By kevinschmidt on Nov 14, 2007
As you may know, Southwest Airlines has recently changed their boarding procedure. In the past, Southwest gave out boarding passes with an "A", "B", or "C" and had three separate lines for these three groups. The order of giving out the different letters was based on when one checked in and with the advent of checking in on-line, the game had become making sure you checked in 23:59:59 before your flight to make sure you got an "A". You still would benefit from arriving at the airport early as that would get your farther forward within your group.
Now, they have changed it so that not only do you get a letter, but you also get a number. And in theory, the number provides greater granularity in the boarding order. And it appears that Southwest is also using the lower numbered "A" boarding passes to be sold for an extra fee for those that want to board early.
This went into effect about a week ago and I've now been on two Southwest flights using this boarding technique. The travelers I've been with have been confused and not fully understood the new procedure, but it has been relatively painless. While the new system is more complicated when it works, it works reasonably well. Each group is actually split into two (numbers 1-30 then 31-60) and there are two areas to line up. The first to board are A 1-30 and then A 31-60. While numbers are finer grained than that and they do have areas to line up in groups of 5, they don't appear to be enforcing the finer grained order. Once A 1-30 is done they spin the sign and B 1-30 are asked to line up while A 31-60 board. This continues on throug B and then C.
In theory this means you don't have to worry about showing up early to get a spot as when you get to board is roughtly pre-determined. This appears to work ok and folks are generally getting it so we'll see how it goes.