Southwest to Offer Preboarding To Those Willing to Help Prevent COVID-19 With New Shoot’nBoard Program

April Fools, Southwest

There is very little that preoccupies Southwest travelers’ minds more before a flight than wondering if they’ll be able to get the seats they prefer. Southwest is now rolling out a new way to put people’s minds at ease… if they’re willing to chip in to fight COVID-19. Say hello to Shoot’nBoard.

I doubt I need to re-hash how Southwest handles boarding, but if you’d like, you can read this post. In short, Southwest has open seating, so the sooner you get on the airplane, the better chance you have of getting the seat you want. That means the key is figuring out how to maximize your boarding position.

If you have a disability, elite status, or if you’re traveling with young children, you can improve your boarding position without any extra cost. Travelers who are willing to spend money can get EarlyBird boarding (usually $15 to $25 a flight) which moves you ahead of the peons who won’t pay and have none of the conditions listed above. It doesn’t guarantee a position, however. Lastly, travelers can buy one of the top 15 spots at the gate if they aren’t taken.

Those all have their limitations, so it was with great interest when I saw that Southwest was introducing a new way to jump the line. All you have to do is offer to help disinfect the aircraft before the flight. What fun is flying if there isn’t a little risk, right?

Delta is rolling out its Delta Clean program to promote its new standards, and now Southwest is stepping up its game as well. Unlike Delta, however, Southwest needs your help.

The way it works is this. Southwest is offering 4 spots on every flight for travelers who are willing to board as soon as the last flight is emptied out. Travelers will each be given one of those cool disinfecting guns and will be assigned a quarter of the cabin to disinfect. I was able to check one of these out at the airport.

Once you finish, the flight attendants will board and the gate agents will take the guns. You’ll then be able to pick any seat you want before any other boarding begins.

I asked CEO Gary Kelly why they couldn’t just have cleaning crews handle this, and he explained:

At Southwest, our people are our single greatest strength and most enduring longterm competitive advantage. We don’t want to see them get sick, so we’re doing everything we can to prevent them from being exposed to this coronavirus.

I pushed Gary why it was fine for passengers to do it but not employees. He responded:

Well, passengers aren’t being forced to do it. They’re volunteering if they want, and in exchange they get a great boarding position. Seems like a great option to me. Besides, we’ll give them a squirt of hand sanitizer once they’re done, so they should be good.

Passenger rights advocates immediately condemned the move with the exception of Bill Elliot. As a frequent Southwest flier, he began to soften quickly.

It is an outrage to think that Southwest would put profits over people. If it wants to protect employees, it should be hiring contractors to do the disinfection instead of getting travelers to do it for free. But, wait, did you say you get to board before everyone else? Like even before Business Select? So I’d have a good shot at seat 12A? I mean, I guess I could wear a mask….

I tried to take the temperature in Washington over this move, and I was surprised to find no real objection. A terse response from the DOT simply stated that “if Southwest is doing it, it must be the right thing.” Congress also seemed uninterested in the change. Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) had his office tell me “since they let me board first anyway, I really don’t care.”

Southwest’s employees naturally like the move. Lyn Montgomery, the president of Southwest’s flight attendant union, said she supported this plan with conditions, and figured that the membership would agree. “Y’all know flight attendants were cleaning the cabin in between flights outside of our contract rules, right? We definitely aren’t going to pick up a disinfecting gun. But, you know, we should still get a massive pay raise to compensate us for this.”

I was curious about the operational impact here, figuring this would increase turn times. It won’t. Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Watterson told me they haven’t had to increase turn times at all since most of the airline’s flights have only 30 people on them anyway. “I was thinking of going back to 10 minute turns, but this seems like a better plan. We have so many airplanes sitting around that we don’t need fast turns anyway.”

To me, that seems like it should greatly reduce the value of the program if the airplane is empty. Who cares about pre-boarding? Chief Marketing Officer Ryan Green was very open with me.

This isn’t about rational behavior. This is about buying an airplane ticket. You tell someone they can board early and they lose their damn minds like they’ve won the lottery. We expect Shoot’nBoard will increase our customer satisfaction scores as long as they don’t actually come down with COVID-19 before they take the survey.

The new policy goes into place Monday, and the four spots will be filled in the order of request. Travelers can sign up for their flights at the time of booking. For those already booked, it can be added to existing bookings any time at southwest.com/aprilfools. But see, that’s not a real website, because… look at the calendar.

It’s tough to be happy about much today, but.. happy April Fools Day.

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42 comments on “Southwest to Offer Preboarding To Those Willing to Help Prevent COVID-19 With New Shoot’nBoard Program

  1. Ha, ha, ha. Oh, Brett, you got me good on this one. Thanks, I needed the laugh. The funniest part is your made-up quote which pretty much is the truth … you give them a chance to board early and they pretty much lose their mind … LoL. Stay safe and stay happy …. this too will pass.

