- Southwest is testing several new ways for passengers to move and board their planes.
- The airline uses Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as an “innovation zone,” according to the Wall Street Journal.
- Among the new ideas are kiosks, special play areas, and flashing lights at the start of the ride.
Long boarding times frustrate passengers and the flight attendants who escort them to the loading bridge and to their seats. But Southwest Airlines is on a mission to change that.
Southwest is testing several out-of-the-box methods at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, part of an effort to improve and speed up the boarding process, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The airline is using parts of the airport as a testing ground called an “innovation zone,” where it is experimenting with 11 new concepts in hopes of cutting five minutes off the average flight boarding time – which currently takes 40 minutes for small jets and above. to 50 for larger, each Journal.
“We want to really understand at the most granular level of detail how passengers move in and out of our aircraft,” Angela Marano, Southwest’s vice president of business innovation, told the Journal. “How can we better understand some of the human behavior that slows down the process?”
The new boarding practices include highly visible changes such as upbeat music on the jet bridge and video monitors that tell passengers when boarding begins. The monitors also include lights that flash during the ride, according to the Journal.
“It gives customers, especially customers who are late or not paying attention, information about when it’s their turn,” Kaci McCartan, Southwest’s senior innovation designer, told the Journal.
But some of the airline’s ideas are less consumer-facing, and focus on optimizing the boarding process from the airline’s operational side.
One idea Southwest is testing is a group chat between workers on the ground, in the plane, and at the gate — an addition that aims to improve coordination between airline employees, the Journal reported.
Another innovation the airline will test is self-service kiosks at the gate, according to The Street. There, passengers can streamline the boarding process and possibly even upgrade their tickets before boarding the plane.
The Atlanta tests continue Southwest’s ongoing efforts to change the way passengers board planes. The airline famously doesn’t assign seats to its passengers – they get to choose where they sit when they get on the plane.
The boarding system also allows families to board and sit together on Southwest flights in what the company calls “Family Boarding,” according to Fox8 news station in Cleveland.
For families as well as wheelchair users, Southwest is also testing a separate play area aimed at easing the way on the plane.
“If we find something that works and it can work on its own, we’ll release that,” Andrew Watterson, the airline’s chief operating officer, told the Journal. “But we’re not looking for the all quickly. Ultimately we want to lower our turn times by five minutes and do it in a quality, customer-friendly way.”