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How to Hack Southwest’s Boarding Groups

Elina Geller

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Table of Contents

How does Southwest boarding work?

What is the southwest boarding process, how to get your southwest boarding position, southwest family boarding: how to sit together, how to get the best seat on southwest airlines (group a), other ways to get get a good seat on southwest, southwest seating chart, when you're not happy with your southwest boarding number, southwest boarding groups, recapped.

The Southwest Airlines boarding process is a practice perhaps more polarizing than whether pineapple belongs on pizza. But one thing’s for sure: The Southwest boarding process is certainly unique.

There are no assigned seats. There’s no guarantee you’ll get that coveted window seat behind the exit row (which means no seat directly in front of you). There’s no guarantee you’ll end up seated next to your travel buddy.

Yet it also means you get to pick your seat from whatever is available once you get on the plane. If the guy in Row 3 has already whipped out his tuna sandwich, maybe you opt for a seat at least a few rows back.

The Southwest boarding process is also theoretically more efficient (at least according to MythBusters ) than most boarding systems with assigned seats. So how does the process work? We unpack Southwest’s boarding method to help you get the best seat on your flight.


Unlike some credit cards offered by other major airlines, Southwest cards don't automatically get you priority boarding. But they do cover some of your costs when you pay to get a better boarding position:

Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card

on Chase's website

Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card

Reimbursement for 4 upgraded boardings, when available, each anniversary year.

Reimbursement for 2 EarlyBird check-ins each anniversary year.

To receive reimbursement for an upgraded boarding or EarlyBird Check-In, you must pay for it with the card . Reimbursement will appear as a credit on your statement within one to two billing cycles.

» Learn more: Best Southwest Airlines credit cards

Rather than assigning seats to passengers, Southwest has an open seating style. As far as determining who gets to pick their seats in which order, here’s how it works:

A Southwest boarding group (either A, B, or C) and position (1-60) will be assigned to you at check-in and it'll be printed on your boarding pass. Group A boards first, then group B, and afterwards group C. Check-in opens exactly 24 hours before departure.

If you end up with A1, then it’s your lucky day — you’ll likely get to be the first passenger on the plane. There may be some exceptions for people with certain disabilities, pre-boarders or people on an earlier connecting flight.

Here’s what a boarding pass with the boarding position looks like. This passenger will board with Group A and has a boarding position of 40.​​

southwest boarding groups how to

If you like ample seating options, aiming for boarding group A is a good idea. If you end up with C60, well, hopefully, you’re fine with the middle seat near the bathroom.

As the gate agent prepares the plane for boarding, they’ll call boarding groups (e.g., Group A, 1-30). From there, you’ll have to head to one of the numbered posts at the gate area, broken up into smaller blocks (e.g., position 1-5). Stand between the corresponding posts based on your boarding position.

Once onboard, pick any open seat, stow your stuff in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you, and get ready for takeoff.

Here’s the order of Southwest's boarding groups, from first to last:

1. Preboarding

Southwest allows people who have a specific seating need to accommodate their disability, who need boarding help, extra time or who need help stowing an assistive device to board first. To be part of that group, you’ll have to request preboarding from a Southwest customer service agent at the ticket desk or departure gate.

Expect to be asked what Southwest calls "fact-finding questions" to decide if you meet the qualifications for pre-boarding. If you do, you’ll receive a boarding pass with a specific preboarding designation, and you’ll be allowed to preboard with one companion. If you’re traveling with more than one other person, they’ll typically have to board with their original group.

People who are preboarding are not allowed to occupy an exit row seat.

The first set of people to board Southwest flights are people with seats in A1-A15, which is typically filled with Southwest elite flyers, people who purchased Southwest Business Select fares and those who paid extra for their tickets before boarding.

You can purchase any leftover upgraded boarding positions in the A1-A15 category either online through Southwest's upgraded boarding portal within 24 hours of departure, or at the gate.

The rest of Group A follows positions A1-15 with A16-60.

3. Other people with disabilities

If you don’t qualify for preboarding but need extra time to board, you can board after the A group but before the following Family Boarding and B groups. You’ll still need to speak to a Southwest customer service agent, who will print you a new boarding pass with an extra time designation, indicating that you can board with this group.

4. Families and active-duty military in uniform

If you’re traveling with a child 6 years old or younger, you and up to one other adult can board during Family Boarding, which occurs before the B group. Active military traveling in uniform may also board during this time.

» Learn more: Bookmark these military travel discounts

5. Groups B and C

Everyone else now gets to board, with the B group going next. And for large and full flights, there’s a C group. Both groups board in numerical order starting with position 1 and moving to position 60.

There are a few ways to get an early Southwest boarding position, but many of them come at an extra cost. If you don’t want to pay anything more than what the Wanna Get Away, Wanna Get Away Plus or Anytime fares already cost, your boarding position will be decided based on the order you’ve checked in.

You can check in online at Southwest.com or on the app beginning 24 hours before your flight's scheduled departure time. Or, you can check in at the airport or with an agent at the airport. But, the longer you wait, the worse the boarding position you’ll have.

Set a calendar reminder or phone timer for that 24-hour mark (maybe even a few minutes early to get the webpage loaded and logged in) to make sure you get as early a boarding position as possible.

Families (two adults traveling with a child 6 years of age or younger) can board after Group A but before Group B. If the child and adult both have Group A assigned on their boarding pass, they can board along with Group A in their allocated boarding position.

However, this still doesn’t guarantee you’ll sit together, especially if your boarding position is A50. The best way to ensure you sit together (and where you want) is to buy a Business Select fare, upgrade your boarding pass or have the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card or the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card .

Everyone has a different favorite seat on an airplane, but the easiest way to get the best seat on Southwest is to have an A1-15 boarding group position. Since this is the first group to board, you’ll have your pick of nearly any seat on the plane. Here are three ways to guarantee an A1-15 group position on Southwest, but it’s going to cost you:

Buy a Business Select fare

Business Select fares come with many perks including Fly By priority lane access, a complimentary premium drink, and yes, guaranteed receipt of an A1-15 boarding position.

Business Select fares are not cheap. They can often be multiple times more expensive than Wanna Get Away fares, but they tend to be a better deal than Southwest’s middle tier called Anytime fares.

If you’re willing to pay for a seat upgrade, it’s almost always better to opt for Business Select over Anytime fares because you’ll get benefits like elevated points earning and the guarantee of a good seat.

Buy upgraded boarding when available

While not quite a guarantee, Southwest allows you to buy any remaining A1-A15 boarding position for an extra fee. You can purchase that either on the day of travel at the ticket desk or gate, or within 24 hours of takeoff on Southwest's website .

It’s $30 to $80 per segment depending on your itinerary. These positions are not assigned to regular ticket customers once the 24-hour check-in window begins, so if the flight is low on elite flyers or Business Select passengers, there may be some available for purchase.

Some cards, such as the The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express , can offset the cost of upgraded boarding by offering a $200 airline incidental credit , which is an annual statement credits toward incidental air travel fees with one qualifying airline of your choice.

Use a Southwest credit card to get complimentary upgraded boarding (when available)

As a benefit of having the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card or the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card , you’ll be reimbursed for up to four upgraded boardings to positions A1-A15 every anniversary year.

The process is the same as anyone else purchasing upgraded boarding. You’ll have to buy it on the day of travel at the ticket desk or gate, and it’s only for sale if seats are available. But no matter the cost — whether $30 or $50 — you’ll get that four times a year in the form of a credit reimbursement.

Those boardings can be purchased all at once or for different flights, so you could opt to upgrade your posse once or give yourself the VIP treatment a few times throughout the year.

» Learn more: The best airline credit cards

are there seat assignments on southwest

These choices won’t guarantee an A boarding position like the recommendations above, but they’ll still put you ahead of others who try to check in online 24 hours out or at the airport ahead of their flight:

Have Southwest elite status

Customers with Rapid Rewards A-List Preferred or A-List Member status get their boarding position automatically reserved 36 hours before departure. That's before normal check-in begins, putting them ahead of everyone else who has to wait for that 24-hour window. The benefit also applies to other travelers on the same reservation as A-List Preferred or A-List Members.

While holding Southwest status is not a guarantee of an A position (e.g., if everyone else on the flight also had A-List Preferred or A-List status), it will get you the earliest position available and most often lands you in the A1-A15 positions.

Buy EarlyBird Check-In

EarlyBird Check-In is an add-on to your ticket that automatically checks you in 36 hours before the flight's scheduled departure time. That puts you in the running for the best boarding position next to the folks with Southwest status or Anytime and Business Select fares, and ahead of everyone else who has to wait for the 24-hour window.

EarlyBird Check-In typically costs $15-$25 one-way per passenger on top of your fare price.

As far as how the order of EarlyBird Check-In is decided amongst everyone who pays for it: Boarding positions are assigned based on the time that EarlyBird Check-In was bought relative to passengers within the same fare class. So Wanna Get Away Plus passengers will be checked in ahead of Wanna Get Away passengers with EarlyBird.

EarlyBird does not guarantee a boarding position, but it does increase your odds of getting in a better boarding position. Often, you’ll find yourself in A20 or better with EarlyBird check-in.

If you’re trying to decide what’s a good seat on your Southwest flight, head over to Seatguru. Once there, type in your travel date and flight number to choose your flight.

Oftentimes, Seatguru will show several aircraft configurations for a specific flight. For Southwest, Seatguru features three aircraft seating charts: Boeing 737 MAX 8, Boeing 737-700 and Boeing 737-800. Make sure the aircraft type you’re on matches the result provided by Seatguru.

After you’ve confirmed that, take a look at the seat reviews. The seats on the plane will either be green, yellow, red or white. Green means it's a great seat (usually with extra legroom), yellow means there is some drawback (like limited recline), red shows several drawbacks (such as a misaligned window and near the bathroom).

Seats that are white have no pros and no cons, they are just regular seats for the cabin.

If you’re cool with checking your luggage if the overhead bins run out of space or don't mind the middle seat for a few hours, then getting assigned Group C will be manageable.

But if you want to be among the first to board and accidentally ended up with a bad boarding position, your best bet to jump the line is to pay the $30-$50 for an A1-15 boarding position. You can do this either in-person at the airport or online.

If Business Select is sold out, you’re probably out of luck on purchasing upgraded boarding. Next time, consider purchasing EarlyBird Check-In or booking a higher fare class to begin with.

Southwest offers three boarding groups (A, B or C), and a position 1-60+, which get assigned at check-in. While the Southwest boarding process can be confusing at first glance, remember this: Check in exactly 24 hours before your flight, and most of the time you’ll be OK.

