Southwest Air to Test Assigned Seating

Dallas -- Southwest Airlines, the nation's leading low-fare air carrier, today announced a test program in which it will assign seats to passengers as an alternative to its long-time practice of open seating.

The test program, on selected flights departing from San Diego, will begin July 10 and last for several weeks. If Southwest decides to change its boarding procedure to assigned seating, such a change will not occur before 2008, the airline said.

"This evaluation is an important step to determine the feasibility of assigned seating, but this is only a test," said Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly. "We want to make sure that we have studied all the possibilities and aspects of assigned seating before we make any change to what has been a very successful formula for the past 35 years."

Southwest's present boarding procedure is more efficient in cutting down the time that an airplane spends on the ground between flights, thus improving the company's bottom line.

At present, passengers obtain boarding passes that places them in one of three priority seating groups on a first-come, first-served basis. Once on the plane, passengers are free to select any available seat.

Southwest's test program comes in response to the many air passengers who prefer assigned seating.

Based in Dallas, Southwest is the nation's largest airline in terms of domestic passengers enplaned. It operates more than 3,000 flights daily and serves 62 cities in 32 states.