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Southwest is Testing a New Way to Get Off of Airplanes

Sitting at the back of the plane may no longer be a curse.

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Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

From a PR standpoint, airlines in 2017 received some pretty valuable lessons. For example, don’t yank beaten, bloody passengers off of your planes; don’t be on the receiving end of viral accusations that you told a customer to pee in a cup instead of letting her out of her seat; don’t smack the phones out of the hands of children flying on your airline. Basically, if you’re just less tone-deaf than the competition, you can—er—fly more or less under the radar.

Southwest has managed to do a pretty good job of that so far this year. The controversies from that corner have been fairly tame—they kicked an unruly passenger off of a flight this week, and only tackled the dude after he tried to run back onto the plane. They responded to United’s scandal with the overbooked flight—and the subsequent removal of the doctor—by announcing a new policy that would end the practice of overbooking (in addition to adding red-eye flights for passengers interested in more options). And most recently, Southwest announced that they’re testing a new policy for exiting their flights that could make air travel more convenient.

The policy they’re testing involves allowing for two exits on the left side of the plane, instead of just the one at the front. The Dallas-based company is testing this policy for two weeks, starting Friday, at two California airports—Sacramento and San Jose—to measure if it’s faster than the current system, and if the so-called Dual Door Deplaning project is something that can be effectively implemented at more airports around the country.

Under this system, passengers getting off the plane will either get off at the gate or take stairs down on to the tarmac directly, depending on the door they use. (This is a practice that Southwest has already used in the past at the Los Angeles-area Bob Hope Airport in Burbank.) Southwest issued this statement explaining the practice:

Dual door operations have been implemented at a select number of our Southwest locations, including SMF, SJC, and BUR, and has proven successful in improving both on time performance as well as the Customer experience. The Dual Door Deplaning project focuses on just the deplaning process. To understand what resources and processes need to be in place to truly maximize utilization of Dual Door Deplaning we are launching a two-week test period starting on June 1 at SMF and SJC. During these two weeks, we will deplane as many inbound flights as possible through both available left side passenger doors. Dual door deplaning will involve one gate exit and one tarmac exit. The two-week project will help us determine when to use dual door deplaning, and to identify whether or not this process can be expanded to more airports across our network.

With the increased scrutiny on airlines this year, anything that could make hurtling through the sky in a metal cylinder a more pleasant experience is certainly welcome. Seating at the front of the plane—guaranteeing that you will be one of the first to debark—is a privilege that currently comes at an extra cost. So the fact that Southwest is pursuing something that might make air travel marginally less unpleasant is downright encouraging.

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  • Colt

    Makes sense to me.

  • Shootfire

    This is already done by jetBlue at many airports, in addition American (the old US Airways part) does this for their Northeast Shuttle flights, and the old west coast Shuttle by United did it. It does speed up deplaning, but from a business perspective, it drives the need for more ground personnel.

    • AV8TR

      This isn’t the first time Southwest has tried this deplaning method. 9/11 security measures put a halt to the practice except at Burbank.

  • David Reed

    SWA did this a few years ago. ?

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  • Warren Trout

    New?? Where you been the last 50 years?

  • AV8TR

    SWA spent millions testing the dual boarding bridge concept but, with the addition of winglets on their aircraft , made the practice much slower or an impossibility. This is a smart move for able bodied passengers to walk down on to the ramp via stairs and back up another set of to enter the terminal.

  • Joseph Annunziata

    I’m not sure this will be any faster as it sounds like there will still only be one exit through the gate. Sounds like they are trying though. Worst part about flying is planing and deplaning. I never carry more than a work bag, always get put to the back of the plane, and have to waste time because half the ppl flying abuse the carry on allowances

    • gina hemenway

      I have thought for years that people with baggage in the overhead compartments should have to stay seated until the rest of us exit the plane. It is enough that we have to wait for them to put their baggage away and sit down upon entrance. I have never put anything overhead, but I’ve been hit by baggage being removed.

    • Marilyn J. Leger

      If I understand it correctly, passengers deplaning from the rear will not go through the gate, but enter the airport on the lower level.

  • C130HerkNav

    The rear jetway moves over the winglet and then descends to be about 6 inches over the wing as it moves up against the rear door. We were sitting in the middle and by the time it was our turn to leave, exiting from the back of the plane would have been as fast as the front. All those in the rear of the plane had already deplaned. Now if only SWA could do something about getting our luggage faster…

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