Southwest airplanes are seen on the tarmac at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.(Photo: Joe Raedle, Getty Images)
Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY
Southwest Airlines may not charge customers a free to check their bags or to change their tickets, but the carrier's list of fee-based perks is growing.
The latest: For $40, Southwest will let customers pay to jump into its "A" boarding group and get onto the aircraft ahead of others.
Southwest, of course, has open seating on all of its flights. It boards its aircraft by dividing customers into three boarding groups. The "A" group boards first, followed by B and then C.
Customers can guarantee a spot in the A group by purchasing one of Southwest's more-expensive "Business Select" fares. Otherwise, boarding positions for cheaper tickets are assigned based on when a person checks in for the flight.
The airline's new $40 option to jump into the A queue will be made available at the gate 45 minutes before departure, and only if there is space available.
"Customers will hear an announcement in the gate area and will be able to purchase an available boarding position via credit card from a Customer Service Agent," Southwest says in a statement announcing the $40 option. "Customers will only have the opportunity to purchase these positions if available."
Southwest says it "successfully tested this new boarding option in San Diego last month, and received positive feedback."
The new option also comes following another fee-based option that Southwest had added back in 2009. That "EarlyBird Check-in" costs $10 and promises to automatically check customers in as soon as they are eligible to do so (24 hours prior to departure). That ensures customers the earliest possible check-in - and consequently gives them their best-possible boarding spot for their fare type.
Still, the $10 EarlyBird Check-in does not give customers priority over Business Select customers -- meaning they are not guaranteed a customer a spot in the A boarding group. And, with the advent of Southwest's new $40 gateside early-boarding option, it appears that the EarlyBird Check-in option will slot behind yet another group of customers in Southwest's check-in queues.
The Los Angeles Times was one of the first media outlets to report on the move, with reporter Hugo Martin writing that Southwest's new "fee is one of dozens that airlines began to add to regular fares in the past five years--so many that such fees now represent 10% to 30% of all revenue for most of the nation's largest airlines."