Or, be prepared to pony up some extra cash for expensive tickets or upgraded boarding passes. Know which of your credit cards may offer airline credits to offset these fees, as they can get you out of a jam when you miss the check-in deadline.

If you’re traveling with a larger group with multiple reservation numbers, everyone needs to handle their business and check in separately if you want any shot at getting boarding positions near each other.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2024 , including those best for:

Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card

Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®

Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express

Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred Credit Card

1x-5x 5x on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®, 3x on dining, select streaming services and online groceries, 2x on all other travel purchases, 1x on all other purchases.

60,000 Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

Chase Freedom Unlimited Credit Card

1.5%-6.5% Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards®; 4.5% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and 3% on all other purchases (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year). After your first year or $20,000 spent, enjoy 5% cash back on Chase travel purchased through Ultimate Rewards®, 3% cash back on drugstore purchases and dining at restaurants, including takeout and eligible delivery service, and unlimited 1.5% cash back on all other purchases.

$300 Earn an additional 1.5% cash back on everything you buy (on up to $20,000 spent in the first year) - worth up to $300 cash back!

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card

on Capital One's website

2x-5x Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Earn 5X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of trip options.

75,000 Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.

are there seat assignments on southwest

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Interested in improving your boarding position?

Upgraded Boarding gives Customers the ability to upgrade their boarding position to A1-A15 24 hours before the flight, depending on availability. This allows Customers the opportunity to be among the first to board the aircraft, pick their preferred available seat, and access the overhead bin space.

EarlyBird Check-In® gives Customers the convenience of automatic check-in before our traditional 24-hour check-in, depending on availability. As an EarlyBird Check-In Customer, you'll have the benefit of an earlier boarding position, a better opportunity to select your preferred available seat, and earlier access to overhead bin storage for your carryon luggage.

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Every flight is organized into three boarding 'groups': A, B, and C. Each seat consists of a letter and number. Within these groups, passengers are assigned individual 'positions' numbered 1 through 60 (ranging from A1 to C60). When passengers board, they can choose any available seat remaining.

This usually means getting:

  • Window seat closer to the front of the aircraft.
  • Aisle seat closer to the front of the aircraft.

Pre-board is designated for passengers with disabilities or those requiring special assistance to board, which must be arranged before the boarding process.

If fewer than fifteen Business Select tickets are sold, the remaining spots from A1 to A15 become available twenty-four hours before departure for a nominal fee (Upgraded Boarding). Passengers provided they do so before boarding begins. Recently, Southwest Airlines has raised the price for its 'Upgraded Boarding' service . The fee has increased from up to $60 to a range between $30 and $80 per flight segment, effective May 15th, 2023.

Airbus A330 & Jetbridge

What Is The Fastest Way To Get Everyone Onboard An Aircraft?

This usually means:

  • Window seat in the rear of the aircraft
  • Aisle seat in the rear of the aircraft
  • Center seat in the front of the aircraft.

Regarding Early Bird Check-In, for a fee starting at $15, Southwest automatically checks you in before the standard 24-hour window (automatic check-in thirty-six hours before departure). This service simplifies the check-in process and almost guarantees an "A" boarding group position. It applies to all flight segments on your travel day, including connecting flights.

However, holding this status does not guarantee an A-boarding position. Within this group, the order is determined by:

  • Which fare was purchased (more expensive fare means better position)
  • When Early Bird Check-In was purchased (earlier means better position)

Being in the B group usually means a good chance of securing a window or aisle seat or finding two seats together if traveling with a companion.

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 Flying in the sky.

  • Center seat near the rear of the aircraft.

While being in this group doesn't automatically mean you'll be stuck in the middle seat, the likelihood is higher.

Boarding order

Upon arriving at the gate, passengers are advised to locate the boarding group assignment on their boarding pass, determining their position in the queue. They are encouraged to watch the monitors for their boarding group and listen to the gate agent's announcement to start boarding.

When their group is called, passengers are expected to join the line. The boarding order is the following:

  • Pre-board & Business Select passengers
  • A-list members, along with passengers who need extra time but are not eligible for pre-boarding, families (traveling with children six years old or younger), and active-duty military personnel.
  • B group passengers
  • C group passengers

Passengers arriving late after their boarding group has been called can board any time after their group, but seat selection may be limited. Early boarders have the first pick of window and aisle seats and overhead bin space for luggage. The arrangement for families and military personnel does not require pre-boarding arrangements, but customers with disabilities should arrange this beforehand.

Southwest Airlines is reportedly considering changes to its family boarding process, moving to allow children under 13, up from the current six years, to board earlier. Based on traveler reports and not officially confirmed by Southwest, this potential adjustment suggests families with children six and under may board during pre-boarding , ahead of general boarding.

How to get a better seat

To secure the best seat on a Southwest flight, consider purchasing a Business Select fare for guaranteed A1-15 boarding, buying upgraded boarding on travel day, having Southwest Elite status, or using a Southwest credit card for complimentary upgrades.

However, unlike other airlines, Southwest credit cards don't automatically grant priority boarding but offer reimbursements for expenses on upgraded boarding positions or EarlyBird Check-In. Download the Southwest App and log in to your account for a convenient check-in process that requires just a few taps on your phone and allows you to check in early, aiming for a better boarding position.

Additionally, prioritizing seats towards the back of the plane can be beneficial, especially for those in the B or early C boarding groups, as front seats tend to fill up first. Solo travelers in the C group might find better window or aisle seats at the back.

5MP_of_About to Board the BLI Boarding Ramp_01

How Do Boarding Processes Differ At Major US Airlines?

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 on a wet and snowy airport apron.

Furthermore, flight attendants can assist in finding seats, especially near the middle or exit rows. While some passengers may reserve seats with their bags, asking politely can lead to getting a preferred spot. Prime seats at the front are up for grabs and can be claimed by any passenger, offering a chance for a great seat even with a later boarding number.

Continuously innovating

Southwest Airlines is testing new boarding methods , experimenting with dual-boarding and de-planing techniques, and using data science to optimize the process. The aim is to enhance efficiency without compromising a low-cost approach, with successful strategies possibly becoming permanent.

Southwest continually evaluates its boarding procedure to enhance customer experience. Updates and changes are communicated through Southwest's official channels, ensuring passengers are well-informed of any adjustments affecting the boarding process.

Despite these challenges, we can acknowledge the fairness of this boarding process, where early check-in increases the chance of securing a preferred seat without additional charges, contrasting this with airlines that charge for regular economy seating.

Southwest's boarding procedure emphasizes the importance of checking in early, considering upgrades for better boarding positions, and employing strategic seat selection tactics once onboard to enhance your travel experience.

Boarding efficiency is crucial for Southwest, as delays can impact its on-time performance and operational costs, where it seeks to maintain competitiveness and customer loyalty in the low-cost airline market.

What do you think about Southwest Airlines' boarding process? Let us know in the comments below.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 San Francisco

Southwest Airlines

How to get seats together as a family on Southwest Airlines

Summer Hull

Editor's Note

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here .

There's a lot for families to love about Southwest Airlines . Free checked bags can be a lifesaver and knowing you're eligible for free changes and cancellations is also a customer-friendly policy for whenever "life happens." The open-seating policy, though, can be stressful if you're traveling with children since there's no guarantee about where you'll sit.

While some airlines make it challenging to get free seat assignments with your family , Southwest's approach is quite different. In fact, Southwest does not assign seats in advance at all. While Southwest's open-seating policy is unusual compared to other U.S. airlines, it works to the advantage of some young families, especially if you are hoping to score a free open seat for your lap baby .

Get the latest points, miles and travel news by signing up for TPG's free daily newsletter .

How does Southwest boarding work?

are there seat assignments on southwest

Before we get into specific seating strategies, here are some basics on how the Southwest boarding process works.

When you check in for your flight, you are assigned a boarding pass number in one of three groups based on the time you check in: A, B or C. The passes in each group are numbered from 1-60. Someone who checks in relatively early may be assigned A45, potentially the 45th person to board. Someone who doesn't check in until much later may end up with C15, or roughly the 135th person to board. However, the numbers aren't exact because some people get a chance to board early in the process, regardless of their assigned number.

If you have Southwest A-List status , purchase a Business Select fare or buy EarlyBird Check-In , you are automatically reserved a boarding slot before the 24-hour check-in mark. So, you'll board early on in the process. Otherwise, you are assigned your number based on when you check in for your flight. The highest available boarding slot at your time of check-in will go to you.

Related: 9 cool places you didn't know you could fly on Southwest

When it comes time to board, you will line up in order at signs for your respective boarding groups. There will be an A1-A30 line and an A31-A60 line. Once the A group starts boarding, the B group will begin lining up in the spots the A group previously occupied. You do need to (more or less) get in your actual numerical order. For example, if you have B25, you need to be toward the back of the B1-B30 line. It isn't as hard as it sounds, but it is a unique process. And yes, you may feel a bit like cattle.

are there seat assignments on southwest

Southwest offers Family Boarding after the A group but before the B group, for up to two adults traveling with children 6 and younger. This essentially allows families to "skip the line" if they were otherwise assigned a B or C boarding position.

Once you get on board, you can choose any seats that are still unoccupied. The better your boarding group and number, the more seats you will have to select from. This is relevant for everyone, but especially relevant if you are trying to get multiple seats together for your family. However, if the flight has through passengers from a previous flight, some seats will be occupied even when A1 boards.

Related: Best offer we've seen yet: Earn up to 100,000 bonus points with these Southwest cards

How to make sure your family sits together

are there seat assignments on southwest

Now, let's discuss a few things you can do to ensure that your family gets seats together when flying Southwest.

Purchase EarlyBird Check-In

With EarlyBird Check-In, you'll automatically get a spot in the boarding process 36 hours before the flight -- which is 12 hours before you'd otherwise be able to check in. Purchasing EarlyBird doesn't guarantee you'll get an A boarding spot, but you have an excellent chance.

EarlyBird Check-In is the easiest way to secure a good boarding spot, but it comes with an extra cost that ranges from $15-$25 per direction per person. This purchase is nonrefundable, even if you later cancel your reservation. So, you won't want to buy EarlyBird Check-In unless you're sure you'll take the trip.

However, note that several Southwest credit cards , including the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card and Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, reimburse you for up to two EarlyBird Check-Ins that you charge to your card each anniversary year.

Related: Why purchasing Southwest early boarding rarely makes sense for young families

Check in exactly 24 hours before departure

are there seat assignments on southwest

As we have noted, Southwest starts handing out most spots in the boarding process exactly 24 hours before the flight. If your boarding number matters to you, and you don't want to pay extra to secure a good spot, then it is crucial that you are at a computer or in the Southwest app precisely 24 hours before departure to check in your whole party. This will be the difference between you getting in the A group or the C group.

Remember, if you are using your Southwest Companion Pass to have a friend or family member fly with you for free (other than taxes), you'll have to check them in separately. Your companion will have a different confirmation number for their ticket, so make sure to check that person in at the 24-hour mark as well.

Related: Top 9 Southwest international destinations for families

Board during Family Boarding

are there seat assignments on southwest

If you have a child in your party who is 6 or under, you can board during Family Boarding after the A group regardless of your boarding pass position. Your young children and up to two adults can board during this time.

In theory, only 60 folks will have boarded ahead of you and about two-thirds of the plane should be empty if you board during Family Boarding. However, passengers on the flight's previous segment will also occupy some seats unless you're on the first flight of the day. Even so, you'll almost certainly find a few empty rows if you board during Family Boarding.

Related: Your guide to flying with kids of every age

Have A-List status or fly on a Business Select fare

If someone on your reservation has A-List status, Southwest will automatically reserve boarding positions for the entire group 36 hours before departure. Likewise, you can purchase Business Select fares to guarantee A1-A15 boarding positions -- but these fares are often rather pricey.

As such, neither of these solutions are practical for most families traveling on Southwest. However, families that fly Southwest often should consider holding one or more Southwest credit cards to make earning status a little easier. For example, with the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, you'll earn 1,500 tier qualifying points toward A-List status for every $10,000 spent. Plus, those purchases count toward earning a Companion Pass , too.

Related: The ultimate guide to Southwest credit card eligibility

Pay for an Upgraded Boarding slot, if available

are there seat assignments on southwest

If there are unsold A1-A15 boarding slots (ones that typically go to those who pay higher Business Select fares), Southwest may offer them as Upgraded Boarding slots for $30-$50 each before the boarding process gets underway. This is a last-ditch way to board early if all other methods have failed.

Paying for upgraded boarding is an expensive solution unless you have the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card or the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card . After all, both of these cards will reimburse the cardholder for up to four Upgraded Boardings each card membership year. While I'd have to be pretty desperate to pay for this perk, it's a nice bonus when it's available at no cost to the cardholder.

There's no way to buy Upgraded Boarding until you're at the airport, so you'll need to inquire at the ticket counter or departure gate to see if there are options available. If you want to use one or more of your complimentary Upgraded Boardings from the Southwest Priority Card or Southwest Performance Business Card , you'll need to have your card available for the transaction. The charge is processed normally and then later reimbursed on your credit card statement.

Related: Why now is the best time to apply for Southwest Airlines credit cards

Book the first flight of the day

Southwest offers many continuation flights, so passengers from the previous segment may already occupy some seats on board when boarding begins. However, if you are on the first flight of the day for your aircraft, there will be no through passengers already on board.

Related: The difference between direct and nonstop flights

Bottom line

Some passengers love Southwest's open-seating policy, while others strongly dislike it. But love it or hate it, families can work around it. With young children, Family Boarding is a great (free) option. And for families with kids older than 6, checking in exactly 24 hours before departure should be sufficient. But if you don't want to "sweat the small stuff," paying the extra $15-$25 per person per direction for EarlyBird Check-In is an excellent way to ensure your family will sit together.

Finally, if you've had your eye on a new Southwest credit card , now is an excellent time to apply. After all, the following Southwest consumer cards are all offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening and an additional 50,000 points after you spend $12,000 on purchases in the first 12 months from account opening:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card.
  • Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card.

Best of all, these bonus points could help you earn the famous Southwest Companion Pass through the end of 2023 if you time your spending carefully . And with the Companion Pass, you'd only need to pay the taxes and fees on your companion's ticket when you fly together on Southwest.

Additional reporting by Becky Pokora.

clock This article was published more than  1 year ago

Your conspiracy theories about Southwest’s boarding policy are wrong

Is it based on your status your party size a full moon experts explain..

are there seat assignments on southwest

Regular Southwest Airlines fliers have probably been there: You set an alarm and check in exactly 24 hours before your flight, only to find yourself relegated to Boarding Group C — often known as being short for “center seat.”

Southwest is the only major U.S. airline with an open seating policy. It assigns every passenger an exact boarding position — a letter between A and C and a number between 1 and 60 — and allows them to choose any available seat once on board. That means boarding order on Southwest isn’t just about space for carry-ons; it could be the difference between an aisle seat on the exit row and the middle seat of the back row.

The rules of flying like a decent human

Twitter is filled with not-so-humble brags from travelers who secured a coveted A-group boarding pass, as well as the grumblings of those who got stuck in Group C, including some who say they checked in the moment they could.

I just need you all to know that for the first time in my life I was able to check in to Southwest airlines at exactly 24 hours prior to take off. In other news, I am still in boarding group C. #southwest #airlines — Nathan Nolan, MD MPH (@NNolanMD) November 13, 2019

Factors such as whether you use the Southwest app to check in, being a frequent-flier member (other than elite members), the size of your group and the purpose of travel are not factored into boarding position assignments, said Laura Swift, a Southwest spokeswoman.

Still, getting into the A group is not just about the time you check in: Boarding assignments on Southwest are determined by a combination of money, timing, status and pure chance.

“It’s surprisingly complicated,” said Brett Snyder, who runs the Cranky Flier consumer air travel blog, noting some aspects of the boarding assignments on Southwest remain a “black box,” even to travel experts.

Here’s why checking in 24 hours before your flight might not get you the boarding position you want — and what you can do to secure an earlier spot.

A1-A15 are guaranteed

The only way to guarantee an early boarding position is to pay. Purchasing or upgrading to a Business Select ticket — Southwest’s most expensive fare class — guarantees an A1-A15 boarding position.

If there are fewer than 15 Business Select passengers on the flight, the remaining slots in the A1-A15 group are sold beginning 24 hours ahead of the flight as Upgraded Boarding positions, starting at $30 per flight. The price varies based on “popularity and length of each flight segment,” according to Southwest’s website. Although previously available only at the gate, in August the company added the option to purchase Upgraded Boarding upon check-in on its app and website.

For frequent fliers with the Rapid Rewards Priority or Rapid Rewards Performance Business credit cards, the airline will reimburse up to four Upgraded Boardings purchased with the cards per year.

Southwest’s plan to conquer the airline industry, one joke at a time

Keep in mind, though, that being first to board doesn’t guarantee the best seat, because Southwest operates “through” flights, meaning passengers from a previous leg might still be on board, and they are allowed to change seats (after flight attendants take a head count).

“You may even have A1, and you may not be the first person on that airplane,” Snyder said.

You can pay to be checked in early

Even if you check in exactly 24 hours ahead, you probably won’t be the first passenger assigned a boarding position. That’s because Southwest offers “ EarlyBird” check-in , which automatically reserves a boarding position for the passenger 36 hours ahead of departure for a fee. You’ll still need to check in to get your boarding pass, but your boarding position — probably in the A group — will already be secured.

Some fliers get EarlyBird check-in included with their purchase: those who pay for an Anytime fare , and elite members in Southwest’s frequent-flier program (A-List Preferred or A-List status), along with their companions. EarlyBird check-in can also be purchased for $15 to $25, depending on the flight.

An illustrated guide to people at the airport

Gary Leff, who runs the travel blog View From the Wing , recommends that if you’re traveling with others, one person can purchase EarlyBird check-in and save seats for the rest of the party. Southwest does not have a policy against saving seats, although it can spark conflict among passengers.

We don't have a specific policy for or against saving seats as long as the boarding process isn't delayed and other Customers are not inconvenienced. -Larissa — Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) September 4, 2022

Several categories of passengers can board at designated times, which typically ensures a good seat. Passengers with disabilities can pre-board, while active-duty military personnel, elite members in Southwest’s frequent-flier program who do not already have EarlyBird check-in (if they booked their flight at the last minute, for example) and families with a child under 6 can board between the A and B groups.

8 airports with stunning landing views

“If you have little kids, it’s probably not worth it to buy EarlyBird, because you’ll really not have much trouble finding seats together,” Snyder said.

Seconds matter if you don’t want to pay

Beyond those groups, boarding positions become strictly first come, first served — down to the second you check in.

“As far as we know, when you’re doing regular check-in, it is strictly in order of when you click the button,” Snyder said. “It does matter to the second — you just have to be ahead of everyone else.”

*checks into flight exactly 24 hrs before* Southwest: boarding zone Z group 100 — Moises Parra (@moises_parra) February 11, 2021

Snyder said he generally doesn’t buy EarlyBird when he’s traveling alone , because he can usually secure a non-middle seat with regular check-in.

“If I check in myself right at 24 hours, I’m probably going to get nothing above the low B area,” he said.

Though he recommends checking in as close to 24 hours out as possible, Snyder said passengers who can check in closer to the flight can occasionally take the boarding position of another passenger who canceled at the last minute.

“Sometimes you can slide in there and get a surprisingly good number that you don’t expect,” he said. “But there’s no way to know that in advance, so always try to check in right at 24 hours.”

Swift, the Southwest spokeswoman, said that there are “several factors incorporated during the boarding process” and that the airline could not guarantee a passenger would take the position of another who canceled.

Leff said there are websites that automate the check-in process at exactly 24 hours, but most have been shut down by the airline. Swift said Southwest “doesn’t use third-party apps” and encouraged passengers to use the airline’s website or app to check in.

How to find the ‘golden seat’

So you’ve been assigned a coveted A boarding position, and you enter the plane with your pick of seats. Which should you go for?

I am first to board on this open seating southwest flight (huge brag) WHAT IS THE SEAT MOVE I AM PANICKING AND MAY CHOKE. — Jason Gay (@jasongay) August 29, 2022

Leff said his top priority is securing an empty middle seat next to him, so he will often check with the gate agent before boarding to see if there will be any empty seats.

If the plane is not full, he skips the empty aisle seats near the front that many passengers want and heads for an aisle seat about two-thirds of the way down the plane.

“Nobody’s necessarily going to try to go all the way to the back looking for a middle. If you get stuck with the middle, you’re probably taking it close to the front,” Leff said.

On a full flight, however, every middle seat will be filled, so Leff said he goes straight for the “infinite legroom” seat, the window seat behind the exit row , which is missing a seat in front of it. Snyder called it Southwest’s “golden seat.”

The obligatory @SouthwestAir shot... pic.twitter.com/hKG6y591yA — gary leff (@garyleff) April 22, 2022

Leff said the single most important factor in securing your desired seat is arriving at the gate 30 minutes before your flight.

“If you’re flying on another airline that has assigned seating, and you’re not trying to fight for overhead bin space, it sort of doesn’t matter when you board, as long as you’re there before they close the boarding door,” he said. “But Southwest turns that on its head. If your boarding number is A20, well, that doesn’t help you if they’re already boarding the C’s when you show up at the gate.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly said Southwest Airlines assigns boarding positions with letters A, B and C and a number between 1 and 50. The number assignments are from 1 to 60. The article has been corrected.

More travel tips

Vacation planning: Start with a strategy to maximize days off by taking PTO around holidays. Experts recommend taking multiple short trips for peak happiness . Want to take an ambitious trip? Here are 12 destinations to try this year — without crowds.

Cheap flights: Follow our best advice for scoring low airfare , including setting flight price alerts and subscribing to deal newsletters. If you’re set on an expensive getaway, here’s a plan to save up without straining your credit limit.

Airport chaos: We’ve got advice for every scenario , from canceled flights to lost luggage . Stuck at the rental car counter? These tips can speed up the process. And following these 52 rules of flying should make the experience better for everyone.

Expert advice: Our By The Way Concierge solves readers’ dilemmas , including whether it’s okay to ditch a partner at security, or what happens if you get caught flying with weed . Submit your question here . Or you could look to the gurus: Lonely Planet and Rick Steves .

are there seat assignments on southwest

My Secrets to Getting the Best Seats on Southwest

Some travelers won’t even fly Southwest  due to their quirky open seating boarding process It can be stressful and often means you have to summon up your best hustle energy to get a good seat on Southwest. And of course, a good seat means different things to different people.

It’s best to board with a plan! Here are some tricks, tips and strategies so that the dreaded middle seat goes to someone other than you!

What's it like to fly Southwest Airlines

How Southwest Airlines Open Seating Policy Works

If you’re new to Southwest and can’t figure out how to pick your seats, don’t worry, neither can anyone else.

Southwest Airlines has an open seating policy. Seats are not assigned ahead of time, rather passengers are assigned a boarding group, A, B, or C, and a boarding position, 1-60.

The boarding group and position determine when you board the plane, and thus how many seats you will be able to choose from.

The whole thing used to be a true free for all. The airline handed out placards with one of the three letters. People would line up under a letter, camping out on the ground for literally hours before a flight departed, in hope of improving their real estate situation onboard the flight.

Southwest decided this wasn’t a good look, and back in the mid-2000s added boarding positions. Now, the lines have numbers and everyone is expected to sort themselves out based on their exact position in line.

Unless you really are dead set on sitting at the bulkhead or you really want an exit row aisle or window, the key to finding a decent seat on a full flight is to secure a boarding position in roughly the first half of passengers to board.

  • If you’re not using these tips, tricks, and strategies, you’re spending too much on your travels!

What Makes For a “Good” Southwest Seat?

All of this talk about seating begs the question, which seats qualify as good ones? The seats on the plane are more or less all identical. Except for exit rows, there’s no extra legroom seating, and there’s not really any perk to one seat over the other, besides location.

Southwest Airlines seat selection

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The best seat on Southwest depends on personal needs. Travelers with connecting flights might want to sit in the front in order to make a quick exit, but then there are those who head straight for the back perhaps because they are a family looking for seats together. Some folks head to the back hoping the flight won’t be full and they’ll have a row with an empty middle seat.

One piece of information I like to have before I sit down is how full my flight is. I’ve seen Southwest gate agents make announcements as to whether a flight is full, but they often make this up just to get everyone on the plane quicker. One inexact way to judge is to see how many people remain in the gate area after the A Group is called. If about half the gate area lines up for A boarding, it’s a safe bet there will be plenty of empty seats.

The Complete Guide to Southwest Airlines’ Quirky Perks and Hacks

During full-ish flights, choosing seats in the front-center section increases your chance of securing an empty middle seat between you and a neighbor. When there are plenty of empty seats, though, the rear of the aircraft can be downright spacious.

Want the discounts, welcome gifts, room upgrades, and hotel credits a travel agent can get you? I sure do. Here’s the travel advisor I use to get the best deals, lowest prices, and personalized service.

Rule Number One: Check-In ASAP

If there’s one rule Southwest regulars follow religiously, it’s this: check-in  exactly 24 hours before the flight. I sometimes even set an alarm for the exact minute!

Southwest Airlines Check-In seat selection boarding group

Use this page. Use it early.

Get on your laptop, open the Southwest website on a smartphone or download the Southwest app. Within a few minutes of opening, many of the coveted top boarding positions will be gone, so it’s crucial to click that Check In button as early as possible.

I know some Southwest frequent flyers who set an alarm five minutes before  check-in opens. They’ll enter all the necessary information on the website to check in and then as soon as the clock ticks 24 hours, they’ll click the button.

Pro tip: Keep your personal information private! Here’s the easiest way to stay protected.

EarlyBird Check-In Option

Not sure if you’ll be able to check-in 24 hours prior to your flight? Consider purchasing Southwest EarlyBird Check-In. EarlyBird Check-In costs $15.00 one-way, per person. When you purchase EarlyBird Check-In, Southwest automatically checks you in and assigns your boarding position within 36 hours of your flight’s departure. Southwest EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t guarantee an A boarding position, but it stands to reason you would be in the A or early B group.

Does Southwest Airlines Have a Family Boarding Policy?

Have a family? You’re in luck. An adult traveling with a child six or younger may board during Family Boarding, after the “A” group has boarded and before the “B” group begins boarding. If the child and the adult are both holding an “A” boarding pass, they should board in their assigned boarding position, but if either is B1 or later, this shortcut helps families sit together.

Southwest Boarding Groups Move Quickly — If You’re Late, Walk-Up Front

Once Southwest starts boarding, things happen quickly. If you are running late and have an earlier boarding position, just walk to the front of the line to board. Don’t worry, cutting isn’t rude in this circumstance.

I’ve seen this happen many times, especially with travelers from connecting flights.

Pay Extra or Fly More

Southwest offers a fare that guarantees an A1-A15 boarding position: Business Select. These fares are pricy — more than a fully refundable ticket — but they include FlyBy Priority Security lane access and come with free cocktail coupons.

What Exactly Is a ‘Wanna Get Away’ Fare?

If you don’t want to purchase a Business Select fare, Upgraded Boarding is an alternative. Upgraded Boarding is not always available, but can be worth trying.

a close up of a credit card

Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card

The new Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card actually includes Upgraded Boarding on four flights per year. It also comes with a heap of intro bonus points, if you spend enough.

  • Click here to access this card and others like it and decide which SWA card is best for you!

On the day of travel, go to a Kiosk at the airport and Check-In again. It’s also possible to ask about Upgraded Boarding at the baggage counter. You can also ask at the gate before the start of the boarding process.

If Upgraded Boarding is available, depending on your itinerary, you’ll be given a boarding position in the A1-A15 group. The cost is $30 or $40 per flight depending on your itinerary.

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards members with A-List and A-List Preferred status. These members are automatically assigned boarding positions ahead of general boarding. They even board ahead of EarlyBird flyers.

Want to be unpopular? Try Saving Seats 

Southwest saving seats

Save a seat and someone’s likely to give you this look.

Some travelers will attempt to save seats for people boarding after them. Many frequent flyers will complain because Southwest doesn’t seem to have an official policy on this practice. Even if they do, crews don’t consistently do anything about it.

I’ve observed that most people don’t care if someone is saving a middle seat next to them when their traveling companion is boarding soon. But beware! Some passengers take saving seats to the max.  You may need to speak up or ask a crew member for help.

  • Do you find it difficult to book award flights with your miles and points? I do! That’s why I turn to Point.me. They get me great deals and save me money and time.

How do I select a seat on Southwest Airlines can be a confusing question to answer. These tips and suggestions can help you navigate Southwest’s open seating policy with the least amount of stress, a good dose of humor about how it all somehow works, and the best chance of getting the best seat possible!

Related Posts:

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  • Why use just any credit card when you can use one that earns miles and points? Don’t MISS OUT on the BEST current travel credit card offers!
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Shelli Stein is a health and fitness entrepreneur who travels the world in search of culture, food, and fun! Besides contributing to PointMeToThePlane , you can find her at Joy in Movement.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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Shelli Stein

Shelli Stein is a travel writer, personal development coach , and story teller. She has come to realize writing as a way of sharing travel experiences brings her a lot of pleasure! Her areas of expertise are: all things  Southwest Airlines ,  hotel reviews , and what to do, see, and eat in destinations around the world. She sees travel as an adventure, trying to somehow get inside and experience a different way of life, a different cultural heritage. Maybe she can  show you something  you’ve never seen.  Inspire you with new ideas  for your next vacation. Attempt to  put a smile on your face . Help you learn from her mistakes . Or challenge your  assumptions about the world . She lives life with humor, gratitude, and humility and always sees the coffee cup as half full!

What Exactly is a Southwest ‘Wanna Get Away’ Fare

Wanna learn a new language how about pidgin, related articles, mexico city: what makes this capital a world..., southwest airlines phone number, a taco trip: exploring the best mexican restaurants..., 14 best fun & free things to do..., what’s so special about this california icon, a taste of fiesta: exploring prague’s best mexican..., these ireland fun facts are no blarney, review: thompson madrid–is it now madrid’s best hotel, a weekend in beautiful vancouver, british columbia, i was totally shocked and charmed by ljubljana,..., 31 comments.

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If you check in C group, check your carry on. It saves everyone time! Departure is earlier and the time wasted could be used drinking a beer or walking to baggage claim. Oh, you don’t want to wait? It takes 5 -10 minutes at baggage claim compared to 30 mins waiting for SW to check your Carey on because there was no room in the overhead bins.

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Early bird fees are sometimes more than $15, depending on the length of the trip, but still can be worth it.

Good point, Stan. Thanks for reading and adding to the conversation!

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Early birds are no longer $15. They’ve gone up to $25 per person each way.

Hi Mike, According to Southwest, EarlyBird check-in can be purchased at prices ranging from $15-25 one-way per passenger.

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We just booked southwest from Milwaukee to Vegas and the early bird checkin wwas$50

Sorry bout that,it was $25 apiece

No worries, William. It’s confusing, for sure. Glad the math worked out as it should have. Thanks for reading!

