Road-testing Southwest’s “Early-Bird” Check-in

As a follow-up to my earlier post about Southwest’s “Early Bird Check-in“, I can report that I have now tried it, and I think it has its benefits.

On a recent trip to California, I had the opportunity to compare the traditional online (24 hours pre-departure) check-in on the way there, and the new Early Bird check-in (up to 25 hours pre-departure) on the way home.

I chose the Early Bird check-in for my return flight because I did not want to be tied to a computer on my last day of vacation. It was much easier to just pay the $10 per person fee and let Southwest check me in automatically.

So, for my $40 fee (for four people), what did I get? Basically, a little less stress. It did not get me any further ahead in the boarding order (in both cases — traditional and early bird — we were in the A group, in about the 35-45 range), but it did free me from having to rush back to my computer in the middle of the day to check in.

It will be interesting to see if this new service catches on. If a lot of people start using Early Bird, and the regular travellers can no longer get into the “A” boarding group when checking themselves in online, we may see some backlash.

For now, I’ll probably continue to use it for the return leg of a vacation as a convenience. Air travel is stressful enough these days!

Southwest’s “Early Bird” Check In

I probably fly Southwest Airlines three or four times a year, and I’m quite used to their boarding procedures. I hover over my computer keyboard exactly 24 hours before my flight time, timing my “click” to see if I can be one of the first to check in and get one of the first few  “A” boarding passes so that I’ll have the best choice of seats.  But now all that will change.

Southwest has instituted a new “Early Bird” check in procedure that lets travelers buy their place in the online check-in line. For a $10 fee (each way, payable when you purchase the ticket or any time up until 25 hours prior to the flight) you can be assured that Southwest will check you in automatically, 36 hours prior to the flight (and well before the general public gets to check in). While they can’t promise that this will ensure you an “A” boarding pass, it will bump you up in the line and better your chances.

I’m really not sure what I think about the whole thing. On the one hand, it will be a nice convenience for the return leg of a trip. Instead of having to take time out of my vacation to visit the internet cafe on a cruise ship, or wait my turn on the computer in the hotel lobby, I can just purchase the early bird option and trust that I’ll get a good boarding number. But I do think that it’s a slippery slope. For an airline that heavily promotes its “no added fees” stance, I think this sends a conflicting message.

Beside, I kind of like the adrenaline rush of trying to beat the clock and hit “enter” at exactly the right moment 🙂  

What do you think?

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