Southwest will try early boarding for families

DALLAS — Southwest Airlines will experiment with offering early boarding for families. 

The weeklong trial is slated to be held during the middle of December at four of the airline’s gates in Atlanta, said vice president of business transformation Angela Marano at Southwest’s Media Day on Wednesday.

During the trial, families traveling together will be offered the chance to board before individuals who hold an A-list boarding assignment. However, those families would be required to sit behind row 15, Marano said. 

The trial is part of a broader initiative to find ways to shorten aircraft turn times. Reducing turn times would achieve dual goals of improving efficiency and cutting costs. 

Southwest also is considering giving flight attendants and gate staff better tools to communicate with each other when overhead bins are full, and working toward going paperless during turns, which would mean digitizing dispatch-related documents and weather packets. Currently such documents are transferred manually between pilots and Southwest ops agents. 

Though turn times vary by flight, Marano said a typical turn for a 737-7 plane is 30 to 40 minutes and a typical turn on the larger 737-8 planes is 40 to 50 minutes. 

Time-saving methods under consideration could potentially reduce those windows by several minutes.

“All things are certainly on the table,” she said.

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Firm announcements on which measures the airline will implement to reduce turn times could begin in a couple months, Marano added. 

The family boarding trial comes as the DOT has begun exerting pressure on airlines to assure that families can sit together at no cost beyond the actual cost of a ticket. In a July notice, the DOT said that failure to do so could lead to regulatory action.

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