Southwest Airlines

  Image 3    Image 1  Back when I wrote a four part post on Mobile Transcoding Services I used the Southwest Airlines web page as one of the sites to test transcoding services. At that time Southwest was the only major US airline that did not have a mobile web site. Southwest has finally noticed the growing demand for mobile travel information. Their site is rather basic at this point with only a single function, Online Check-in. This is a very usefully and important feature especially for Southwest. To understand why you have to know a little bit about how Southwest's check-in and boarding process works. Southwest is an extremely successful and profitable low fare airline. Their ratings in customer satisfaction and on-time performance consistently lead the industry. One of their innovations which reduces delays and unprofitable time on the ground is unreserved seating. There are no assigned seats on any Southwest flight. Passengers are assigned to one of three boarding groups based on their time of check-in. Each group is called to board and passengers can take any unoccupied seat. There aren't really any terrible seats on Southwest planes but if you want an aisle or are part of a group that wants to sit together you need to be in one of the first two boarding groups. That used to mean getting to the airport early, but sometime ago Southwest instituted online check-in so all you need is access to the web 24 hours before your scheduled departure time when check-ins open for a flight. That works well most of the time but not so well if you don't have a web enabled computer available to you at the appointed time - we don't all carry laptops with us when we travel particularly on pleasure trips. Maybe your hotel has a public workstation you can use or maybe not or maybe there is a line of people waiting to use it or maybe you would rather be on the beach. With the ability to check in with a mobile phone Southwest is making it possible for many more people to check-in online.

The actual mobile page is simplicity itself. There are WAP1 and WAP2 versions of the site but they are essentially identical in layout and content. You select Flight Check-in on the front page, enter the confirmation number on your eEicket along with your first and last name and that's it. It's a service that's easy to use and that fills a real need for many travelers. Mobile check-in is a perfect example of the sort of mobile web applications that will drive mobile data adoption. I'm sure some of you are thinking, big deal, that's so 2001. While it's true that this could have been implemented in 2001 and would work on the earliest wap phones, that's not the point. To me the important thing here is this is a mobile data service that is actually very useful to millions of people. It's intuitive enough that first time users can accomplish a task that has a real payoff in their lives. As such it will introduce many to the mobile web for the first time.

On their website Southwest promises to add more features soon, specifically mentioning Flight Status and Rewards Plan access. I like this quote which shows that Southwest actually "gets" the mobile browsing paradigm, "It is our goal to provide access to features that require only a few steps to complete."

There is one thing that I think Southwest screwed up. The site uses some extremely aggressive browser detection and redirects any device that it doesn't recognize to a non-mobile friendly web page about Southwest's Mobile Access. While it recognizes both my (very popular) phones it doesn't recognize 6 of the 7 browsers I have installed on my Palm PDA. It also doesn't recognize the Netfront, Sony Ericsson and Openwave 4.11 emulators nor can I load the mobile page in Firefox after setting the User Agent header to one from a popular phone like the RAZR, something that almost always works. I haven't been able to find any alternate urls that take you directly to the mobile content so if Southwest doesn't recognize your phone you are out of luck.

If you are flying - but not on Southwest you can find links to 13 other airline mobile sites in the Travel-Transit/Air Travel/Airlines section of the WapReview directory on your PC or the YesWap mobile portal from your phone. Of these, only three Austrian Airlines, Finnair and Lufthansa offer online mobile check-in!

Features: *** Usability: ***** wml/xhtml

4 thoughts on “Southwest Airlines

  1. I would like to know if Southwest Airlines is using SITA Mobile Check-in. The technology would involve a barcode transmitted to passengers.

  2. Another alternative is to use a site like You can put in your confirmation number anytime after you make your reservation and then as soon as the boarding pass is ready to be claimed (24 hours prior to the flight) it will check you in and give you an A boarding pass each time and email to your mobile device. That way you dont have to worry about the mobile device giving out on you when you need to check in.
  3. Jason,
    Thanks for the comment. According to the wireless Access FAQ at

    "Once you have checked in for your flight via your mobile device, simply
    proceed to the airport and go to the nearest RAPID CHECK-IN Kiosk to print
    your boarding pass. The system will recognize that you already have checked
    in for your flight, so you will need to request a reprint of your boarding
    pass. The boarding pass will reflect the boarding group that was indicated
    on the Checkin Confirmation screen on your mobile device. You may also get
    your boarding pass at the Ticket Counter, Skycap, or online at"

    I agree it's not ideal but the lines at the Kiosks are usually pretty short,
    aren't they? And you still have the potential advantage of being in the "A"
    boarding group without needing access to a PC.

    Dennis, Editor At
  4. So how does one retrieve a physical boarding pass by checking in through a mobile device? You didn't seem to cover this in your review. I'm a frquent SWA flyer myself, and love the online check-in they've had at the full site for awhile; but when you check in through the full site, SWA eventually sends you to a web page with your physical boarding pass recreated on-screen, which you then print out at home and take with you to the airport. Without such a document, I don't understand how one gets through airport security; and if checking in via mobile still requires an extra step of obtaining a paper boarding pass...then, well, it's not much of a timesaver after all, is it?

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