We recently completed a roundtrip from Tampa to New Orleans on venerable old Southwest Airlines. I first flew that airline in 1984 from Harlingen Texas via Austin to El Paso. Back then I found it amazing that you recieved as a boarding pass a piece of paper that looked like a receipt from a gas station and that seating was all open seating. The latter resulting in a mad dash for seats before you were stuck in the much-dreaded middle seat. That brought on the feeling of being pushed and shoved into a cattle truck like of bovines being shipped somewhere.
Such was the case with our recent trip to New Orleans. To alleviate the harried chase for a good seat on the return I paid $25 extra to get "Early Bird Boarding" in which Southwest assigns a boarding position (no seat) 36 hours before departure. The poor saps who wait for 24 hours or as late as upon checkin at the airport get a much less desirable boarding position and unfortunately if the plane is full that means a middle seat.
As we flew back across the Gulf of Mexico last night I thought about how to fix the cattle car experience that ensues on Southwest and this morning came up with a potential solution. I've emailed it to Southwest through their online contact portal. Now it will be interesting to see how and if they respond. The suggestion makes sense to me which is likely going to mean that nobody else will think it makes much sense but what the hell.
I first flew Southwest in 1984 (HRL-AUS-ELP) and found it strange that you had open seating. I've intermittently flown you in the intervening years and continue to find it strange that you are the only US airline that does not have assigned seating. The reason passengers are given is that by lining up and being called to board by sections speeds up the boarding process. I've also been told that having assigned seating costs you more than the current cattle car experience. There's only one glitch in that thinking.
While onboard people are scrambling for their preferred aisle or window seat and while doing so someone who wants a window has to climb over the person in the aisle (or in the rare cases where there is someone in the middle seat also they climb over two people). When this happens everyone standing behind that person is delayed in their opportunity to scramble to a preferred seat somewehre further down the plane.
Southwest has begun the Early Bird Checkin that ostensibly gives travelers a better shot at getting a good seat but you still have to wait for Maude and Henry from Poughkeepsie who fly once a year as they try to figure out who should go where and how far away their carry on bags will be.
I'd like to suggest an alternative approach that still allows you to charge for seat selection (sure miss the days when selecting a seat wasn't a perk you pay for). How about instead of the current mass scramble system you charge people in window seats $15 for their entire one way trip and aisles $10 for their entire trip (all segments). People in the middle get a seat for free.
Then on boarding you would allow all windows on the starboard side to board first, followed by all windows on port side. Once those people are onboard and out of the way then let the hapless souls in the middle seats to board - starboard first then port. Finally the individuals in aisles board last. They don't have to worry about scrambling for seats because their seat is assigned and the aisle people dont have to be part of holding others up by standing up and out in the aisle to let the window and middle seat people climb over them.
This seems like a win-win for everyone. Most importantly you travelers know they're going to be in seat 10A or whatever. Everyone at the windows is already seated and out of the way before the next layer of seating gets on board and you still get to charge people for seat selection. Think about it.