Southwest’s Experimenting With Boarding Order Again

by SharonKurheg

Because of the oddball way they allow seating, Southwest has had their own method to allow family seating. From their website:

Southwest offers Family Boarding, which occurs after the “A” group has boarded and before the “B” group begins boarding.

  • Up to two adults traveling with a child six years old or younger may board during Family Boarding.
  • If the child and adults are all holding “A” boarding passes, they should board in their assigned boarding position rather than waiting for Family Boarding.
  • Customers may choose, but are not required, to purchase EarlyBird Check-In®. EarlyBird Check-In is an option giving you the convenience of automatic check-in before our traditional 24-hour check-in. While EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t guarantee an “A” boarding position, you’ll have the benefit of an earlier boarding position, a better opportunity to select your preferred available seat, and earlier access to overhead bins.

True, it wasn’t ideal for a variety of reasons. But in today’s aviation atmosphere, many airlines willingly allow toddlers to sit 10 rows from their family members, simply because their parents or gurdians bought the cheapest fares. Southwest at least had a workaround to ensure young children sat with the adults responsible for them.

However there’s always room for improvement, and for a week in mid-December, 2022, Southwest began experimenting with their boarding order. You can read about it here.

The experiment only lasted a week, and only at one airport. I don’t know how Southwest thought it went, but our readers certainly had a lot of say about it.

Anyway, despite this experiment, based on what they have written on their website, Southwest’s official seating policy remains unchanged. However it appears as of they may be doing some more experimenting.

This time, instead of up to 2 adults traveling with a child age 6 or younger may board during Family Boarding, they’ve made it for kids under age 13. It’s still between boarding groups A and B.

A travel blogger mentioned that’s the rule which was used when they flew out of DAL a few weeks ago. And then this was posted on Twitter last week, from  someone traveling on Southwest out of Oakland:

Allowing family seating for those with children under age 13 would be exactly in sync with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s goals:

The Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP) has issued a notice urging U.S. airlines to do everything in their power to ensure that children who are age 13 or younger are seated next to an accompanying adult with no additional charge. Although the Department receives a low number of complaints from consumers about family seating, there continue to be complaints of instances where young children, including a child as young as 11 months, are not seated next to an accompanying adult. In four months from the date of this Notice, OACP plans to initiate a review of airline policies and consumer complaints filed with the Department. If airlines’ seating policies and practices are barriers to a child sitting next to an adult family member or other accompanying adult family member, the Department will consider additional action consistent with its authorities.

Will Southwest change their Family Boarding rule from age 6 and under to age 13 and under? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

But to be honest, it’s the travelers who purchase Basic Economy and similar seats that typically don’t include seat assignments, who have the biggest problems with children sitting next to parents. To date, most of the airlines still haven’t really addressed that issue very well.

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Debra February 2, 2023 - 8:23 pm

I think the boarding should be like it always has been, if family wants to be all together let them purchase early bird special like I do. The last couple of years I’ve bought early bird special and barely made it into the A group. I think if we purchased an early bird special you should be in group A but people are aloud to purchase a quicker boarding in from of you after you have already purchased your ticket way in advance. Then at last minute they upgrade to A group in front of line.

SharonKurheg February 2, 2023 - 9:57 pm

Forcing families with young children to have to pay to guarantee sitting together is exactly what the U.S. government is pressuring airlines to stop doing. I’m very comfortable with guaranteeing that a 3y/o is sitting next to a parent or guardian; that’s more important that my getting position A12 vs. A33. I’m not sure why others don’t feel that way.
Anyway, for those who thing getting the best position possible is that important, they can always pay for it. Southwest has several ways to get the “good” spots before Early Bird. More info here:

Shermel Jackson February 2, 2023 - 9:34 pm

I purchased my ticket with early bird in November to travel February and was B18. How is that.
The earlybird needs to be looked at again.

SharonKurheg February 2, 2023 - 9:41 pm

Southwest has several ways to get the “good” spots before Early Bird. More info here:

Mike Richardson February 26, 2023 - 10:45 am

How about just picking seats at purchase like the real airlines.

SharonKurheg February 26, 2023 - 11:05 am

That’s apparently not in their business model. Since many people like that aspect of Southwest (along with not charging for checked luggage [unlike “real” airlines], and allowing free cancellations [also unlike “real” airlines]), it seems to be doing well for them. Yay for diversity, right? 😉


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