Southwest switching to a more efficient seat allocation system

A friend reports that: "what's changed (implemented in San Antonio, "coming soon to your airport, too!") is that you get a number within the group A, B or C, based on when you checked in, and you board the aircraft in roughly that order (groups of 5) and still get to select what seat you want. So you no longer have to camp out in line if you want to get on first, it's all determined by check-in order. SW has a explanation done in Flash."

This is great, because they are getting a problem right that our society frequently seems to get wrong, at our loss. Specifically, our society seems to view queuing as a standard "solution" for allocation. The problem is that it is wasteful because you are paying via a loss instead of a transfer.

For example, say the city opens a free movie theater. They have to ration tickets somehow, so they use lines. Townspeople respond by standing in line to get tickets until the time spent in line is almost equal to the value of the ticket. Compare this to an auction. The price will still go up until it is almost at the value, so to the person paying, it looks the same. But there is a crucial difference: the payment is a transfer (I hand you pieces of paper), instead of a loss (I stand in line). Looking at the whole pie, the auction does not use up any wealth, whereas queuing uses up lots of people's time, thus reducing their happiness by denying them opportunities to do more fun things.

Systems which ration through loss (gameplayers can think of it as "a payment to the bank") are wasteful, yet we seem to like them. Perhaps it's related to some kind of jealousy or anti-business bias, where we are happiest if no one is gaining at our expense. Sadly, that kind of thinking makes us all poorer. Alternately, queuing rewards those with low value for their time, while auctions reward those with the most money, so perhaps it is a redistributive mechanism, although it's a terribly inefficient one.

And of course, it isn't like auctions are the only efficient mechanism - anything where people can't use up resources works. For example, Southwest seems to be using check-in order, which in this world of printable boarding passes and check-in kiosks should not lead to much wasteful competition.

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Wow

That was a cool post.

I don't see how the queue is eliminated

Doesn't it just move the line forming to the issue of arriving earlier to get a better seat. Then the waiters are sitting in seats at the airport. Sure they can go shopping in the expensive stores or read a book, however they can do that anyway and still get their assigned seat now.
I don't wait on the boarding line in the first place. It makes no sense since my seat is assigned.

The article explains you do

The article explains you do it 24h in advance. It becomes first come first served on the Internet... there is no queue but customers waiting to click are still incurring the cost of risk since the process becomes mostly random.