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Southwest Adds Priority Boarding for $10

Southwest has unveiled a new service, EarlyBird Check-In, which automatically reserves a boarding position prior to general check-in. This means passengers can board before the general boarding call but after the Business Select passengers and Rapid Rewards A-List customers (and, presumably, parents with small children, who board between the A and B groups). Ah, the luxury of near-empty overhead bins and seats.

The catch, of course, is that it’s not free. It’s $10.

Let’s talk about that. $10 to hop on the plane early. Is it worth it? Is it—you might want to sit down for this—a fee? Is it a good perk for a fair price? A desperate attempt to pull in some extra revenue?

Probably all of the above. To some people, especially passengers with carry-on luggage, it’s a great perk that will pay for itself in peace of mind. But it’s certainly a fee, although a distinctly “Southwestian” fee, in that it’s a new service and not something passengers are accustomed to receiving for free. And while Southwest may not be desperate to add revenue, it certainly doesn’t hurt, and EarlyBird Check-in is almost pure profit. It costs the airline nothing to let people on the plane early.

Passengers can purchase EarlyBird Check-In when booking tickets and up to 25 hours before departure.

Personally, I’m not sure I’d go for it. There’s nothing particularly sinister about charging for the advantage of early boarding, but it’s only an advantage because Southwest’s cattle-call boarding and unassigned seating makes it so. Plus, $10 isn’t a ton of money, but it is $10. It’s lunch on your vacation, or cab fare from the airport—a small but not insignificant amount of money. It seems odd to me that Southwest, which prides itself on being affordable, would separate its passengers into haves and have-nots, albeit on a small scale.

And just to add a little irony to the situation, you may recall Southwest sued (and courts eventually shut down) independent companies that provided exactly this service. Guess it wasn’t such a bad idea, huh?

Readers, would you pay to board early on Southwest? Do you think Southwest should have kept the playing field level? And what happens if half the passengers on your flight purchase EarlyBird?

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