That "ding" sound you hear on Southwest Airlines flights isn't its lovable commercials, but cash registers ringing for charging passengers who just insist on being first onboard the plane.
Southwest Airlines on Thursday is starting its $10 "EarlyBird Check-in" program, joining the airline game of dinging passengers with enough add-on fees to require stopping at a bank to get small bills on the way to the airport.
Forget "Ding, you are now free to move about the country." Try "Ding, that will be $10 for boarding first." The fee is one-way.
How about paying $10 get off the plane first? That might be worth something.
Southwest is my favorite airline for many reasons: Low fares, an easy rewards program for free flights, and no luggage fees. After paying United Airlines more than $100 round-trip to get a few bags half-way across the country this summer, I'm still a big fan of Southwest's no-fee baggage. Most airlines now charge for checking in bags.
The airline brags about not having add-on fees for passengers. Now that bragging will have to stop.
I should have known fees were in the air when Southwest started messing with its boarding routine a few years ago. It used to be a cattle call to board, and with a small child my small family was allowed to preboard, meaning we had our pick of up-front seats. But that ended a year or so ago, and families with kids must wait with everyone else and follow their group boarding passes.
What will the EarlyBird Check-in customers get for $10? More open seats and overhead bin space to choose from, meaning they'll grab the front rows or exit seats. The passes are for sale 36 hours before departure. The early birds, however, will still be behind business and its A-List customers, but before the regular folks in the three boarding groups of A, B and C.
On Southwest's blog, many customers weren't thrilled that Southwest is joining other airlines in nickel-and-diming people.
"I really think this is a bad idea," one anonymous poster wrote. "I hope it does not take SWA very long to realize that and go back to the airline they used to be."
The dinging of your wallet has just begun.
Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Reach him at www.AaronCrowe.net
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