Depending on who you ask, Southwest’s boarding is either “the best thing ever” or “the bane of our existence.” Instead of assigning seats like virtually every commercial airline in the country, boarding order is based on a mixture of first-come-first-served and paid options. Once boarded, the airline offers open seating.
You will be assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and position (1-60+) upon check in.
- Your unique group and position combination (for example: A35) will be displayed on your boarding pass and represents a reserved spot in the boarding group at the gate.
- Numbered posts in each of our gate areas indicate where to line up.
- When your boarding group is called, find your designated place in line and board the aircraft in numerical order with your boarding group.
This system worked relatively well for decades. Your boarding order was based on when you checked in, 24 hours before your flight. However beginning in 2009, they began to slowly offer paid options that allowed you to get a boarding position ahead of those who checked in exactly 24 hours in advance.
- EarlyBird Check-In – Offered since 2009, with incremental small tweaks in price and process since it gives you the convenience of automatic check-in before the traditional 24-hour check-in when available. While it doesn’t guarantee an “A” boarding position, it gets you on the plane earlier and improves your seat selection options.
- Upgraded Boarding – This option is available 24 hours before the flight’s local departure time and allows Customers to upgrade their boarding position to A1-A15 depending on availability. Available since 2022, it ruined a perfectly good hack for earlier boarding.
- Business Select – Southwest doesn’t have a “First Class” section. However, customers who purchase a Business Select fare, offered since 2022, will get guaranteed A1-A15 boarding. If a Customer did not originally purchase a Business Select fare but wants guaranteed A1-A15 boarding, they can upgrade their flight to Business Select.
With all those ways to get “early” boarding, there’s a good chance that checking in 24 hours in advance, without any paid option, could get you well into the second half of people being seated.
Southwest offers pre-boarding for people who are disabled and require assistance or who need a specific seat due to their disability – they get to board before anyone else. And unfortunately, some people may take advantage of that loophole, to the point where people have suggested all sorts of “fixes” (like this one) to decrease the potential abuse.
They also offer boarding for families with very young children, as well as to active military members, and customers who require additional time to board, between those in boarding groups A and B.
However, one of our readers, Liz, recently wrote to us and explained how she and her fellow passengers were able to use a sneaky (but perfectly legitimate) way to get better seats.
She said she had a layover in Las Vegas. Sixteen other people were also staying on the plane. The flight attendants (obviously) knew that they had several people “flying through” Vegas, and they announced for those 17 people to stay seated while everyone else exited from the aircraft.
Once all the other passengers had deplaned, Liz said the flight attendants counted the through passengers and told them they could move to whatever seat they wanted. Some went for the front seats. Some went for the exit seats. Either way, they were already seated when the pre-boarding people came on board.
Liz, who scored an exit row, said it was lovely. 😉
Of course, there would be some caveats to this little trick:
- If you weren’t eligible to sit in the exit row to begin with (i.e., you were a pre-boarder when you originally boarded the plane, or you’re too young), you still couldn’t take the exit row
- If too many people took the front rows, they could be asked to move a few rows back, for the pre-boarders who might not be able to sit further back (which is reasonable. And hey, row 5 is still better than row 25)
So yeah – there may be a pecking order, but if passengers fly through a layover city, they get top priority for choosing their seats for the trip’s second leg.
That is a good thing to keep in mind. 🙂
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary