I want to understand the boarding process

You will be assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and position (1-60+) upon check in.

  • Your unique group and position combination (for example: A35) will be displayed on your boarding pass and represents a reserved spot in the boarding group at the gate.
  • Numbered posts in each of our gate areas indicate where to line up.
  • When your boarding group is called, find your designated place in line and board the aircraft in numerical order with your boarding group.

Southwest-operated flights have open seating. Once onboard, simply choose any available seat and stow your carryon items in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you.

Family Boarding and Seating

If you are traveling with a child six years old or younger:

  • Up to two adults traveling with a child six years old or younger may board during Family Boarding, which occurs after the “A” group has boarded and before the “B” group begins boarding.
  • There should be enough open seats to enable the child to sit next to at least one accompanying adult.
  • If the child and adults are all holding “A” boarding passes, they should board in their assigned boarding position rather than waiting for Family Boarding
  • If you need and request assistance, Southwest will endeavor to seat a child next to one accompanying passenger (14 and older) to the maximum extent practicable and at no additional cost.
  • Families can speak to Gate Agents or Flight Attendants to request assistance.

If you are traveling with a child age seven to 13 years old:

  • If you need and request assistance, Southwest will reasonably endeavor to seat a child next to one accompanying passenger (14 and older) to the extent practicable and at no additional cost.

Preboarding

Some Customers with disabilities may preboard at the very beginning of the boarding process prior to general boarding. Preboarding is available for Customers with disabilities who need a specific seat to accommodate a disability, need assistance boarding the aircraft, or need to stow an assistive device.

A Customer Service Agent at the ticket counter or the departure gate can help with this accommodation, and you'll be asked questions to determine if you qualify. You'll receive a new boarding pass marked with PRBD if you qualify, which lets the Operations Agent at boarding know that you can preboard. Remember that you can't occupy an exit seat if you preboard.

Customers with disabilities who simply need a little extra time to board or otherwise do not qualify for preboarding may board between the "A" and "B" groups, before Family Boarding. A Customer Service Agent at the ticket counter or departure gate can give you a new boarding pass marked with XT, which lets the Operations Agent at boarding know that you can board before Family Boarding.

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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How to Hack Southwest’s Boarding Groups

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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.

So how does Southwest boarding work? For starters, 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.

Love it or hate it, Southwest boarding groups make for a unique flying experience. So with that, let's unpack Southwest’s boarding method to help you get the best seat on your flight.

SOUTHWEST CREDIT CARDS WITH BOARDING BENEFITS

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® Plus 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:

There are typically three Southwest boarding groups (plus a few in-between groups of sorts, like family boarding). You're assigned that boarding group (either A, B, or C) and position (1-60) at check-in. Your boarding group is also 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 be the plane's first passenger. (Though there may be some exceptions for people with certain disabilities, pre-boarders or people connecting from an earlier flight.) If you end up with C60, well, hopefully, you’re fine with the middle seat near the bathroom.

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

southwest boarding groups how to

As the gate agent prepares the plane for boarding, they’ll call boarding groups (e.g., Group A, 1-30). From there, you’ll 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 and get ready for takeoff.

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

1. Preboarding

Southwest allows people with specific seating needs to accommodate their disability, who need boarding help, extra time or who need help stowing an assistive device to board first. To join that group, 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

does southwest give seat assignments

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.

Southwest follows an open seating style, meaning there are no assigned seats. You’ll be assigned a boarding group (either A, B, or C) and position (1-60+) upon check-in, which determines your boarding order. Once on board, you choose your seat. If you’re last to board, you likely won’t get to sit with your family.

However, Southwest has a solution to better ensure families can sit together. If you’re traveling with a child 6 years old or younger, up to two adults may board during Southwest’s Family Boarding period, between Group A and Group B boarding (unless both the child and adults have A boarding passes and can board in that earlier group).

