I couldn't believe it either. This airline had two hallmarks: low prices and cramming everyone down the jetway in a mad dash for aisle seats. Last week, they raised their fares a few bucks due to gas prices; this week, they're making us sit in assigned seats.
I like what one guy said: "If I wanted assigned seats, I would go to one of the other airlines." No you wouldn't. The unassigned seating was rarely a draw, and people actually complained about it until they were allowed to complain about assigned seats. The moral of the story: people like to complain.
The whole unassigned seat thing actually provided me with some entertainment. I'm loyal to Southwest because of their good service and low fares (okay, I'm really loyal to my wallet). And, when I would fly with them, I always marveled at the people standing at the front of the A line 45 minutes before the plane even showed up. If I had an A, I would sit back and relax, because I'd still get that aisle seat. But, if I drew the B or C card, then I, too, became and line-stander, doing a crossword while looking out the window for my brown or purple bird to arrive - especially if it were a long-haul flight. No one wants to get stuck between the Kool-Aid Man and Jabba the Hut and their newspapers from Nashville to Los Angeles.
While this in only a test in San Diego, and while they only saved one minute by assigning seats, I don't think this thing will stick. Some think it's to combat the rising number of websites that will ensure your A-grouping (making lots of people complain that they can't print and get their own A boarding pass). There are too many loyal business travelers who book flights a day or two out to get to that sales pitch in Omaha and Tulsa, who print out their A boarding pass 23 hours and 59 minutes in advance in order to get on and off that socialist plane ride to the middle of nowhere. And, with Jet Blue and their leather seats and DirecTV expanding into other markets, look for any sort of difference to become a hallmark.