We can't all fly with small children or require special assistance at the gate, but for the last few years, thanks to Neville Aga and his website CheckinSooner.com, we've been able to bounce to the general boarding zone of our dreams -- for the low, low annual price of $79.
Just give the site your email address and ticket record locator, and the algorithm monkeys inside its server automatically check you in just as soon as the airline will let you, putting you in a primo boarding zone.
Aga's site says the service works on American, Continental, Delta and United. A suit filed in federal court in Dallas on Tuesday also says the site works on Southwest Airlines reservations -- despite a series of cease-and-desist letters the airline began sending three years ago, and Southwest's successful shutdown of the eerily similar Boardfirst.com.
Months after Southwest suggested it might be in Aga's interests to remove the Love Field-based carrier from his site, he complained to The Oklahoman that the airline was "acting like a dad, saying, 'You can't do this,' instead of giving travelers a choice. ... I think the traveling public ought to have the right to use a service like mine if they want to."
It's not clear where the site is supposed to offer access to Southwest now -- if it's a members-only privilege or otherwise hidden on the site -- and we've got calls out to both Aga and Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins. (Between the airline's hold music and the little girl on Aga's voicemail singing "You Are My Sunshine," it's been a strange morning.) But Southwest.com's terms of service make it pretty clear: "Online check-in service providers may not use Southwest web pages to check-in Customers online or attempt to obtain for them a boarding pass in any certain boarding group." Also not allowed: "any deep-link, page-scrape, robot, crawl .. .or other automatic device" like the time-shifted proxy server behind the Checkinsooner magic.
Jump for a look at the full complaint. Update at 5:42: Paul Flaningan in the airline's communications office got back to us this afternoon with a statement from Southwest. It's after the jump as well.
Southwest's statement on the suit:
Southwest.com is intended for its Customers, not for other businesses to use for their personal gain. The Terms & Conditions of Use are clear that such commercial use of is prohibited. Southwest places a very high value on Customer service and its personal relationship with Customers. By intruding on that relationship by taking away a touch point with the Customer, boarding pass sites take away the ability for Southwest to provide its services in accordance with its policies and legendary personal touch. "
In regards to EarlyBird Check-in...
We heard from Customers who wanted an automatic check-in feature and in response, we created Early Bird Check-in. This Southwest developed product allows us to control our own inventory and allows us to deliver our high level of customer service.