For an additional fee, EarlyBird Check-In automatically checks you in 12 hours ahead of the traditional 24-hour check-in window. While it’s not a guarantee of the coveted A boarding group, you’ll end up in an earlier boarding position than if you had not paid for it.

Families with children 6 and under can board before Group B free of charge, so for these travelers, paying for EarlyBird Check-In is usually not worth it.

However, if you have children older than 6 and don’t want to risk sitting apart on the plane, it can make sense to pay for EarlyBird Check-In.

Your Southwest boarding group is determined upon check-in. The earlier you check in, the earlier your boarding group.

Typically, you’ll check in for your flight online beginning 24 hours before the scheduled departure time or anytime thereafter. If you don’t, you can check in and get your boarding pass at the airport through the Southwest ticket counter or, if available, a self-service kiosk.

However, you can secure an earlier boarding position by purchasing a Business Select fare, purchasing EarlyBird Check-In or by purchasing an upgraded boarding pass from the counter on the day of travel (when available).

Generally, yes, you can sit anywhere on Southwest. Since the airline's flights have open seating, you simply choose any available seat once on board.

There are a few exceptions. For example, passengers who preboard may not occupy an exit seat.

Seniors do not get priority boarding on Southwest.

There is priority boarding for customers who have a specific seating need to accommodate their disability, who need assistance in boarding the aircraft or who need help stowing an assistive device. These passengers board before Family Boarding, between the A and B groups.

No, Southwest does not have assigned seats. Instead, passengers can select their seat upon boarding. Passengers board in alpha-numerical order, and your boarding position is determined by your fare, if you purchased EarlyBird Check-In, whether you're part of certain preboarding groups and how quickly you check in for the flight 24 hours ahead of departure.

If you are assigned to boarding group C on Southwest, expect to have fewer window and aisle seat options, and less overhead bin space. You may, however, secure a middle seat towards the front of the plane, which can mean earlier disembarkation. Though boarding Group C on Southwest isn't great, there are some possible upsides.

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 Travel℠, 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 when you redeem through Chase Travel℠.

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1.5%-6.5% Enjoy 6.5% cash back on travel purchased through Chase Travel; 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 travel purchased through Chase Travel, 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.

does southwest give seat assignments

UponArriving

UponArriving

does southwest give seat assignments

Southwest Boarding Groups Explained: From A-List to Group C! [2023]

Are you wondering how exactly Southwest boarding groups work?

This article will show you everything you need to know about the Southwest boarding process.

I’ll also show you different ways that you can get priority boarding and cover things like family boarding and military boarding. I’ll also give you some details about Southwest seating (charts, maps, etc.) and some tips for getting the best seats.

Table of Contents

How many boarding groups does Southwest have?

Southwest has three main boarding groups:

  • Boarding group A
  • Boarding group B
  • Boarding group C

If you want to understand the Southwest boarding process though, you’ll need to understand much more than the three boarding groups. Keep reading below for more info on the boarding process!

Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!

How does Southwest boarding work?

When you check-in for your flight, you’ll be assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and within that boarding group you’ll be assigned a number (1 through 60).

So for example, you might be assigned A50, which means you’ll be the 50th person to board within Group A.

It could vary depending on the airport, but generally, you’ll see monitors or signs showing you where to stand for your group. The signs will typically say something like “A 1-30” or “A 31-60.”

An “A 1-30” sign would mean that if you have an A boarding pass and your boarding number is 30 or under (e.g., A25), that is where you need to go to line up.

You should also see some silver posts marked with numbers which will tell you where to stand. These numbers are usually marked in increments of five.

So if you have A50, you’ll locate the post that might have something like “50 to 55” marked and that is where you will need to go.

Southwest boarding post

You will then stand in that space and as the other four passengers start to accumulate in that area you will usually sort yourselves out by asking each other what boarding spot they have.

If you have A50, you will be in front of that little “50 to 55” section but if you had something like A53 you would be in the middle. Not all passengers care about getting in the exact order but some do.

