Whenever you’re traveling somewhere by plane, you have to pack, get to the airport, go through security, find your gate and — in the last step before you can finally relax while being taken to your destination —board the aircraft.
“Boarding is one of the most difficult parts of air travel and frustrating to a lot of passengers,” said Leslie Josephs, CNBC’s airline reporter.
In the 1970s, Southwest Airlines’ average turn time, from the moment a plane arrives at the gate to the time it leaves, was only 10 minutes. Today, it’s more like 45 to 55 minutes.
“We had smaller aircraft, only 122 seats on those original 737-200s,” said Chris Parks, Southwest’s director of innovation. “Southwest has grown and become more popular.”
Flight delays cost airlines and passengers about $33 billion each year, according to government data. But experts say speeding up the boarding process is not really a priority for airlines — they’ve monetized everything about it.
“The major airlines have raised billions of dollars off of their loyalty programs, so it is very important that they keep them appealing enough for customers,” said Josephs.
“The different boarding groups that we see today have emerged because people value their priority in boarding,” said Kerry Philipovitch, former senior vice president of customer service at American Airlines. “So airlines are using that to generate more revenue and reward their best customers.
“Does that slow the process down?” Kerry added. “Maybe.”
Since the end of 2022, Southwest has been testing new concepts to improve its turn times. The company’s goal is to shave off two minutes.
“Having extra minutes at our scale with coming up on like 800 aircraft, you do the math — [it] adds up really quickly,” Parks said. “The more that we’re able to get aircraft turned on time and when it’s on the ground allows us to fly more reliably for our customers, as well as it allows us to fly our aircraft more times in a day to help keep our costs low.”
CNBC flew out to Atlanta to see how Southwest’s study is going.
Watch the video above to learn more.