Can you assign seat numbers for standing?

Sounds like an oxymoron but it’s not.

Southwest Airlines may have bee the first airline to do away with seat numbers.  So they operated like a bus. You were assigned a group (A, B or C) depending on when you checked in. If you wanted good seats, you check-in early so t Ouhat you are in group A. It was that simple.

Recently, they made one more change. Within the group, you are now assigned a number 1-30 or 1-60 and that indicates your standing position in the queue to get into the airplane. It is a big and interesting change.

My first experience on this new scheme was a few weeks ago. I guess it was the first experience for many people. So there was some chaos in the Southwest counter at the Chicago airport. We were chatting about the new scheme with a Southwest person and he calmly responded “It is a big change and we know that it will take a few months before people get used to it. We are OK with that”

My $.02:

1. Changing the rules of the game: Hat’s off to Southwest for changing the rules of the game – not once but twice.  One is to change the rules and other is to show brilliance in executing on that change. They are good at doing both.

2. Understanding that change takes time:  From the response of the Southwest person on the counter, it was clear that Southwest knows this. Most people don’t. Just because they think something is a good idea, they have a tendency to believe that everyone will think so.

3. To keep costs low, push the costs somewhere else: Today morning, I was boarding a Southwest plane coming to Chicago again. My flight was at 6.50am and we started boarding at 6.34am. The flight took off at 6.50am.  One of the reasons (I think) this was possible was because the cost of maintaining the discipline was moved to the passengers.

4. Creating bigger barriers to entry: This was an example of a move where Southwest is changing the way they do business with their customers. They are doing this in the way customers feel that is “for their benefit”. Those that want to get in early in the plane HAVE to check-in earlier than others in the same plane. This means that more people will check-in online. Checking-in online is no longer a convenience. It’s a game. If you want to win, you go first. What is interesting is, whether someone wins or not, Southwest will win as more people will check-in online. Think about it, you can check-in online most other carriers but you do that for convenience. Here you do it for more than convenience. If other carriers have to catch up, they have to do more than just advertise it, they have to change their business model. Southwest is simply creating bigger barriers for other carriers to get in.

Question for you:

At your work, what rules are you taking for granted? Which of those rules are you willing to re-define in the marketplace to gain a superior competitive advantage?