Once you find where you need to stand, you’ll simply wait for them to start boarding and proceed to make your way to the plane. Once you’re inside the plane, you can choose any seat since seats are not assigned with Southwest.

As unconventional as it might sound from other airlines like United , the boarding procedures are usually pretty smooth.

Southwest planes at airport

What order does Southwest board its planes?

Although there are only three boarding groups, the actual boarding pass issuance process is actually more complex.

Below is the order that boarding passes will be issued, which also determines the order that you will board the plane.

Note that Southwest will usually not call for people to board by these categories. For example, they are not going to ask for all the “A-List” or “EarlyBird” members to board.

Instead, they will call groups up by boarding pass group number. You will hear something like, “now boarding all passengers with Group A boarding passes numbered one through 30.”

So below is the order that you can expect boarding passes to be issued/the order boarding will go.

Passengers already on the plane

Some passengers may already be on the plane depending on the origin of the flight. But if some passengers got off the plane for a layover, they might be among the first to board.

This means that you could have a Business Select ticket, and still have several people board before you depending on the size of the crowds.

Preboarding

Preboarding is available for “customers who have a specific seating need to accommodate their disability and/or need assistance in boarding the aircraft or stowing an assistive device.”

(Those with service animals will usually be included in this group as well.)

This is also when unaccompanied minors board the plane.

Other passengers who might board at this time are those with large camera equipment, instruments, and certain other select people like those who need an extra seat .

This group will be able to board before anybody else despite whatever boarding group or boarding number they are issued.

Because of the open seat policy for Southwest, passengers using preboarding may come under more scrutiny than other airlines.

So if you want to use preboarding with Southwest, it’s a good idea to inquire at the check-in counter about getting that on your boarding pass. In addition, you can also add a special service request to your booking.

Business Select

The next individuals to board are those who purchased Business Select fares. (This will be the first group to be issued boarding passes beginning with Group A.)

Southwest doesn’t offer a traditional first class but they do offer Business Select fares, which offer you the highest earning rate for Rapid Rewards. (More on those tickets below).

After passengers who have purchased Business Select fares, those who were upgraded to Business Select will be issued boarding passes.

A-list Preferred

The next to get boarding passes will be A-List Preferred , which is the top-tier elite status offered by Southwest.

You can qualify for A-List Preferred by flying 50 one-way qualifying segments or earning 70,000 qualifying points.

Once you qualify for A-List Preferred, you’ll receive a 100% bonus on Rapid Rewards earned, priority check-in, and security lane access. You’ll also get free in-flight wifi (on planes equipped with wifi) and the ability to get on earlier flights for free.

A-list is the bottom-tier elite status just below A-List Preferred and so they get boarding passes right after A-List Preferred.

A-List can be achieved by flying 25 one-way qualifying segments or earning 35,000 qualifying points.

Once you qualify for A-List, you’ll receive a 25% bonus on Rapid Rewards earned, priority check-in, and security lane access.

The next passengers to get boarding passes will be those with EarlyBird.

Southwest EarlyBird automatically checks you in 36 hours prior to departure and while it does not guarantee an A boarding spot, it will offer you a much better chance of getting a window or aisle seat. Be aware that recently, Southwest Airlines made a change so that Early Bird Check-in is not available on all flights.

Read more below on whether or not it’s worth it.

Boarding Group A/B

After EarlyBird passengers are issued boarding passes then boarding passes are issued based on the number of slots left over for Group A.

As mentioned, it is possible that there are no Group A boarding spots left for some EarlyBird passengers so the next boarding passes issued could be for Group B.

Also, some people falling into certain categories below might always be able to board right after Group A.

Need extra time

Something interesting about Southwest is that they state that if “a Customer with a disability simply needs a little extra time to board, we will permit the Customer to board before Family Boarding, between the “A” and “B” groups.”

Technically, this goes against the rules for preboarding because even people who only need a little extra time during boarding should qualify for preboarding.

Family boarding

If you are traveling with a kid 6 or under, you should be able to board in between Group A and Group B (this is the family boarding time ).

