A Hologram To Be Reckoned With

If you don’t mind, I’d like to talk about Southwest Airlines for a minute. For those of you who haven’t flown on Southwest before, this is the airline that doesn’t assign you a seat when you purchase a ticket. Instead, when you check in you are assigned a boarding position. Then, when it’s your turn to board you can take whatever seat you want, so long as it’s not in the cockpit.

You are allowed to check in 24 hours before your flight is scheduled to depart. If you want a “good seat” it is advantageous to check in exactly at the 24 hour moment so that you can be at or near the head of the boarding line. At check in you are assigned one of 180 boarding positions: A1 through A60, B1 through B60 or C1 through C60. Once upon a time, when I was a much younger and more foolish man, I checked in two hours before my flight and was in the C boarding group. My seat was in the overhead bin. I swore that would never happen again.

So, 24 hours and five minutes before my plane was scheduled to depart I parked myself in front of the Southwest Airlines website ready to check in. At 24 hours and one minute the website told me it wasn’t time yet. At 24 hours and 30 seconds the website told me it wasn’t time yet. At 24 hours and one second the website told me it wasn’t time yet. At 23 hours 59 minutes and 58 seconds the website checked me in.

I felt very confident that I was firmly in the A boarding group. I was even optimistic that my number was pretty low. It was possible, I thought, that my position could be as at or around A10. I went to print my boarding pass and stunned at what I saw.

I was assigned boarding position B21.

Say what?

Basically, B21 meant that 80 people had checked in before me. How was this possible, I asked myself? I had checked in as soon as it was legally allowed, but 80 people has somehow gotten ahead of me. It seemed improbable, yet appeared to be horrifyingly true.

I called Southwest Airlines so that I could understand how, after all my planning, following the rules and diligent effort, this travesty occurred. 30 minutes of waiting and one automatic hang up later, a gentleman told me that there Southwest members were allowed to check in early.

Ok. I can understand that. Loyal Southwest Airlines passengers can check in early as a reward for being loyal. That makes sense.

But were there really 80 of those on this specific flight? The Southwest Airlines gentleman then explained that there were also people who had paid an extra fee to check in early. That, I felt, was unfair. I had played their game, I had done what they had instructed me to do, but instead of being rewarded, others had circumvented the board with money.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was how I ended up in a middle seat between two elderly people who felt that they deserved all of the armrests.

– Ben