Unexpectedly Intriguing!
November 2, 2005

Southwest Airlines has long been known for its airplane boarding policy, where its passengers are collected into three groups based upon the letters on their boarding passes: A, B and C. The A group is the first to board, the B group is next and the C group is the last. As a result of this policy, Southwest passengers are highly motivated to get checked in as early as possible, since getting an A-pass provides the opportunity to sit in the aircraft's most desirable seats.

Proving that there are Markets in Everything(TM) (to borrow the phrase from Marginal Revolution), Phoenix-based entrepreneur Kate Bell has found an opportunity to make money in helping Southwest passengers score the highly-coveted A boarding pass: for $5 USD, she'll take your name, confirmation code and credit card number and use it to check you in on your flight at Southwest's web site. If she fails to obtain an A pass for you, there's no charge.

The Arizona Republic describes how Bell came up with the idea for her business, BoardFirst.com:

The inspiration for the service struck months before while Bell was in a Starbucks line at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. A Southwest frequent flier, she was lamenting the lengths it took to get an A pass. The man in front of her said he had his wife get up and check in online for him.

"I was thinking to myself, 'Well, wait a minute, people would pay for this,'" she said.

She likens it to consumers paying extra to use neighborhood shipping stores instead of a more distant post office.

It's definitely a neat idea. Just from a convenience standpoint, it could be well worth $5 to not have to personally check in for a Southwest flight 24-hours ahead of your scheduled departure. The real benefit though lies in the potential time savings you may have after you arrive at your destination.

Here, depending on what seat you choose, you can significantly reduce the amount of time you will wait to deplane. On a full flight, the difference in having an A-pass on a Southwest Boeing 737 as compared to a C boarding pass might net you as many as 8 to 10 minutes in deplaning time!

Which makes those who hate having to wait for everyone else to get off the plane perhaps the ideal customers for Bell's service. Something to think about as we approach the busiest flying time of the year about three weeks from now....

Russell Roberts at Cafe Hayek has more on airline boarding strategies, but the definitive discussion of how commercial aircraft may be boarded (and deplaned) faster occurred a couple weeks ago over at William Polley's blog.

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