A-List (last minute)

Also, if you’re A-List and you purchased a last minute ticket you’ll be able to board between Group A and Group B.

And finally, military members (usually in uniform but not always) can board between Group A and Group B. If you’re not traveling in your uniform, consider showing your military ID to a gate agent and inquiring about priority boarding.

Boarding Group B

Once boarding Group A is filled up, then boarding Group B boarding passes will be issued.

If you’re in boarding Group B, you can still get a decent seat if you’re in B1 to B30, but the closer you get to boarding Group C, the tougher it’s going to be to get your desired seat.

However, if you’re okay with sitting in the rear of the plane, it will be easier to find desirable seats or seats together.

Boarding Group C

Once boarding Group B is filled up, then boarding Group C boarding passes will be issued.

Most of the time if you’re in Group C, it’s going to be very difficult to get a window seat or aisle seat. Head towards the back for your best odds.

Standbys will be the last to board.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hg9a8jRGsVM[/embedyt]

Southwest boarding area

Companion Pass Boarding

The Southwest Companion Pass allows a partner to fly for free with you for up to two full calendar years and it’s one of the most valuable travel perks sought by many.

When you utilize the Companion Pass you and your partner will not necessarily get boarding passes right next to each other. Southwest did run a trial allowing companions to board next to each other but I’m unaware of the results of the trial.

Why do boarding groups matter?

Besides just being able to board the plane quicker and choose your desired seat (window or aisle), there are two specific reasons why you’d want a higher boarding pass.

Southwest has a generous baggage policy where they allow you to check two bags for free.

As for carry-ons, it’s the same baggage policy that most other major airlines have for their standard tickets: 1 personal item and 1 carry-on.

So by getting a better boarding position, you’ll be able to guarantee that you’ll have overhead storage for your bags.

Emergency row seats

Emergency exit rows on Southwest planes have extra legroom and/or have rows with only two seats which are great for couples.

By securing a higher boarding pass, your flight can become a lot more enjoyable as you’ll have more room.

Southwest usually flies 737-700s and 737-800s and the 737-800s have more emergency exit rows with only two seats, so it’s a good idea to check ahead of time (if possible) to see which type of aircraft you are flying on.

Southwest seats

Southwest seating details (seating chart)

If you’re flying Southwest, chances are you’ll be flying on a 737-700 or a 737-800.

You might be wondering about how much room you’ll have with your Southwest seating and here’s what you can expect:

  • 737-700 — Pitch (leg room): 31 inches; width 17 inches
  • 737-800 — Pitch (leg room): 32 to 33 inches; width 17 inches
  • 737-800MAX — Pitch (leg room): 32 to 33 inches; width 17.8 inches

So as you can see, when it comes to Southwest seating, you’ll get more leg room with the 737-800 according to SeatGuru and you’ll have a wider seat with the 737-800 Max.

.8 inches might now sound like that much but every little bit helps when you’re flying. You can view the Southwest seating charts here . 

Southwest seats

Get the best seat selection (Southwest priority boarding)

There are a few ways that you can secure “priority boarding” with Southwest.

I put that in quotations because there aren’t true priority boarding groups but there are some ways you can effectively get priority boarding and get the best seat selection.

If you purchase a Business Select fare, you’ll be guaranteed a boarding position A1 to A15.

Business Select fares are usually just a little bit more expensive than Anytime fares but they allow you to earn more points and also offer the following benefits:

  • Guaranteed A1-A15 boarding
  • Fly By lane access
  • Free premium drink
  • 12 Rapid Rewards per dollar spent
  • Fully refundable fare

You can read more on whether or not Business Select fares are worth it here . 

Upgrade to Business Select

Instead of purchasing Business Select fares you can also upgrade.

The cost to upgrade to Business Select varies from  $30 to $50 per segment , depending on the route.

To upgrade, simply approach the ticket counter or desk at the departure gate and inquire about the upgrade.

