Cuts in Line: The Seat-Savers on Southwest

You know them — they board Southwest Airlines flights — the airline with no assigned seats. Then, they save seats for their friends who are coming on later because they have a lower number or a different boarding group. And, Southwest now has a $15 feature. You pay an extra $15 for early boarding so that you can get a good seat, but you don’t have many choices the seat-savers have scooped them up using coats, iPads, and other seat markers. Some families traveling together pay the $15 for one person. That person boards and then saves seats for spouse, children, grandparents, whomever.

Passengers call them seat cheats, seat hoarders, seat jerks, and cheapskates (because they do not pay the $15 extra). Southwest takes no official position on the seat-savers, but that Swiss neutrality in the battle for a little extra leg room may have to change because passengers are getting into tussles. Southwest is reluctant to create a policy on saving seats because flight attendants would then have to enforce the rule and they have other duties. Flight attendants long for a policy because they have to settle ugly disputes. For an airline that has no class of customers, the airline is creating several classes with early payment, seats-savers, and the regular customers who now are the steerage.

The venue is different, but the underlying issue is the same: Cuts in line. The seat-savers are engaging in the internationally irritating practice of giving those who come late to the party a primo position by letting them cut in line with them and ahead of others. The notion of fairness underlies our dismay over these practices. There are no laws or regulations on cuts in line (except perhaps in Seattle where there is a penalty for cutting in line when driving your car onto the ferry), but it remains one of the last bastions of self-control when it comes to cheating. Shame, arguments, staring — these are the tools we use to enforce the ethical norm of not cutting in line.

An online survey found that 56% of the respondents called seat-savers “the worst.” However, 9% of the respondents said that they do it themselves, and another 9% said that it does not bother them. And 26% said they want assigned seats on all flights. The 26% have given up on enforceable norms.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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