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The airline is trying to get rid of long lines.
Published Aug. 10, 2007

Hoping to snag that coveted aisle seat on Southwest Airlines? Take a number.

That's what airline officials are telling passengers in San Antonio, where Southwest is running its latest test on new ways to board passengers.

The Dallas-based discount airline is famous for its "cattle call" boarding process, which lets passengers sit where they please once on board. Under that method, many passengers line up at the gate long before the flight departs to avoid getting a middle seat. Lines are sometimes 50 people deep.

When running a previous boarding test in San Diego, "we found overwhelmingly that people don't like to have to stand in line," said Marilee McInnis, an airline spokeswoman. "So this is something that should have minimal line waiting."

Under the method being tested, passengers are assigned a number and an A, B or C boarding group when they check in. When their group is called, passengers line up sequentially and board.

That means a traveler can sit and relax until boarding time. The new boarding process should be particularly beneficial to business travelers, McInnis said.

"This is all about maximizing people's time, and that's something that's important for our business travelers," she said. Southwest executives are expected to decide whether to change the boarding process before the end of the year.