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Southwest is limiting a service that lets passengers buy a better spot in the boarding line

DALLAS (AP) — Southwest Airlines is changing its unusual boarding system by limiting the opportunity to pay an extra fee and jump ahead of other passengers in the race for the best seats.

The airline said Wednesday that it has not dropped “EarlyBird” entirely from any flights, but it is “limiting the number of spots available for purchase on certain flights, routes, or days, as we work on product enhancements.” As a result, the airline said in a statement, the service “is unavailable for some customers looking to purchase it.”

A spokeswoman for the Dallas-based airline did not provide any numbers on the reduction of early-boarding spots.

The change took effect Aug. 15.

Unlike other major U.S. airlines, Southwest does not assign passengers to specific seats ahead of time. Instead, passengers board in the order that they checked in for the flight and pick seats once they are on the plane.

EarlyBird buyers can avoid the rat race and secure a prime spot in the boarding line by checking in before the normal check-in process starts, which is 24 hours before departure. EarlyBird has proven popular among passengers who want a window or aisle seat near the front – and just as importantly, room for their bag in the overhead bins.

The perk starts at $15 but can be higher, depending on the length of the flight and demand for seats. Southwest passengers have other options for moving up in the boarding line, including buying the highest-priced fare, called “Business Select,” which includes one of the first 15 spots in line.

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