Southwest’s Experiments With Psychological Mind Games

by SharonKurheg

One of the goals of every airline is to load passengers as quickly as possible, so they can take off on time. Years ago, Mythbusters even did a segment on loading techniques.

Each airline has its own way of loading, and some have tried alternative methods:

  • Ultra low cost carriers, like Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant,  charge for carry-on bags, not only as a way to increase revenue, but to decrease the time it takes for passengers to load onto the plane.
  • Years ago, United tried this technique for a while. I still think they were trying to take a page from Southwest’s playbook.
  • Delta made some loading changes in 2021, but it didn’t work well at all.

Southwest is the airline that seems to be almost constantly playing with how it loads passengers lately:

Welp, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that Southwest was playing around with even more ways to load their planes faster, in an attempt to shave 2 to 3 minutes off their loading time. And is it just me, or does more than one of them sound a little bit like a mind games?

Carpet Color

In an attempt to reduce crowding at the gate, Southwest has played around with carpet color in their designated preboarding area for families boarding together, and for people using wheelchairs. They apparently still need to teak it.

“What we learned is that it’s very obvious this is a space for someone. It’s not obvious who it’s for,’’ said Kaci McCartan, senior innovation designer at Southwest.

Jet Bridge Music

Southwest has also played around with the music played on their jet bridges, to see what makes people move faster. They currently have 4 types: Disco, EDM, hip-hop and kids’ music. They discovered that people apparently move faster when the music they hear is more up-tempo.

I have to admit this one makes no sense to me. The jet bridges get backed up because the people on the planes haven’t sat down yet. But I was an occupational therapy major, not a psychology major, so…

Answering FAQs

Although most people who read travel blogs are well-seasoned travelers, many people who fly don’t do so very often. These newbies tend to have the same questions that pop up over and over. So Southwest has made prerecorded announcements about bin space, seat availability, etc.

From WSJ:

They answer the questions flight attendants say they hear over and over again during boarding. The airline sends out preflight emails about its unique boarding procedures, which passengers may or may not read. The jet bridge posters—“Your boarding position is not your seat number’’—provide the information at the moment passengers really need to know it.

Like most of their experiments, these didn’t last long but were most likely analyzed up the ying yang. And one of these days, who knows…maybe one of those mind games may become standard procedure because they actually work.

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Nancy Mclaughlin April 7, 2023 - 9:15 am

Have you tried no carry on luggage and no overhead bin use. You can only carry on those things that can fit under the seat in front of you. For departing the plane, if you do have bin usage, all those passengers who DO NOT have anything in the above bins get off first. Then those who have to get their things from the bins get off.

CommonSense April 19, 2023 - 10:36 am

Until they can find a magic wand that fixes the fact that society is 95% selfish morons, they are just wasting their time and our money.

SharonKurheg April 19, 2023 - 10:38 am

You’re not wrong.


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