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I have a connecting flight and paid for early check in. Does that roll over to my connecting flight?

Hi Karen, I’m not exactly clear on what you mean by connecting flight. First I’m assuming your connecting flight is also on Southwest. Did you buy the connecting flight separately or by connecting flight did you mean a stop and then a change of planes?

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I think Karen means, I.e. one reservation from east to west coast, with a Dallas layover and continue on a different aircraft, that would be two segments, right? Does the purchased early bird cover both boardings or need to buy two?

Hi Jame, Thanks for reading and for your follow-up question. I still need more information from Karen, though, to properly answer. Here is a post on Early Bird that might help clear up any confusion. https://pointmetotheplane.boardingarea.com/southwest-early-bird-check-in/

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I purchased the early bird check in so what do I do once I get to the airport. Do I still need to get online at 24 hours prior to departure to reserve a boarding pass ? And what do I do once I get to the gate ?

Hi Donna, Thanks for reading. Hope this helps answer your questions: https://pointmetotheplane.boardingarea.com/southwest-early-bird-check-in/

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I need to fly to Florida nonstop with my wife who is disabled, how do I board with a wheelchair? I also need to make sure we make the flight and not be put on standby. Any tips for me? I haven’t flown in 40 yrs.

Hi Steve, I suggest you call Southwest Airlines directly and talk with them about your needs. I’m quite certain they will be able to assist you. Safe travels and thanks so much for reading and taking the time to ask your questions. Hope my suggestion to reach out to SWA helps!

Our trip to Florida went perfect. SW airlines was great and we got first boarding and everyone was friendly and helpful. We had a great trip. Flights were half full,and middle seats left open.

Thanks so much for the data points Steve. Glad you had such a great experience. Generally speaking, SWA does not disappoint!

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Since Southwest does not have assigned seats this is my question, My family of 6 is flying, I hate to fly so I always want an aisle seat, others are ok with whatever, but I want us all close by each other. I plan to check in early but do you have any other suggestions?

Good question, Therese. Given you’re a family of 6, I’m thinking at least one of the family members will be able to grab an aisle seat. If not, maybe someone outside your family will switch with you. Early bird check-in is the way to go because it puts you in a favorable boarding group. Good luck, and thanks much for reading!

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Does a Wanna Get Away ticket mean the last to board?

Good question, Claudia. Southwest assigns boarding groups based on a few factors. This fare type does not mean last to board. To understand more about the Wanna Get Away fare, I suggest taking a look at this post, https://pointmetotheplane.boardingarea.com/wanna-get-away-fares/ . Hope this helps.

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I fly Southwest all the time but I have a trip coming up in July where my family is traveling from Oakland to Cincinnati on 3 different confirmation numbers and would like to seat near each other. My granddaughter has her own confirmation number but we cannot qualify for family boarding because she is 7 years old. We all don’t want to buy an Early Bird check-in but the flights are full so how can we ensure that at least she is seated with one of us and we are not all in middle seats.

Hi Beth, Try reaching out to SWA with your concerns and see what they suggest. Also, I imagine there will be people on your flight who would swap seats with you so your granddaughter can sit with family. Safe travels!

[…] all on the same page before I start this rant, I need to make sure you’re all in the know about how Southwest Airlines assigns seats. They don’t assign seats at all! It’s an open seating policy. First come, first […]

[…] incidental credit option. This can be useful on Southwest Airlines because priority boarding often gets you the best seats. Always remember that the incidental fees will only cover priority boarding fees on your designated […]

[…] How to Get the Best Seats on Southwest Airlines […]

[…] Learn more: Secrets to Getting the Best Seats on Southwest Airlines […]

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Do they allow handicap to board first? Is it possible to get seats if unable to walk the aisle?

Hi Kathleen, I believe that Southwest does make a boarding call for anyone needing extra time to board. I’m not sure about the answer to your second question though. You might want to reach out to Southwest and ask them directly.

[…] Source: https://pointmetotheplane.boardingarea.com/best-seat-on-southwest-airlines/ […]

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Southwest Airlines Boarding Process & Groups – Everything You Need To Know

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Katie Seemann

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Southwest Airlines Boarding Process & Groups – Everything You Need To Know

What Makes the Southwest Boarding Process Different?

Why checking in for your flight is so important, at the gate, tips for finding an open seat, family boarding, boarding for passengers with disabilities, earn southwest elite status, earlybird check-in, purchase upgraded boarding at the gate, the best credit cards for upgraded boarding, final thoughts.

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Southwest Airlines has gained a lot of popularity over the years in part because they do things a little differently. They don’t charge change fees, they don’t charge for checked baggage, and they don’t assign seats.

If you have never flown Southwest before, this last one can throw you for a loop! But have no fear — Upgraded Points has got you covered!

In this post, we’ll detail what makes the Southwest boarding process different and what you need to know to navigate it like a pro. We’ll also show you some ways to help boost your chances of getting the seat you want plus answer some common FAQs.

The Southwest Airlines boarding process is different because they don’t assign seats. However, it’s not a free for all — there is a specific system that you’ll need to follow to board the plane. Then once you are on board, you can choose any available seat that you want.

The Southwest Airlines Boarding Process [Detailed]

When you check in for your Southwest Airlines flight, you’ll receive a boarding position. This boarding position will consist of a letter (A, B, or C) and a number (1-60).

The number you’re assigned is based (mostly) on when you check in for your flight — the earlier you check in, the better your boarding position will be.

Southwest opens check-in 24 hours before your plane departs, so you’ll want to check in as soon as it opens. Seasoned Southwest passengers will set an alarm to remind themselves to check in exactly 24 hours ahead of time.

Checking in 24 hours before your flight will usually land you somewhere in the B boarding group — which is generally adequate to find either a window or aisle seat or 2 seats together if you are flying with a companion.

Southwest Boarding Pass, Boarding Group:Position

When it’s time to board the plane, the gate agent will first call the A group to get in position. You’ll notice 2 lines of people lining up in rows that are labeled A 1-30 and A 31-60 (note the photo below is showing C 1-30 and C 31+). In each row, there will be a marker for every 5 numbers showing exactly where you should be standing in line.

Southwest boarding area

Once boarding begins, the gate agent will start with pre-board passengers and those with boarding positions A 1-15 (usually reserved for Business Select passengers). Then they will continue with A 15-30 then A 31-60. Once A 1-30 have boarded the plane, the monitor at the front of the line will change to B 1-30. Then the B group can start lining up while the rest of the A group finishes getting on the plane.

When your number is called, you’ll walk in line to the gate agent to scan your boarding pass and proceed on to the plane. Once you are on the plane, you can choose any open seat.

Hot Tip: If you’re flying on Southwest Airlines, be sure to familiarize yourself with the Rapid Rewards program. This frequent flyer program includes lots of ways to earn points (even without flying ) and offers easy points redemptions with no blackout dates. Southwest flies to lots of international destinations plus Hawaii (finally), so their Rapid Rewards program is one you won’t want to miss.

Southwest Boarding Positions

If you aren’t familiar with Southwest’s boarding positions, they may be a little confusing. Here’s a rundown of what you can expect.

Pre-Board: Pre-boarding is reserved for those passengers with situations that require them to have a specific seat on the plane due to a disability or those who need assistance in boarding or stowing an assistive device. A pre-boarding designation needs to be arranged prior to boarding.

A1-15: These positions are usually reserved for Business Select passengers (the most expensive type of ticket you can purchase on Southwest). If not all of the Business Select tickets were sold, other passengers can upgrade their position to the A1-A15 section for $30 to $50 (the upgraded boarding applies to just that flight, not your whole itinerary). To upgrade your boarding position, you’ll need to see the gate attendant before the boarding process begins.

A16-30: This group is usually assigned to A-List Preferred or A-List members and anyone who purchased EarlyBird Check-In . However, an A boarding position is not guaranteed even if you have A-List, A-List Preferred, or EarlyBird Check-In.

Family Boarding/Active Duty Military/Passengers Needing Extra Time: Families traveling with a child who is 6 years old or younger can board after the A group regardless of their assigned boarding position. This does not need to be arranged ahead of time. You’ll just line up to the side and board when they call for families with young children.

Any active-duty military passengers are allowed to board at this time as well.

Any customers with a disability who just need a little extra time to board can go in this group. This needs to be pre-arranged by speaking to a ticket counter agent or a gate agent prior to boarding.

B 1-60: This middle-of-the-road group can vary depending on how full the plane is and how many people purchased EarlyBird Check-In. You can still end up in the B group when you purchase EarlyBird Check-In, however, you’ll probably be at the front of the pack if you do.

If you check in exactly 24 hours ahead of time, you’ll usually end up somewhere in the B group. If you have a B group boarding position, the chances are good that you’ll still be able to get a window or aisle seat or find 2 seats together if you’re traveling with a companion.

Hot Tip: If you are in the B group (or even one of the first numbers in the C group), head to the back of the plane. People tend to fill in the front of the plane first leaving open seating in the back. While this doesn’t always work, you’ll have better chances of avoiding a middle seat if you head to the rear of the aircraft.

C 1-60: This is the group you will most likely get if you don’t check in right on time. While the C group isn’t a guaranteed middle seat, the chances are pretty high that you won’t be sitting in the ideal spot.

If you’re traveling alone, it’s worth it to go to the back of the plane in search of a window or aisle seat. If there are only middle seats left, the flight attendants will announce it so you’ll know when to give up and take the first seat you see.

  • The flight attendants will usually be standing in a row of seats near the middle of the plane (often in the exit row) during boarding. They are usually more than happy to move if you’d like to sit where they are standing.
  • You’ll see people with their bags on the seat in an effort to save them for traveling companions with a later boarding number. While you are technically allowed to ask them to move their items so you can sit there, you’ll have a grumpy seatmate for the whole trip. It’s probably best to move on.
  • Often you’ll see 2 people in a row who are traveling together but sitting in the window and aisle, leaving the middle seat empty. If you ask to sit there, more often than not one of them will move over, giving you a window or an aisle seat.
  • Don’t pass up a prime empty seat in the front of the plane. I see this all the time! You’ll often see a decent empty seat in the front of the plane that people are passing up. Unlike other airlines, these are not reserved for anyone, so feel free to take a great seat in the front if it’s available (I’ve used this trick to score a second-row aisle seat with overhead bin space even though I had a C boarding position!).

Flying on Southwest with young children is one instance when bringing the kids makes your trip easier. That’s because parents traveling with a child that’s 6 years old or younger get to board after the A group regardless of what boarding position is listed on your boarding pass.

