- EasyJet starts charging for early boarding


pixel Southwest tests families only section on planes. Voice your opinion in the poll!

18 Responses to “Southwest tests “families-only” section on planes. Voice your opinion in the poll!”

  1. S A Says:

    I was torn between “as long as the A group boards first” and “eww.” (I don’t like flying Southwest, though I sometimes do it. It’s mostly “eww” because of singalongs when I’m trying to conduct business. It’s not even the boarding thing, I’ve got that down.)

    I don’t like the idea of the families getting priority (early) seating and taking all the good seats. But I really do like the idea of having screaming kids segregated in the back. THAT would be nice.

  2. Mike Maddaloni Says:

    I still believe in the US we need to board the planes from the front and back as they do in Europe and elsewhere. This will surely speed things up, and then the airlines (or their subcontractors) will actually have time to clean the planes!


  3. David Says:

    I think it’s ridiculous not to have advanced seating assigned. EVERYONE should have a seat assigned ahead of time when they book their ticket. EVERYONE.

    Then, the airline should quickly and quietly have everyone line up in order of their EXACT row number (back to front, assuming we’re going in the front door) and then NOBODY has to wait for ANYBODY.

  4. tseliot Says:

    I love Southwest’s current boarding system. It much more free and it rewards those who really want their choice of seat by checking in online. I honestly don’t know how I feel about the proposed family section. It would be nice having all the families with kids in the back but A people should still get priority. I also think it should be limited to large families. If it’s a family of two or three, then they shouldn’t get to jump ahead in line just because they have kids.

  5. David Ourisman Says:

    I agree with the other David! Assigned seating makes the flying experience much less stressful, at least for me. Families will already have been blocked together. And people get to pick their seats based on when they *buy* their tickets, not on when they check-in online.

  6. Suresh Ramasubramanian Says:

    Unassigned seating like what southwest does got cracked down on by India’s equivalent of the FAA after it turned out that some airlines doing this (like Air Deccan – were overbooking their flights and then squeezing a few pax extra into crew jump seats and such.

  7. Dan Webb Says:

    I personally love the open seating! I don’t find assigned seating less stressful in some situations:

    A. You can still be overbooked.

    B. When flights are changed. For example, I suffered from Northwest’s troubles in June, and since I got moved to another flight my family was split up. Luckily some creative maneuvering at the NW ticket counter and some trading on the plane led to everything being sorted out, but if I was on SW my family would just snag line A. (Too Bad SWA doesn’t go to Canada!)

  8. Dan Webb Says:

    Oh and to ad this as well…younger families can still preboard!

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  10. DavidG Says:

    What’s the big deal? Southwest has always boarded families with children before the A passes.

    How about this option? Since Southwest flies multiple flights between destinations, make one of these flights “kid-less” (nobody under 16). Eliminate the deepest discount or 2 deepest discounts on this flight. Let the market take determine how to handle the situation.

  11. » Travel News Roundup, July 31, 2007 Says:

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  12. kyle Says:

    As a single flyer mostly, when I choose my seat, that’s the seat I want to sit in. I won’t move because some family wants to sit where I’m sitting. They should have gotten to the airport sooner, just like I did. Why should my life be inconvienced because I’ve chosen to be single and not have kids?

    There’s no reason why Southwest can’t be like the rest of the airlines and have reserved seating when you BUY a ticket. Then there is no confusion and no “would you be willing to change your prime seat you’ve selected to the crappy middle seat that’s left.”

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  14. Rick Seaney Says:

    I have been flying Southwest out of Dallas for years with the cattle call. It is pretty simple for me.

    I love it when I am in A or B and hate it when I am in C.

    Imagine that, someone has to end up in a middle seat.

    Group 1′s with assigned seats on American cause boarding anarchy, some assigned at the back and some assigned in the middle, the boarding process takes foooorrrreeevvvveeerrrr.

    I agree lets board from the back and the front and get the plane on its way that much quicker…

  15. Larry Lustig Says:

    I’ve never flown Southwest and don’t have an opinion on the A/B/C priority issue.

    However, for years (ever since I started flying with my own kids) I’ve supported the idea of a family cabin. It would relieve both the people who don’t want to fly near children and also the parents of children who have to deal with ill-socialized adult passengers who object, for instance, to your reading a book quietly to your child. The airlines could possibly offer additional services (remember service?) in the family cabin — at least crayons and coloring books. They might even be able to use smaller seats for children under ten.

    I’d rather fly with other families, I think the kids would like it more, and so would the non-family passengers. I imagine it would be a selling point for the airlines as well.

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