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Alright. Let’s open this can of worms again. When the holidays were upon us, USA Today decided to highlight one of the most polarizing travel questions: the Southwest seat-saving policy. Er…non-policy.

There are two strong sides to the Southwest seat-saving issue. Some people think Southwest seat-savers are entitled jerks. Others think that people who worry about others saving seats are petty and that they should just move on to a new seat. A better answer lies in the murky area between those two opinions. Somewhere.

[SEE: Can you save seats with Southwest Airlines seating?]

Part of me wishes Southwest would make an official policy on seat-saving. Honestly, the hands-off “policy” *is* a de facto policy that seat-saving is okay. Any real policy Southwest enacted would have to result in seat-saving being forbidden. If that happened, how would travel change on Southwest?

Pros: make it clear who is in the right, give some passengers better seat options

There would be some pros to a policy. If I wanted a window seat in a row near the front where someone happened to be saving it, I would feel better equipped to step in and take it. There would be a policy to back me up. Given that the front rows fill up fast, you sometimes have to walk nearly to the back of the plane to find two seats together. Or you’re left with only choosing middles. Finding two seats together when you are solidly in the B group can be hard. A couple times my wife and I have had to walk by perfectly acceptable pairs of seats with purses and backpacks sitting in them, saving them for other passengers.

With a policy to back me up, I would be much more inclined to try and sit in the first empty seat(s) available. Under the current non-policy, I haven’t ever asked someone to move their stuff so we could sit down. As frustrating as it is to walk 10+ rows further back, potentially getting into an argument isn’t really worth it to me.

Sure, there will still be the occasional person that tries to save a seat or two (or five). But I would imagine with a policy in place, this would be less frequent.

Cons: potential for passenger arguments, flight attendants have to referee

These are the major arguments against enacting a seat saving policy. Currently, there are verbal battles from time to time between people who want to sit in “saved” seats. But with a policy, there could actually be the potential for more arguments.This may seem backwards, but there would undoubtedly be people who would not abide by the policy and others who would insist the policy be followed.

Flight attendants would also have a new responsibility: enforcing the policy. Southwest’s official non-policy basically allows flight attendants to stand aloof from the whole issue. It lets them worry about more important things. Like making sure everyone is on the aircraft. And making sure your seatbelt is fastened. And preparing for entertaining safety demonstrations. If there was an official policy, flight attendants could easily be called in to intervene in many more situations.

Should Southwest assign boarding positions like all other airlines?

This is a firm “no” in my opinion. Southwest is unique among airlines in more than a few ways. Having a unique boarding process is just fine by me. With two free checked bags and some of the best customer service in the sky, I never shy away from flying them (SEE: The Southwest employee who saved Thanksgiving).

If Southwest assigned seats, it would bring them one step closer to the other domestic airlines. Which is only a change for the worse. Sure, there are some moments I wish Southwest would enact a firm no-seat-saving policy. But overall, I think it would do more harm than good.

Let’s just be reasonable

As someone who is generally irritated by Southwest seat hogs savers, here are my general guidelines for saving seats on Southwest:

  • If you must (really, must you?) save a seat, head to the back of the bus. Don’t be a jerk and try to save a seat in the first row.
  • If you’re saving only one, save a middle. These are less desirable anyway.
  • Don’t save the exit row. Plenty of other people pay for early bird with the intention of vying for these coveted seats.
  • If you are one of those cheapskates that only tries to pay for one early bird check-in, put your adult pants on and at least be reasonable. Buy a few people early bird if you need a couple rows. Don’t send one person on to try and save 5 other seats.
  • If someone sits in your “saved” seat, treat them courteously. Per Southwest’s hands-off policy, they have exactly as much of a right to it as you do.
  • If this issue bugs you that much, fly another airline.

Conclusion

I hope this is a reasonable approach to Southwest seat-saving. I’m more of a rule-follower than a rule-breaker, so if Southwest did enact a policy, I would strictly adhere to it. But since the airline leaves passengers to fend for themselves (which isn’t necessarily a bad decision), trying to adhere to some reasonable guidelines seems like a good compromise.

What do you think of the Southwest seat saving issue? Should Southwest formalize a policy? Or should they keep things the way they are?

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