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October 29, 2007

G-9! N-12! Southwest Airlines Introduces Bingo Boarding


As you are reading this, I am driving from Minneapolis back to Michigan. Why didn’t I fly? Because I don’t get treated like cattle in my own car. That’s why.


If I’m hungry, I can stop and get whatever kind of food I want. If I want to listen to music, I can do so with as much volume as my system can muster. If I want to stop and stretch my legs, there is a space available for me to do so. It’s called the whole wide tootin’ world. And if I want to check my e-mail, I have several different ways to get Internet access on the ground.


If you want to do any of this on an airplane, you are out of luck. You, my friend, are a cow. If they could, they would make you give milk, then sell it back to you for $8 a glass.


If you had any doubt about this – or about the fact that honesty is the best policy – consider that the world’s most profitable airline, Southwest, admits this with no hesitation. They even refer to their seating method as the Cattle Call. It works like this:


You buy a ticket for the flight. In exchange for your dollars, you are allowed on the plane. That’s it. You want a seat? Better move faster than the next guy. Last one in line gets to sit on a hump that will need to be proctologically removed when the plane lands.


Southwest fliers know the drill so well, they’ve been known to get in line 30 minutes or more before the gates open. Think general admission seating at a Who concert, but without any good music. This is the Southwest Airlines Cattle Call.


Or it was. Southwest announced last week it is “tweaking” the 36-year-old “system” with a new approach that has quickly inspired the name Bingo Boarding. In the new system, Southwest will assign you a number when you check in. The number corresponds to a group of five people of which you are a member. You take your number. It is four. You go and sit down. At boarding time, the bingo caller starts shouting numbers. You sit poised and ready. You listen.


“Thirty! Nine! Twelve! Eight million, six hundred fifty-eight thousand, seven hundred twenty-three! Just kidding!”


You can hardly stand it, the suspense is killing you so thoroughly.




You leap from your seat! You make for the gate! You spot your first fellow four-group member. It is an old lady with a walker. You trample her easily. Next is an attractive woman of maybe 35 who is accompanied by a boy of probably seven. You grab the child’s teddy bear and throw it 10 feet behind him. They will have to go back. Now you’ve just got one other person to beat.


Uh oh. It’s Edwin Moses. Since he’s gaining on you very quickly, you decide to try a hockey move. When he starts to pass you, you’ll check him against the boards, and you’ll get the seat of your choice. Here he comes. Here he comes . . .


You go into checking position. Edwin has a hockey move ready as well. He punches you in the nose and lays you out flat. By the time you come to, you find yourself covered with the footprints of the old lady, the attractive woman of maybe 35 and the boy of probably seven.


And the teddy bear. Oh, and the plane left without you.


Well, Bingo Boarding does sound like an improvement. There is nothing worse than trying to pass the time sitting in an airport terminal. If I’m going to get to watch passenger-on-passenger combat, I might be willing to hang out there for a change.


This is not to say I’m going to actually get on a plane. What are you, crazy? Just because they’ve upgraded me from cattle to one of Michael Vick’s pets is no reason to give up my road trips. But you – have a nice flight!


I’ll just sit at the gate, munching popcorn, watching Southwest Airlines finally give you the respect you deserve.


© 2007 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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