  2. April Fool’s or not, its a pretty clever idea. Of course with load factors in the gutter chances are you will get whatever seat you want anyway right now. Stay safe everybody.

  3. Dang it Brett…. I had just sent messages to my friends at Southwest asking about this ridiculousness. This was one of your best April Fool’s posts. Bravo!

  4. You had me going there. I mean, these days why not? I forgot what day it was, as all days seem the same. Thanks – I needed this today.

  5. For me the tag at the top of the post on the home page gave it away.

    I’m afraid that you might be giving (U)LCCs across the pond some ideas with this one, though… Sounds like something RyanAir or easyJet might implement, though RyanAir would probably find a Tom Sawyer-esque way to convince passengers to pay for the privilege of cleaning the plane.

  6. This is my favorite part… I asked CEO Gary Kelly why they couldn’t just have cleaning crews handle this, and he explained:

    “At Southwest, our people are our single greatest strength and most enduring longterm competitive advantage. We don’t want to see them get sick, so we’re doing everything we can to prevent them from being exposed to this coronavirus.

    I pushed Gary why it was fine for passengers to do it but not employees. He responded:

    “Well, passengers aren’t being forced to do it. They’re volunteering if they want, and in exchange they get a great boarding position. Seems like a great option to me. Besides, we’ll give them a squirt of hand sanitizer once they’re done, so they should be good.

    Cranky has mastered the art of corporate doublespeak & at a time like this all I can say is well done!

  7. GOOD ONE, Brett! You had me for much longer than I care to admit. Thanks for keeping the tradition alive and for the spot of fun you brought to the day. I hope that this finds you and yours safe and secure as the industry and the world works round the clock to crack the code on this.

  8. Ha ha, very funny indeed. ???

    I was wondering if it is possible for airlines to start protesting passengers for coronavirus when testing becomes available widely. This could get this industry revived.

  9. hahahahhah if this is April Fool’s then bravo cranky !!!!

    if it’s real then it’s a major fauci-level-facepalm.

  10. I was looking forward to his, and did not disappoint. And it included another shoddy Photoshop’d picture!

  11. Least realistic part of this was Watterson’s claim that they only have 30 people on most of their flights. I doubt its that high.

    Also, when I saw the photo, I wanted to yell “SOCIAL DISTANCE!!!”

  12. Priceless!

    Seriously, how about you volunteering to go to Washington and become the Government’s Czar for a COVID-19 Strategic Materials Distribution Program. I would love to see you on TV briefing America, with FedEx’s Fred Smith and retired-Bob Crandall by your side, about what is and isn’t going on, who has been asked to do what, and who is just screwing up, and how we are mad as hell and just aren’t going to take it anymore!

    The three of you can fight it out over who stands where. Perhaps, you’ll all be at remote locations. Fine! If you brief from one location, it should require only two people, one to operate the camera, the other, the “bleep” machine. (OK, two for the “bleep” machine!)

    Oh, the maps we’ll see, the graphs, the stick-figures, etc.! America is waiting!

  13. Thanks for making this event possible, needed more today than ever before.  A smile much needed is a smile much appreciated.  Thanks.
    Patrick Dee

  14. “This isn’t about rational behavior. This is about buying an airplane ticket.”

    That’s my favorite quote from this story. As a former ticket agent, I say that is true, not just on April Fool’s Day, but every day of the year!

    Until we get back to life as we knew it, stay home (if you can) & stay safe.

  15. Your yearly April Fool’s joke might have just given Ryanair an idea if they are still flying. But then O’Leary would just make passengers pay to disinfect his planes for what, first choice of the pay on board food options…..LOL

  16. Brett, I was really looking forward to seeing how you would combine your traditional April Fool’s Day post and the seriousness of the COVID-19 situation. You did not disappoint!

    One question though- how was that photo with the gate agent made? Was it an old picture with a Photoshopped Super Soaker water gun?

    Thanks for keeping us laughing. My April Fool’s Day post was to request two-ply from any thinking about toilet papering my house.

    1. Haj – That was taken when I did the 9 airports/8 flights/1 day trip back in 2016. I think that was Sacramento. But then I just pulled in a disinfecting gun photo (that’s a real thing that Delta is using) and then photoshopped it in.

  17. um…….. im not sure how I feel about this but surprised you thought it was a good idea to publish , thats for sure! guess its time to find a new travel blogger to follow andddd really hoping southwest wasnt a part of this, cause i actually liked flying them. so long cranky flier

  18. When I saw the headline on Twitter–and remembered the date–I thought the joke was that Southwest was shooting passengers (with a gun) because dead people don’t spread COVID. This was better…I think.

  19. Hah you had me until the CEO quotes, of course it is now April 6, so I’d forgotten April fools.

    I’ve never flown Southwest, but other than the fact that normal people may not do as good a job or might take too long, I don’t see this as a particularly bad idea.

    Unlike United screwing up their FF program last year.

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