Sometimes they make you upgrade at the gate reserved for your flight but other times you can do it at check-in or at another Southwest gate.

Southwest should be able to tell you exactly what boarding number you’d receive before you upgrade so you can see if it’s worth it.

Update: you can now upgrade online at the time of check-in!

The Southwest Priority Credit Card offers up to four upgrades to priority boarding (A1 to A15) based on availability per year.

Among other benefits, it also offers a $75 annual credit,  20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and movies, and  20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and movies. It’s not a bad way to cover those upgrades to Business Select if you only need to cover a few of those a year. 

Southwest EarlyBird

Another option to secure a priority boarding position is to go with Southwest EarlyBird.

This will automatically check you in 36 hours prior to departure.

EarlyBird does not guarantee an A boarding pass but it will almost always get you a boarding pass that will allow you to get an aisle or window seat.

For the most part, you should be able to get a window seat or aisle seat just by checking in yourself 24 hours before your flight. (It’s often possible to get an A boarding pass checking in on your own.)

However, if you won’t be available to check in 24 hours prior or you don’t think that you’ll remember then EarlyBird could be worth it.

EarlyBird used to cost $10 each way and then it was increased to $15 each way. But recently, the pricing was changed to dynamic pricing so it could cost up to $25.

Good News: The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card now offers two annual credits for Southwest EarlyBird!

You can read more about whether or not Southwest EarlyBird is worth it here.

does southwest give seat assignments

Can you save seats on Southwest?

There’s a lot of debate as to whether or not its acceptable to save seats on Southwest flights.

For the most part it does seem to be frowned upon but you can usually save seats within reason.

Generally, saving seats at the rear of the plane is not an issue , especially if you’re trying to keep your family together.

With that said, if you have a very large group, you might be inviting some issues since saving multiple rows can get a little messy at times.

Also, you don’t want to save seats in the front of the plane, as that might lead to confrontations. In addition, it’s usually not a good idea to save seats in the emergency exit rows as those are usually in high demand.

Tip: One trick I’ve done in the past is to get the flight attendant to occupy a seat as people board and people will usually pass over that seat.

Can groups board together?

Southwest will allow you to board in groups even if your boarding passes are not directly before or after each other.

The catch is that they want you to board with the member who has the lowest boarding pass.

So for example, let’s say there are three of you and you have the following boarding passes:

Southwest will ask that A25 and A60 board with B30.

This is to preserve the “integrity” of the boarding process since it actually doesn’t affect the boarding waiting time of any of the other passengers.

How to print a Southwest boarding pass?

You can easily print your boarding pass by checking in online.

You can print your boarding pass  online  at Southwest.com or at the airport using a self-service kiosk on the day of departure.

Southwest also allows you to board with a electronic or mobile boarding passes. You can request a mobile boarding pass at the time of check-in on Southwest.com, the Southwest.com mobile site, or the Southwest mobile app for iPhone or Android.

But note that mobile boarding passes are not currently available to passengers traveling on international flights.

Southwest Tips

If you want to learn more tips about flying for Southwest click here.

Also, if you want to earn more Rapid Rewards, be sure to check out the Southwest Shopping Portal . 

Southwest boarding FAQ

You can get the best boarding group on Southwest by purchasing or upgrading to Business Select. Upgrading will cost you $30-$50 per segment. You can also get a better boarding position by having A-List status. By purchasing EarlyBird, you can also increase your odds of getting in the first boarding group although it is not guaranteed.

Southwest does not allow you to select your seat prior to the flight.

Opinions are mixed on saving seats with Southwest Airlines. The best advice is to save seats in the back of the plane if you must and try to avoid saving multiple rows at a time when flying with a large group.

A-List will board directly after Business Select. First, A-List Preferred will board and then following them A-List will board.

Family boarding (which is offered to families traveling with a kid 6 or under), allows you to board between Group A and Group B.

Typically, if you have a boarding position under B30 you should be able to find a window or aisle seat. The further back in the plane you decide to sit, the more likely you will find a window or aisle seat.

