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Southwest Airlines

Southwest Experiments with Opening an Extra Cabin Door at Boarding

Southwest Experiments with Opening an Extra Cabin Door at Boarding
Jeff Edwards

Southwest Airlines is testing a new boarding procedure it hopes will allow flights to spend less time at the gate. The plan will let passengers choose whether to enter the cabin from the forward or rear doors, thereby, in theory, allowing twice as many flyers to make their way onto the plane at the same time without the usual logjams.

Southwest Airlines seems to have found a surprisingly simple way to get more passengers to their seats in a shorter amount of time. The budget carrier has reportedly been experimenting with allowing passengers to choose to board aircraft from either the forward cabin door or the plane’s aft entrance. For now, the novel concept will be tried out only at California Airports including, Hollywood Burbank Airport Bob Hope Airport (BUR), Long Beach Airport (LGB), Sacramento International Airport (SMF) and Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC).

It seems it’s no accident that the airline is initially testing the concept primarily at airports in sunny California. Cold temperatures and snow or ice, it seems, could quickly render the new boarding concept completely ineffective.

Airline officials confirmed the trial this week, telling the Chicago Business Journal that  passengers who opt to use the rear cabin door will first exit the terminal building and then board the aircraft via a set of removable stairs. Flyers who choose to board through the forward door will in most cases still enter through the jetway as usual.

The airline says the hope is that allowing passengers the option of more than one door will dramatically speed the loading process for obvious reasons. Boarding the cabin from both the front and rear could also have the added benefit of meaning fewer passenger will need to wait behind seat mates carefully placing items in the overhead bins. The airline will also experiment with allowing passengers on select flights to disembark form either the front or aft doors as well.

View Comments (17)


  1. ianpage

    November 12, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    Nothing earth-shatteringly new about this – in Australia, both TigerAir and Virgin have used forward (via airbridge) and rear (via tarmac) boarding. Simple logic. However, if SouthWest really want this to work, they need to go one step more: make it not a passenger option, but actually *direct* rows 1-15 to the airbridge and rows 16 and up to the stairs. Otherwise they’ll just get more congestion as airbridge boarders heading for row 30 have to swim upstream past rear door boarders heading for row 20.

  2. Flying Kiwi

    November 12, 2018 at 4:01 pm

    Air New Zealand has been doing this for years for flights within New Zealand. Of course, being an effective monopoly they don’t give customers any choice in the matter – all customers beyond the first few rows are instructed to board via the stairs. And New Zealand weather is a lot nastier than California.

    I’ve posted in the forums how this leads to the equivalent of trench warfare in the aisles, as PAX seated near the middle of the plane and following the instructions struggle against the oncoming flow of PAX seated in the back of the plane who ignore the instructions, but that doesn’t stop Air New Zealand. IMHO they’re a very customer unfriendly airline, yet keep getting voted one of the best. My guess it’s because of the Hobbit factor.

  3. milesandmoremiles

    November 12, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    Southwest has already been doing this for years at many airports. This is nothing new.

  4. jonsail

    November 12, 2018 at 7:32 pm

    Makes a lot of sense, if it is mandatory that certain rows board the front and others the back. Of course, people having difficulty with stairs while lugging their carryons would have to be given the choice in advance of an airbridge boarding seat.

  5. southpac

    November 12, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    catch is in Australia, people don’t listen when told to go to front door or back, usually on a 30 row aircraft 1-15 are told to use front door & 16-30 back door, but then some idiots sitting in the back of the aircraft enter thru front door & stuff it all up & vice versa.

    Maybe check in person or flight attendant should stand at the point where the passengers have to choose front or back ? It’s not rocket science.

  6. dvs7310

    November 13, 2018 at 12:14 am

    Southwest does not have assigned seating, so the 1-15 and 16-30 methodology doesn’t apply. People boarding at the rear will grab a seat near the rear presumably and people boarding in front will grab something near the front. Should be fairly smooth if they are both boarding and disembarking this way. This since Southwest is an all economy airline, this would make the seats at the very front and the very back equally desirable for quick exit on arrival.

  7. ayrshiredude

    November 13, 2018 at 1:14 am

    In Europe and the UK all the LCC use stairs for both front and rear exits. Come rain or shine you need to leave the terminal and walk outside – No option.

  8. UKtravelbear

    November 13, 2018 at 5:41 am

    It might be new to them but it is used elsewhere in the world even in cold countries to get people on and off aircraft quickly, and there’s is no passsnger choice involved – if you are in row 1- middle row it’s front door and back door for everyone else.

  9. mot29

    November 13, 2018 at 6:11 am

    As noted, this may create more congestion if not done right, but for deplaning, it can really speed things up. I’ve been on KL flights within Europe where we’ve used both doors, too.

  10. AADC10

    November 13, 2018 at 11:25 am

    Is this actually new? BUR and LGB do not have jetbridges and it is common practice to have airstairs at both ends of the aircraft.

  11. Eurynom0s

    November 13, 2018 at 4:34 pm

    Based on some of the seats I’ve been able to get even with a mid-high B group boarding number (like an exit row, for instance), it seems like some people really do just want to be toward the back of the plane. So I think it’s fine to just let people choose which door to go through given the amount of self-filtering that’s already going on with Southwest’s boarding process.

    And I’d be worried about the implications for overhead space but my experience with Southwest is they prove the point that most people don’t want to drag their bags around the with them more than they’d like to not have to wait for it at the other end, and will therefore check a bag if you don’t charge them for it.

  12. KimchiExpress

    November 13, 2018 at 6:11 pm

    That is the norm in parts of Malaysia, Thailand, etc. Some airports do not have any air bridges and some are over capacity so the budget flight use stairs and everyone walks or takes a bus.

    Great for able bodied passengers but hell for others!

  13. DominikBlasko

    November 13, 2018 at 11:16 pm

    This has been a standard procedure for Norwegian Air in Europe for a very long time already. Front door is connected to the jet bridge, but you have the option to walk down the stairs, walk along the aircraft and board the via the rear door. Once I was lucky to deboard a Turkish Airlines 777 through stairs, now that’s more of an experience, hehe

  14. Mike Rivers

    November 14, 2018 at 4:35 am

    It would require a lot of cooperation to make this work since there are no assigned seats on Southwest. A better way to put it is “If you want to sit in the front, take the jetway, if you want to sit in the rear, take the stairs.”

    It would also be a good idea to monitor the occupancy so by the time they called the second round of Group B, they could announce “there are plenty of good seats in the rear” to avoid too many people boarding from the front and not pick a seat until they got to the rear half.

    I’m one of those weird people who watch the clock and check in on line the second after (24 hours before) flight time, so I’m nearly always in line in time to get seated where I’d like to be. But I have to be careful not to get run over by the ones who make a dash for the exit rows.

  15. gerardof71

    November 14, 2018 at 6:08 am

    How about training passengers how to quickly place luggage in overhead bins, and then sitting down quickly?

  16. StrongEagle

    November 14, 2018 at 8:04 am

    So… they can finally put those excess A380 air bridges to work.

  17. troybondi

    November 14, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    To clarify, the word “procedure” is not correct in this context. Opening the door is a procedure in itself and a part of the boarding process, but they’re trialling a new POLICY of using both the front and rear doors (L1, L2).
    Sorry for pointing out the detail, but I deal with confusion between policy, process and procedure every day. I would hope professional journalists would know the difference and why it’s important to be precise when writing.

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