That means you don’t have to worry about checking in exactly 24 hours ahead of time — which is a luxury when flying on Southwest.

Boarding right after the A group also guarantees you’ll be able to find a group of seats together, which is essential when traveling with little ones.

Southwest plane

Family boarding is limited to 2 parents only and their children as long as one is 6 years old or younger. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, or anyone else traveling with you will still need to board in their assigned position.

If you are traveling with a child and you both have A boarding positions, you’re more than welcome to go ahead and board with the A group — you don’t have to wait for family boarding.

Bottom Line: If you’re traveling with a child who is 6 years old or younger, you’ll be able to board during family boarding. This takes place between the A and B groups which will ensure you can find seats together. This courtesy only extends to children and 2 parents — any other traveling companions will still need to board based on their boarding position.

Customers with disabilities that require pre-boarding due to a specific seating need or those who need assistance with a medical device need to speak to a ticket agent or gate agent before boarding begins. If the passenger qualifies, a new boarding pass with a pre-boarding designation will be issued. Anyone who pre-boards may not sit in an exit row.

If a customer with a disability just needs a little extra time, they will be permitted to board before family boarding between the A and B groups.

This courtesy extends to 1 travel companion as well — any additional family or friends will need to board with their assigned groups.

How To Get a Better Boarding Position

If you want a great boarding position, but don’t want to worry about checking in at the right time (or paying for a Business Select fare), there are other options to help you secure a coveted higher boarding position.

  • Earn Southwest elite status
  • Purchase EarlyBird Check-In
  • Purchase an upgraded boarding position at the gate (subject to availability).
  • Get a credit card that comes with upgraded boarding passes or a travel credit to cover the fees.

You can earn elite status on Southwest Airlines through the number of one-way flights you take or through the number of elite qualifying points you earn in 1 calendar year. Southwest also allows other passengers on the same reservation as the elite member to board at the same time as the elite member.

Southwest also will occasionally run promotions to help you fast track your status, or you can try a status match .

Hot Tip: While having a Southwest Companion Pass is a fantastic perk, it does not make you eligible for any type of priority boarding.

Adding EarlyBird Check-In to your reservation will automatically check you in up to 36 hours ahead of your flight, giving you a higher boarding position. However, it doesn’t guarantee an A group position. You could still get a B boarding position even if you pay for EarlyBird Check-In.

You can add EarlyBird Check-In when you purchase your ticket, or you can add it to an existing flight. It costs between $15 to $25 one-way per person.

EarlyBird Check-In

If there are open boarding positions available in the A1-A15 group, you’ll be able to pay to upgrade to one of these positions at the gate.

The cost is $30 to $50 per person per flight segment (it doesn’t cover your whole itinerary). Upgraded boarding can be purchased at the gate before boarding begins by speaking to a gate agent.

Bottom Line: Your best bets to get a higher boarding position without having to earn elite status are EarlyBird Check-In and upgraded boarding at the gate. However, both options will cost you. EarlyBird Check-In costs $15 to $25 one-way per person and doesn’t guarantee you’ll get an A boarding number. Upgraded boarding at the gate is subject to availability and costs $30 to $50 per flight per person, but it gets you an A1-15 boarding position.

Of course, perks like upgraded boarding or EarlyBird Check-In are even better when you don’t have to pay for them. The good news is that some credit cards will cover these costs for you.

Southwest Credit Cards:

An A1-15 boarding position sounds great, but paying up to $50 per person isn’t great. Thankfully, there are credit cards that can help you cover this cost.

The following Southwest credit cards each come with 4 upgraded boarding passes per year:

  • Southwest Rapid Rewards ® Priority Credit Card
  • Southwest ® Rapid Rewards ® Performance Business Credit Card

Other Credit Cards:

Some credit cards offer credits for travel purchases. You can use these credits to upgrade your boarding position or to purchase EarlyBird Check-In on Southwest Airlines.

The airline fee credit on these American Express cards will only be reimbursed if the charge comes from your selected airline (so be sure to choose Southwest!). These credits don’t apply to airfare, so if you want to use your credit for EarlyBird Check-In, be sure to purchase it separately from your flight.

Amex credit cards that offer airline fee reimbursements include:

  • The Platinum Card ® from American Express : up to $200 airline fee credit
  • The Business Platinum Card ® from American Express : up to $200 airline fee credit

Chase and Citi also offer cards that come with a generous travel reimbursement. Using the travel credits on these cards is easier than those on Amex cards. You don’t have to designate a specific airline or worry about making sure you pay for EarlyBird Check-In separate from your flight.

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve ®
  • Citi Prestige ® Card

Southwest is an airline that does things a little differently. This includes their boarding process — because they don’t assign seats! While the idea of not having an assigned seat can be a little confusing at first, once you get the hang of it, it’s easy peasy.

We hope this guide gives you the confidence to board your next Southwest flight like a pro.

The information for the Citi Prestige ® Card has been collected independently by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.

For rates and fees of The Platinum Card ® from American Express, click here . For rates and fees of The Business Platinum Card ® from American Express, click here .

Frequently Asked Questions

Is southwest earlybird check-in worth it.

Whether or not Southwest EarlyBird Check-In is worth it is a personal decision. If having a middle seat will absolutely ruin your trip, it might be a good idea. It can also be a good idea on longer flights where you’ll be more comfortable in a window or aisle seat.

If you’re on a short flight or you’re pretty confident that you can remember to check in exactly 24 hours before your departure, you’ll probably be fine without EarlyBird Check-In.

Does Southwest board military first?

Southwest gives special consideration to active duty military personnel. Any active-duty military passenger will be able to board after the A group regardless of their assigned boarding position.

Can I upgrade my boarding position on Southwest?

Yes, if you would like to upgrade your boarding position you can speak to the gate agent before boarding begins. If there are any A1-15 positions available you’ll be able to upgrade for $30 to $50 per person.

Do Southwest A-List customers automatically get checked in?

Yes, if you’re an A-List or A-List Preferred member, Southwest will automatically check you in 36 hours prior to your departure.

How does EarlyBird Check-In work on Southwest Airlines?

When you purchase Southwest EarlyBird Check-In you’ll automatically get checked in for your flight 36 hours before departure (that’s 12 hours ahead of general check-in). It ensures you’ll have a decent boarding position, but it does not guarantee an A boarding position.

What if I have a different boarding position than my traveling companion?

If you have a different boarding position than your traveling companion you’re able to board together if you go by the person with the lowest position. For example, if you are assigned boarding position A48 and your companion is assigned B31 you may both board at B31, but not at A48.

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About Katie Seemann

Katie has been in the points and miles game since 2015 and started her own blog in 2016. She’s been freelance writing since then and her work has been featured in publications like Travel + Leisure, Forbes Advisor, and Fortune Recommends.


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How many seats are available on a Southwest flight? How to get a better boarding position

are there seat assignments on southwest

Chances are when you book a flight, you have the option to select where you want to sit ahead of time.

Not if you book with Southwest Airlines. They have an open-seating policy: There are no seat assignments and all seats are first come, first served.

Whether you can land anything but the dreaded middle seat, or if you can sit together with your family, will depend on your boarding group and place in line. If you're in the last group to board, your seating choices will be limited.

Finding out how many seats are available on a Southwest flight isn't easy because of this open-seating policy. Here's how you can find out what seats to look for on a Southwest flight before you go and what options Southwest offers to improve your place in boarding.

Find your gate: What terminal is Southwest at the Phoenix airport?

How do I find out how many seats are available on a Southwest flight?

There's no easy way to find out. Because it doesn't offer seat assignments, Southwest does not show a map of available seats during the booking process.

Some discussion boards that focus on Southwest flights, including the airline's community forum , suggest searching on Southwest's website for an itinerary for eight passengers — the maximum number that can be booked online — and check if it can make the reservation.

If a flight has few seats left, Southwest's website will show the number of seats left below the price in small, red text. But these are the only seats remaining under a certain fare class, not necessarily the last seats on the plane.

How do seats work on Southwest?

When you check in, you'll be assigned a boarding group (A, B or C) and boarding position (1-60), which determines the boarding order. People in the A group are most likely to get their preferred seats, while people in the C group, particularly those with a high boarding number, are most likely to find only middle seats or last-row seats available.

How can you see the seat layout on a Southwest plane?

One way you can see out the layout of Southwest planes ahead of time is to look up seat plans or seat maps for the planes used in the flights.

Southwest flies several versions of the Boeing 737, including the 737-700, 737-800 and 737 MAX 8. The 737-700 has 143 seats in 24 rows, while both the 737-800 and 737 MAX 8 have 175 seats in 30 rows.

SeatGuru , a travel website owned by Tripadvisor, allows visitors to view the layouts of these planes and read reviews of the seats from people who traveled on the plane.

Some seats are color-coded to indicate their quality. Green seats are "good" seats and typically have the best legroom, yellow seats have caveats like the seat not reclining or being in an emergency exit row, and red seats are "bad" seats, typically the last row or seats near the bathroom.

How can I get a better boarding position on Southwest?

One way Southwest allows passengers to obtain a better boarding position is EarlyBird Check-In, where a passenger pays a fee — starting at $15 per flight, it varies with demand — to have their position assigned 12 hours before general boarding positions become available. However, this does not guarantee you'll get into boarding group A.

But passengers don't have this option on all flights. Southwest recently began limiting EarlyBird Check-In on some flights and days.

Southwest offers two other options that can give passengers a better boarding position:

  • Upgraded boarding: This allows passengers to claim the best available A group position from A1-A15 for flights departing within 24 hours. Prices start at $30 per passenger and varies depending on demand.
  • Booking a Business Select ticket: Passengers in this class are guaranteed boarding positions from A1-A15. Southwest also recently began offering free in-flight internet for Business Select passengers. Business Select is the highest fare class Southwest offers.

Coming to new Southwest concourse: A Guy Fieri restaurant and PGA Tour simulator

Reach the reporter at  [email protected] . Follow him on X, formerly Twitter:  @salerno_phx .

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  • Tips And Hacks

The Sneaky Trick To Get Priority Boarding On Southwest Airlines

A Southwest Airlines sign

No airline is truly ever perfect, but to many, Southwest Airlines comes close. A recipient of Money's Best Airline for Families award in 2023 and topping the customer satisfaction charts in the J.D. Power 2023 North America Airline Satisfaction Study , Southwest is often lauded for being passenger-friendly. Renowned for its customer-centric approach, Southwest offers numerous perks, including two complimentary checked bags, non-expiring credits, and zero fees for altering or canceling flights . The kicker, however, lies in its unconventional boarding system. Doing away with assigned seating, it employs an open-seat policy. You only get to score the best seats in the aircraft if you're appointed to a certain boarding group — or if you know how to hack your way through it.

