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?