Southwest adds $40 fee to board early

Southwest Airlines' fliers may be starting to feel fee-bitten.

The airline that prides itself on flying in the face of the baggage fee trend has come up with another way to come between you and your wallet.

Southwest, the largest carrier at BWI-Marshall Airport, announced this week that it will begin offering passengers the opportunity to be among the first to board the plane – for a fee.

Customers can pay $40 per flight at the gate to secure one of the earliest boarding positions in what is known as the 'A' group.

Most Southwest fliers already know that the first customers to sign in online 24 hours before their flight's departure can receive a boarding pass in the 'A' group.

But you've got to be fast – the 50 or so passes can go within a few scant minutes.

Southwest already offers customers the ability to pay $20 per flight in advance to receive Early Bird Check-In, but that option does not guarantee a position in the first group to board the plane.

"Offering customers the option to improve their boarding position on day of travel is one more way we can offer the travel experience that best fits their needs," said the airline, adding that the new feature was tested in San Diego last month and received positive feedback from fliers.

Passengers can only take advantage of the new boarding option at the gate on the day of travel, about 45 minutes before the flight's scheduled departure. The airline said the option may not be available on every flight and payment must be made by credit card.

Southwest is in no way alone in the airline industry's efforts to boost revenue through a la carte add-ons.

The fee is one of dozens that airlines began to add to regular fares in the past five years — so many that such fees now represent 10 to 30 percent of all revenue for most of the nation's largest airlines.

In 2012, the world's biggest airlines collected a combined $36.1 billion in revenue for food, drinks, wireless Internet service, roomier seats and checked bags, among other charges, according to an industry analysis.

Hugo Martin of Tribune Newspapers contributed to this report.

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