Passengers are sorted into three boarding groups (A, B, and C), with numbered positions from 1 to 60. If you get A1, consider yourself a winner. You'll get to call dibs on the seat you want (though those requiring assistance still pre-board). With C60, you might as well expect to sit at the very back near the toilets. Southwest maintains that this process is "quick, easy, and efficient," but it can be a bummer to those who prefer an aisle or window seat . But if you don't want the misfortune of a crappy boarding assignment, just pay for EarlyBird.

With prices starting at $15 per flight, an EarlyBird Check-In pass unlocks a privilege. You're among those who board first, allowing you to select your desired seat and snag coveted overhead bin space.

The power of EarlyBird check-in

There are two ways to purchase EarlyBird Check-In. You can either buy it as an add-on to your ticket or secure an Anytime fare, which automatically includes the EarlyBird perk. Anytime fares also boast a bunch of other benefits, like access to a special check-in and security lane, free refunds, and bonus rewards points. While Southwest Airlines notes that EarlyBird isn't a surefire way to score a group A assignment, those who purchase it often get to enjoy an A slot and automatic check-in 36 hours before takeoff.

Sadly, as of August 2023, EarlyBird has become a limited luxury, per an email from Southwest to The Street . "EarlyBird Check-In will be subject to availability on certain flights, routes, or days, and that will mean EarlyBird Check-In is unavailable for some customers looking to purchase it," it read. The good news is there's still an option to pay your way to early boarding: you can either book a Business Select fare, or buy Upgraded Boarding when available.

With a Business Select ticket, you get free refunds, your choice of a premium beverage (think margaritas and mimosas ), and most importantly, a guaranteed A1 to A15 boarding assignment. In the event that a flight doesn't fulfill 15 Business Select passengers, Southwest offers other travelers the chance to purchase the A1 to A15 slots, starting at $30 per flight. This can be arranged when you check in via the Southwest app or at the departure gate or ticket desk at the airport.

Be part of the A list or use a Southwest credit card

When it comes to enjoying priority boarding with Southwest Airlines, loyalty goes a long way. If you refuse to shell out money for EarlyBird, Upgraded Boarding, or a higher-tier ticket, you can get free priority boarding if you fly Southwest often. Your dedication will pay off later on. Flying 20 or more eligible one-way flights or collecting over 35,000 rewards points in a single calendar year make you a shoo-in to the carrier's A-List or A-List Preferred club. This elite membership not only grants you priority boarding, but also extends the VIP treatment to everyone who's part of your reservation. That way, you and your friend group get to sit together without reserving seats for one another, which may only aggravate other passengers.

It also pays to have a Southwest-branded credit card, particularly the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card. Holders of these cards are entitled to up to four Upgraded Boardings per year. Sure, you would still have to buy it through the usual methods, but you'll get reimbursed later on through credits regardless of how much the upgrade cost you.



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are there seat assignments on southwest

In-flight amenities

Southwest Airlines offers internet service using satellite-based WiFi provider, Row 44. Cost per device for WiFi access is $8, unlimited TV and movies and access is free. Southwest also provides flyers with Beats streaming music on all Wi-Fi capable aircraft via your own device. 

Pretzels and a few other options are offered during flight. Non-alcoholic beverages are complimentary. Beer, spirits, and wine are available for purchases during flight.

Southwest launched their service for the 737-800 aircraft in April of 2012 with their new  Evolve  Interior.  The Southwest  Evolve  Interior is an eco-friendly design that is part of the airline's commitment to be a "green" company. This aircraft with a 175 seat capacity features new seats with a more comfortable bottom cushion that allows for better lumbar support and a fixed winged headrest for each seat.  The new seats are also made with E-leather, a lightweight and more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional leather.  

Although there have been concerns about passenger comfort with Southwest's new Evolve interior on their 737-700 Evolve seat, this does not seem to be an issue on this 737-800 aircraft.  The 738 offers overall more legroom, leaving passengers with a 32" seat pitch.  In comparison to the 737-700, the 737-800 also features the new Sky Interior with a sculpted ceiling and sloping overhead storage bins which leave the cabin with a much more open and spacious feel.   

There is no pre-assigned seating for Southwest flights. Your time of check-in will determine whether you are in Zone A, B, or C for boarding. The earlier you board, the better chance you'll have at the seat you want. There is no audio or video entertainment on Southwest flights.

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Southwest Airlines Says Assigned Seats For Passengers A Possibility

are there seat assignments on southwest

  • News and Tips
  • Travel News

Southwest Airlines is known for not assigning seats, but that could change in the future — maybe . 

“Could we one day need to take back up the assigned-seating question? I think we may have to do that,” Bob Jordan, the airline’s incoming CEO recently said in a Southwest Business virtual town hall meeting, Travel Weekly reports .

Jordan, who previously was the airline’s executive vice president of corporate services and will take over as CEO on February 1, then took pains to note there are no current plans at Southwest to make the change. However, he did say the airline needs to examine whether or not seat assignments could positively impact aircraft turnaround time.

“Just know this: We are committed to continuing to look at our product, making sure it’s relevant,” Jordan said.

Southwest uses unassigned seats as a way to make itself stand out from competitors. Indeed, its slogan is “Pick a seat, any seat.”

“At Southwest, we let you sit where you like,” the airline explains . “We don’t assign seats on our flights, so feel free to sit in any available seat once you board the plane.”

Moving Forward

In many respects, Jordan has his work cut out for him.

For instance, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s analysis , Southwest Airlines’ flights were ontime 83.03 percent of the time from July 2019 to July 2021. Conversely, 16.97 percent of Southwest’s flights were late or canceled.

“We need to get back to the point where you can set your watch by the reliability of our operations,” Jordan said.

Toward that end, one of the first priorities for Southwest this year is to hire between 8,000 and 10,000 workers. Jordan says that adding that staff will help the airline get aircraft back in the sky sooner.

Jordan also noted that Southwest expanded its service to 18 new markets and increased service to Hawaii during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Southwest currently uses 120 aircraft to support that expansion, it does have plans to take delivery of 114 aircraft this year.

Even so, it’s going to take a while for the airline to resume frequency levels Southwest experienced before the pandemic.

“It’s going to take into 2023 to restore the network completely back to where we were in 2019,” Jordan said.

For more about airlines’ ontime arrival records, be sure to read The 10 U.S. Airlines With The Most Flight Delays And Cancelations .

If you’d like to learn more about airport arrival records, be sure to read up on the airports with the fewest and most delays and cancelations.

Image of Jim Fulcher

Jim Fulcher has been a writer and editor his entire career. In addition to writing, he also enjoys traveling--particularly in an RV. Over the course of numerous trips, Jim has driven an RV through West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. His favorite national park is Yellowstone, which he has visited three times.

The Travel Sisters

Recent changes to the southwest airlines boarding process.

by The Travel Sisters | Sep 3, 2020 | Flight Reviews , Industry News , Trip Reports | 1 comment

Recent Changes to the Southwest Airlines Boarding Process

If you have not flown on Southwest Airlines since before the pandemic you will notice some new changes to the Southwest boarding process because of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Southwest Airlines Boarding Process

Unlike other airlines, Southwest Airlines has an open seating policy. Instead of seat assignments, Southwest assigns boarding groups (A, B, or C) and boarding positions (1-60) which determine the order in which passengers are allowed to board. Upon boarding the plane, passengers can choose any open seat. (If you have not flown Southwest in the past, see this post for a detailed guide to the Southwest boarding process works and how to get a good seat.)

During the Southwest boarding process, passengers are instructed to line up at the gate before boarding in order based on their boarding group and position.

Southwest Airlines boarding process

The Southwest boarding process was definitely not conducive to physical distancing. In the past when flights were full, passengers would have to line up at the gate close together. For a full flight there could be up to 30 people lined up on one side of the poles at the gate and 30 people on the other side.

New Changes to the Southwest Airlines Boarding Process

In response to Coronavirus (COVID-19), Southwest has made some modifications to its boarding process to promote physical-distancing. The changes are as follows:

• Passengers are required to wear a mask or a face covering in the airport and on the plane (began May 22). Southwest customers will be required to wear a face covering in order to board the plane. (If you do not bring a mask or a face covering, Southwest will provide you with one). Here is more information on Southwest’s mask policy .

• Southwest is now boarding in groups of 10 and only on one side of their boarding poles to help passengers spread out.

•Southwest is posting airport signage and floor markers that encourage physical-distancing in the gate areas (began early May).

• Family boarding is not changing, but Southwest will encourage families to respect the personal space of others during boarding.

• Middle seats are open through through November 30 to provide passengers more personal space onboard). Customers can pick their seat—if you’re traveling together, you’re welcome to sit together.

In addition to the changes above related to the boarding process, Southwest Airlines has also made other changes (such as discontinuing inflight beverage and snack service on flights under 250 miles) and has enhanced cleaning and disinfecting of planes, gate areas, etc.

We don’t have plans to fly in the next couple of months, but it is good to know that Southwest has made changes to its boarding process to make flying safer.

They make everything so complicated….. Just assign seats in advance like EVERY OTHER airline in the world.

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What To Do About Southwest’s Stance on Saving Seats

  • They don’t charge for your first 2 checked bags (that one is a HUGE fan favorite)
  • They allow cancellations up to 10 minutes before a flight’s departure
  • They fly via point-to-point, not hub-and-spoke
  • They don’t have assigned seating, instead using a mixed system of first-come-first-served order of checking in, and payment for better positioning

Some passengers love Southwest’s lack of assigned seating, some hate it. And that makes sense.

Some people relish the idea of being able to choose their own seat based on what’s available when they get onto the plane. However that very same lack of assigned seating has brought up complaints about “the haves and the have nots” (read: paying to get onto the plane faster, when “better” seats are still available) as well as the increase of what appears to be people who don’t really need “extra time to board” (due to disability, etc.) asking for wheelchair service and being among the first to board the plane ( here’s a possible solution to that issue).

Because there aren’t seat assignments and window and aisle seats are more popular, the running “game” (it’s not really a game, but you know what I mean) is, if there’s an empty middle seat next to you, to try to keep it empty. There have been some pretty creative ways people have done this, to the point that Southwest even made a video of a bunch of them .

