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Southwest Airlines Alternate Boarding Scenarios Case Study

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Updated: Jun 16th, 2022


Airlines in various parts of the World use different boarding scenarios to make the process quick, client-oriented, and efficient. The chosen strategy depends on the company’s size, resources, and the goals they try to achieve. Southwest Airlines considered alternatives and changes to its existing process: dividing the passengers into three groups based on the check-in and arrival time without assigned seats. Each potential scenario has different pros, cons, and bottlenecks to analyze before implementation.

Assigned Boarding Gate Line Positions

The first alternative is assigning the boarding gate line positions based on the group and gate arrival time. The positive effects could include a clear division of the passengers before the start of the process. The airline representative would be able to estimate the number of customers in each seating zone and the time needed to transfer them into the aircraft. Some passengers may also find this division to be organized and useful when searching for family members or lost items. If the gate areas are appropriately marked for the new procedures, there should not be any issues while adjusting to them. The preparations could include remodeling of the waiting space, adding the electricity sockets and chargers, and placing the information monitors so that people could see them from the new seat positions.

However, the negative effects of this strategy outweigh the positive ones. The airports are not only transportation hubs, but large businesses and passengers often expect to engage in shopping or entertaining activities while traveling (Gitto & Mancuso, 2017). Finding a designated waiting area would create additional confusion, especially if some customers have not arrived yet. In addition, people usually choose the preferred seats according to their needs. They may be located near the charging point, bathroom, or close to the information screen. The assigned boarding gate line position requires the passengers to sacrifice some of their personal time at a comfortable location, thus creating potential conflicts. This alternative is unlikely to be implemented as it does not correspond with the signature strengths of Southwest Airlines. The loyal customers value the simplicity of the rules: they wait for their group to be announced and choose the desired seat in the aircraft. Any additional complications may lead to a decrease in the number of customers.

Single Boarding Chute and Many Groups in One Queue

The second scenario is using a single boarding chute and allowing up to nine-passenger groups in one queue. A single line allows company representatives to quickly estimate the number of passengers present and guide them in the needed direction. The group would have to hear one set of instructions applicable to everyone. Adding the monitors with entertaining content along the queue would distract the passengers from the need to stand for some time. This may require receiving permission from the airports’ management as the space for long queues may affect the neighboring areas. It is also possible to move all of the passengers through the aircraft in one line as they choose the seats and allow those behind them to pass.

However, since the queue would belong, the attendant would have to repeat the instructions several times and possibly explain them individually. People tend to be confused about placing the luggage in the overhead bins, which may create delays. In addition, this approach may be somewhat difficult to incorporate because current loyal clients of Southwest Airlines find the initial division into groups based on the check-in time rather convenient (Flying around the World, 2018). Finally, waiting while sitting is expected, but standing in a line may pose challenges for people with back problems or small children. This alternative is also unlikely to be implemented, as the potential issues with available space and instruction explanation could make the customers confused and uncomfortable.

Boarding with a Countdown Clock

The third scenario suggests a countdown clock during the boarding process and incentives provided to those who completed it on time. This could be an attractive option, especially when combined with a mobile application, like the countdown to boarding option by American Airlines (Wood, 2020). The boarding process could include the live schedule of planned procedures with the passengers walking through the checkpoints at particular times. Providing incentives to punctual passengers increases client engagement, which enhances the psychological connection between a customer and a particular brand (Hapsari et al., 2017). The company has to prepare for a scenario where all the passengers board at their designated time and receive the incentives.

However, there are some negative points to this strategy implementation. Running a countdown clock could add pressure to those passengers who struggle with the schedule or have to multitask. Producing the incentives requires resources, whether the clients can receive a free toy or several miles added to their member card. Also, not receiving the reward due to the circumstances not being dependent on the person could make them upset and damage the company’s image. Despite the small deficiencies, adding the countdown clock and offering positive reinforcement for punctuality could be beneficial for Southwest Airlines.

Educational Boarding Video

The fourth suggestion is to show an educational boarding video to the clients to make the process entertaining, informative, and promotional for the company. There are several videos about the safety tips while on board the airplane currently available. The ones that attract much attention involve humor and famous people, like instructions by British Airways (2017). Such content could be sent as a link to the clients together with an electronic ticket and played at the gate before the boarding process. Humor may help decrease the in-flight anxiety for some passengers and create a relaxing atmosphere before traveling.

The potentially negative sides of this strategy would include the cost of the video making, keeping the instructions up-to-date, and continuously monitoring the changes in international ethics and social mood to avoid offending the passengers in any way. In addition, some of the conservative clients may dislike the humorous and technological presentation of the boarding procedure. Finally, it needs to have an in-person alternative in case of device malfunctioning. Despite several potentially harmful effects, incorporating the educational boarding video into the standard registration procedure could be beneficial for the company.


Southwest Airlines have created a good base of loyal and content customers. Their passengers expect to rest until their group is called for boarding, choosing the seat after entering the aircraft, and friendly customer service. Thus, implementing any regrouping or long queues would be inefficient for Southwest Airlines, even if it could decrease the boarding time. Other strategies, such as including a countdown clock and educational video, have the potential to be efficient. They cannot replace the standard boarding process but have the necessary functions to complement it. The company has to consider passengers’ loyalty and comfort when incorporating new approaches to the boarding process.


British Airways. (2017). [Video]. YouTube.

Carstens, C.B. (2019). . Airport review.

Flying around the World. (2018). [Video]. YouTube.

Gitto, S., & Mancuso, P. (2017). . Tourism Management Perspectives, 22, 132–136.

Hapsari, R., Clemes, M. D., & Dean, D. (2017). . International Journal of Quality and Service Sciences, 9(1), 21–40.

Wood, M. (2020). . Oyster.

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