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Southwest Airlines Hints That It May Abandon Unassigned Seating

The carrier's CEO said they're currently "looking into new initiatives."

Love it or hate it, Southwest Airlines' seating policy certainly makes it stand out from the pack. The carrier has a unique boarding process and doesn't assign seats to passengers, meaning you're able to pick your own once you board. But some recent challenges for the airline now have the CEO acknowledging that there could be changes in store—and the unassigned seating that has come to define Southwest may soon be a thing of the past.

RELATED: Travelers Are Boycotting Southwest Over New Boarding Change.

When Southwest released its first-quarter financial results for the 2024 fiscal year, it became clear that the carrier is struggling financially. The airline reported a net loss of $231 million for the quarter.

In a statement accompanying the release, Southwest CEO Bob Jordan called the loss "disappointing" and revealed that the company is working to explore options for reversing its financial setback.

"We are focused on controlling what we can control and have already taken swift action to address our financial underperformance and adjust for revised aircraft delivery expectations," he said.

During an interview with CNBC on April 25, Jordan hinted that one possible option could be a change to its unassigned seating arrangement.

"We're looking into new initiatives, things like the way we seat and board our aircraft," he said.

Jordan also addressed the potential future change in a call with investors the same day, explaining that executives are "very seriously studying" its seating process and how passengers board Southwest planes, per The Washington Post.

"It's been several years since we last studied this in-depth, and customer preference and expectations change over time," he said on the call. "We are also studying the operations and financial benefits of any potential change."

RELATED: Southwest Airlines Is Cutting Flights to 4 Airports Over Boeing Problems.

Southwest hasn't yet made any concrete decisions on seating or boarding. Representatives for the company said they are currently studying customer preferences for seating and how they may be changing, The Washington Post reported. As the company explained, its open-seating system was implemented when airlines weren't seeing as much demand and had less full aircrafts.

"There's no decision, there's nothing to report other than we are seriously looking at this," Jordan said on the call. "But early indications both for our customers and for Southwest look pretty darn interesting."

But the fact that nothing has been decided hasn't stopped travelers from weighing in with their thoughts, with many hoping that Southwest doesn't abandon unassigned seating.

"If Southwest gets rid of its open seating policy, then they'll lose what makes Southwest different than other major airlines," one person wrote in an April 26 X post, with the hashtag #KeepOpenSeating.

Another user made a post directed at Southwest's official X account: "Please do not change open seating to assigned seats. WE DON'T WANT THAT!"

At the same time though, Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst and president of Atmosphere Research Group, told The Washington Post his research has shown one of the reasons many people avoid Southwest is because the carrier doesn't assign seats.

He said he believes the airline could make "an enormous amount of money" by abandoning its current boarding and seating practices.

"I think it could be an incredibly positive thing for the airline, but I recognize that Southwest has a more-than-50-year history of being egalitarian, of having open seating and being different from other airlines," Harteveldt explained.

Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
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