Southwest offers early boarding option for $10

EarlyBird service automatically checks passengers in 36 hours prior to a flight's departure.

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By Hibah Yousuf, CNNMoney.com contributing writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Southwest Airlines customers have never been able to reserve a seat, but now they can board flights early in search of a plum spot for an extra ten bucks each way.

On Wednesday the airline announced its EarlyBird service, which will automatically check passengers in and reserve a boarding spot for them within 36 hours of a flight's departure. That's 12 hours before everyone else can check in online.

Southwest customers board in the order that they check in. So EarlyBird flyers will board flights before general boarding begins, but after Rapid Rewards A-list members and Business Select customers.

Southwest expects that the EarlyBird service will boost revenues just as Business Select fares did when they were introduced in late 2007. In 2008, Business Select brought in $75 million.

Bob McAdoo, airline analyst for Avondale Partners, thinks the service could do even better, and projects that if 25 to 30 passengers on each flight buy the service, Southwest could rake in an additional $250 million annually.

"This is going to relieve a lot of customer's anxiety," McAdoo said.

Southwest Airlines (LUV, Fortune 500) spokeswoman Brandy King said the service is the direct result of customer feedback. In a survey, flyers told the airline they'd pay more to board earlier.

"It's all about the convenience of not having to check in for your flight 24 hours before departure. Someone is checking in for you and you are getting an earlier boarding position." she said.

But it's not for everyone. Shiraaz Rahman, 23, who flies on Southwest between medical school in Chicago and his parents' home near Louisville, doesn't plan to try the new service.

"I fly Southwest because it's cheap and reliable," Rahman said, "Their system is efficient as it is."  To top of page

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