There’s one more issue with Southwest’s lack of assigned seating – people who save seats.

If someone only saves one seat, it’s usually really not a big deal and few people, if anyone, will care. But there are people who save lots – and I mean LOTS – of seats (we’re talking the first 3 rows being held by one person). Or worse…people who manage to save every seat in the exit row. Oh, does that get people riled up!

a screenshot of a social media post

It comes up on Twitter every couple of weeks. Or days. 😉

a screenshot of a social media post

So what IS Southwest’s official policy?

The thing is, Southwest has no official policy about saving seats. There’s certainly nothing about it either way on the southwest.com website. The closest they get is on their Boarding Process page , where they say they have open seating and for you to choose any available seat. Singular “seat.” Not plural “seats.”

a screenshot of a flight

The closest I could find was from a Southwest customer service representative, Marco, whose email to a disgruntled passenger was quoted on a post on Flyer Talk earlier this year:

Dear X, Thank you for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate the opportunity to address your concerns. As you probably know, all flights on Southwest are “open-seating,” and Customers are free to take any available seat onboard the aircraft. In light of this, it is not uncommon for a Customer to want to reserve a seat (or seats) for a friend, family member, or associate who will be boarding behind them. Truthfully, we don’t have a policy either way–for or against–saving seats. In fact, we share our perspective on this issue on southwest.com as follows: “because Southwest Airlines maintains an open-seating policy, general-boarding Customers may sit in any open or unclaimed seat.” With this in mind, as long as there is no Safety concern, it would be acceptable for a Customer to “claim” a seat for his/her family member or traveling companion who may be in a later boarding group. We are aware that the saving of seats is a by-product of our policy, and as long as the boarding process is not delayed and other Customers aren’t inconvenienced, it usually isn’t a significant issue. Again, we appreciate your contacting us. We look forward to welcoming you onboard a Southwest flight soon. Sincerely, Marco, Southwest Airlines

Southwest has been quoted as saying they’ve never taken a stance on seat-saving because they don’t want flight attendants to become seat police. And that appears to be absolutely true. Under normal circumstances, while the flight attendants won’t stop people from trying to save seats, they’ll also not make you move if you sit in a seat someone’s “saved.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue. Lyn Montgomery, president of the Southwest flight attendants’ union, agrees that it can be.

She told the Wall Street Journal in late 2022, “It’s a problem, because it creates another instigator in the world of the skies that we work in.”

Ms. Montgomery added flight attendants try to defuse seat-saving situations and similar matters with humor if they can. That’s why Southwest passengers often hear cheeky announcements during boarding advising them not to avert eye contact or pile items on the middle seat in the hopes that passengers will pass by their row in their search for a seat.

And what does Southwest say when asked outright? They claim its boarding approach is manageable and that, “…creating a policy for or against saving seats would create more problems than it solves, taking flight attendants away from their main focus on safety procedures and hospitality during boarding. In other words, there are no plans to switch to assigned seats.”

Andrew Watterson, Southwest’s chief operating officer, told WSJ of open seating: “It’s a business decision based upon what customers tell us. And right now each time we ask, customers tell us, ‘We prefer it this way.’ If customers tell us they want it differently, we’ll change it like that.”

I’d like to see those surveys, please. Do they mention saving seats? I bet they don’t. 😉

So what can I do?

Honestly, that’ll depend on your wallet and your conscience.

Wallet options

If you fly on Southwest a lot, you’ll have status and be A-List or A-List Preferred. Both include priority boarding on all flights.

You can also pay for a Business Select fare, which will automatically include zones A1 through A15.

Or you can get a Southwest credit card, with a price of $69 to $199 per year, which could give you some early boarding benefits per year (note: not every time).

But if you’re a more typical flyer who doesn’t want to pay through the nose, or have to get a credit card for occasional better boarding, you still have options.

You can pay to get the best seating possible, with Upgraded Boarding , but that’s going to cost you at least $30 per person, per segment.

You could also pay for Early Bird boarding – that’s just $15 per person for each leg of the flight.

With Upgraded Boarding or Early Bird, you’ll be among the first to board (after people who need extra time, but at least the front of the pack of everyone else).

Conscience options

How much of a conscience do you have? How much of a conscience does everyone else on the plane have?

Some people will see that seat in the exit row – the one with the hoodie on it – and ask who’s sitting there. “Oh, I’m saving that for my husband.” Some people will unceremoniously pick up that hoodie and sit there. “It’s an open seat. So I’m sitting in it.” (of course, be prepared for the response, which will range from anger to tears…and whatever consequences come of it.)

On the other hand, some people just figure, “We’re two adults and have B45 and 46. I guess we won’t sit together.” And they don’t.

Or they have A22 and C4 and figure, “Yay, I have A22! Guess we won’t sit together unless the middle seat next to me is still open by the time C4 boards.”

Is sitting in the exit row and saving the 5 other exit row seats fair? I don’t know if “fair” is the right word. It certainly isn’t nice. But without Southwest having an official policy about the issue, there’s not much anyone can do.

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are there seat assignments on southwest

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As you have clearly outlined and shown by example of people’s comments… seat saving is going to happen. But as far as I’m concerned, if you are saving multiple seats, especially in an exit row, you had better be prepared for a “fight”. I’m not sure how a person who is saving multiple seats can “defend” all of them if someone is going to sit there. Maybe they might be able to dissuade a rookie traveler, but not someone who flies on SWA regularly. And to your comment “…there’s not much anyone can do.” Oh yes there is. 😉

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I flew Southwest this past Wednesday morning from Phx, AZ to LA, CA & paid $30 to get A7 boarding. There were at LEAST 25 people “needing assistance” to board early. It was shocking to see that many & only two wheelchairs used upon arrival at LA. On my return flight this Friday night, only 4, but even those, after boarded, needed no assistance to get up & use the restroom, and no wheelchair to get off the airplane

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I have seen that phenomenon and wonder in those large groups how many that aren’t in wheelchairs might be those that were on the previous flight on the same plane or flight number? When those people have to deplane, as they sometimes do, they put them on first before even the wheelchairs.

If you see a group of people boarding the flight before the wheelchair users, more than likely those are people in the incoming flight off the same number who are flying to the next destination who had to be taken off the flight due to a plane change or other issue. They should have stayed on board, so they are boarded first.

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And walking to the bathroom without needing assistance is a completely different distance than walking through an airport, down a jetway and waiting in line at the door of the plane. They don’t compare and you can’t judge a person’s disability status based on any of those things. There are so many possible things that could impede a person, even some that don’t impact walking but only impact standing still.

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What about fake pre-boarders?????

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That was a hyperlink about that within the piece. Here’s the direct link: https://yourmileagemayvary.com/2023/09/24/a-fix-for-southwests-preboarding-scam/

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We flew SW last Thurs. people take the window seat and aisle seat same row and leave middle free. Then they put down the tray in middle seat and consider it full. 🤷‍♀️ I asked both aisle seats to move over so I could sit across from my husband and all people said no. Maybe 10-15 of them. What the heck? Why do they do this. No one was nice and we ended up not sitting together. It’s a bummer.

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Southwest Airlines brings back its free flight offer

S outhwest Airlines has always been a disruptor in its industry making moves designed to call out its rivals. In many ways, it operates like a less flashy version of T-Mobile, a company that systematically forced AT&T and Verizon to get rid of their shadiest practices.

The difference, of course, is that nearly every American can pick between AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile and still get decent service. When it comes to airlines, however, the choice isn't the same. On some routes you may have multiple choices, but in many cases, people have to fly the airline that goes to their destination when they want to get there.

Related: Long-closed Disney World attraction makes a surprise comeback

Because of that, Southwest Airlines ( LUV ) offering free bags with all tickets has not forced its rivals to do the same. Moves like that, however, have helped the airline build a loyal fanbase that opts to fly with it when possible.

Southwest also has a very clear loyalty program where passengers get meaningful benefits when they achieve A-list status, including an earlier boarding position. Those benefits grow when a loyal customer hits A-list Preferred where they receive free internet, and priority check-in.

At the top of the company's loyalty program sits its Companion Pass, a benefit that allows the qualified passenger to designate someone who can fly with them for free (they do have to pay taxes and certain fees). Normally it takes 100 qualifying one-way flights or 135,000 qualifying points in a calendar year to earn that status.

The airline, however, does have one way where passengers can earn a Companion Pass without hitting those flight numbers and it has just brought that offer back.

Here's a quick way to earn a Southwest Companion Pass

Earning a Companion Pass in the tradtional way basically requires on round-trip flight nearly every week for a year. That's certainly going to drive loyalty for anyone who thinks they have a chance of hitting that threshold (or earning the needed points) but it's a very high bar even for people who fly a lot.

Occasionally, however, the airline offers promotions where people can earn a Companion Pass in different ways. Sometimes that means flying a certain amount in a short period of times while at other times it has offered that perk as a promotion with its credit card.

That promotion has been brought back for a short period of time.

Southwest, which works with Chase ( CCF ) for its credit cards, is offering a Companion Pass that's good through 2/28/25 for anyone who applies for one of its credit cards, gets approved, and spends $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after the account gets opened.

The offer runs through March 11. Only new cardholders are eligible, and not everyone will be approved for the credit card.

Southwest seems to have won its customers back

Southwest has traditionally had a reputation as a passenger-friendly airline. That's driven partially by its general lack of added fees and partly by its loyalty program. The company put that loyalty to the test, however, with its 2022 holiday season meltdown. 

During that Christmas week, the company canceled thousands of flights and stranded tens of thousands of passengers when bad weather and flight changes overwhelmed its system. It was a dark period that exposed the airline's technology flaws which led to it investing hundreds of millions of dollars in technology, deicing equipment, and personnel.

The company has put those days behind it and won back the loyalty of its passengers, according to comments made by Southwest's Chief Commercial Officer Ryan Green during its fourth-quarter earnings call . 

"I'm pleased to report that we saw no bookings impact from last year's operational disruption during this past holiday season, which speaks to the operational improvements we have made over the last year, as well as the enduring loyalty from our customers," he said.

The good news for the airline did not end there.

"In addition, fourth quarter was another quarter with multiple records set, including record fourth quarter operating revenue and passenger revenue, as well as an all-time quarterly record for passengers carried. Fares also performed well in the fourth quarter with our average passenger fare up about 2.5% year over year. And all in all, our fourth quarter operating revenues were up over $1 billion relative to fourth quarter of 2019," he added.

A Southwest Airlines airplane is seen in flight. -lead


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