Standby passengers will be the last to board.

You generally will have 31 to 32 inches of legroom.

No, Southwest stopped doing the special boarding process in March 2021.

Southwest boarding policies are pretty straight forward.

There are a few ways that you can get priority boarding though they all come with different degrees of assurance.

does southwest give seat assignments

Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo . He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio .

One comment

Hey Daniel, do you have any insight on this phenomenon? I was standing in line at A54 and noticed that there were a LOT of empty spots in front of me (A31-A53) in a random array. There were even quite a few sporadic spots in the A16-A30 line next to me. After those A16-A30 people boarded the B1-B30 lined up and there were about 10 people with huge gaps between them. The flight was obviously not full and only had about 75 people flying (lucky me!). It was also an early flight (5am). There’s no way that 60+ people cancelled their trips at the last minute leaving these huge gaps, but it made me wonder how a person could be assigned B2, for example, the next person B8, then B12, etc. with no reasoning to the gap sizes. Again, this is assuming that half of the people on the flight were no shows or late cancellations – highly unlikely, especially because the flight check in lady confirmed that the flight was never fully sold.

It makes me think that SWA is assigning random line assignments Not in numerical order. With 75 passengers you would expect the bottom half of the A group and the first part of the B group to all be together. I get that they leave a little space for A List Preferred and all of that, but it’s odd that someone was assigned B2 and the next person that checked in was assigned B8 or whatever.

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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?

does southwest give seat assignments

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.

does southwest give seat assignments

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

does southwest give seat assignments

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

does southwest give seat assignments

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

does southwest give seat assignments

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

does southwest give seat assignments

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.

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The Best Seats When Flying on Southwest Airlines [2024]

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The Best Seats When Flying on Southwest Airlines [2024]

Why Fly Southwest Airlines?

Southwest airlines boarding process, boeing 737-700, boeing 737-800, boeing 737 max 8, the best seats if you’re flying with young kids, the best seats for the most legroom, the best seats if you’re a nervous flyer, the best seats if you’ve got a short connection time, the best seats if you want an empty seat next to you, the best seats if you want to recline, the best seats if you’re traveling with a large group, the best seats if you’re sick, the best seats if you want your drinks first, final thoughts.

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Having the right seat on your flight can sometimes make or break your day (or trip). Unlike other airlines, Southwest has an open seating policy . That means you can choose any open seat on the plane once it’s your turn to board.

But if you aren’t a frequent flyer, how do you know which seat will be right for you? Here are some tips about choosing the best seat on Southwest Airlines so you’ll have the most comfortable flight possible.

Why would you even want to fly on Southwest Airlines anyway? There are a lot of reasons — here are just a few:

  • 2 free checked bags
  • No cancellation or change fees
  • The Southwest Companion Pass
  • Free inflight entertainment
  • Lots of great destinations, including Hawaii and the Caribbean

Since the Southwest Airlines boarding process is a bit different than other airlines, let’s take a quick look at the basics.

You’ll board your Southwest flight based on a boarding group (A, B, or C) and boarding number (1 to 60). Once you’re on the plane, you can choose any open seat.

Southwest boarding area at CMH

Your boarding position is based on a few factors:

  • Check-in Time: Check-in begins 24 hours before your flight is due to depart; the earlier you check-in, the better your boarding position.
  • Type of Ticket: Business Select tickets are automatically assigned an A1 to A15 boarding position.
  • Elite Status: If you have  A-List or A-List Preferred status , you’ll be able to board before the B group regardless of your boarding position.
  • EarlyBird Check-In: If you purchase EarlyBird Check-In , you will be automatically checked in up to 36 hours ahead of time for a better boarding position. Free EarlyBird Check-In comes as a perk with select Southwest credit cards .
  • Upgraded Boarding: You can purchase Upgraded Boarding beginning 24 hours before departure, if available, which will get you an A1 to A15 boarding pass. Select Southwest credit cards come with free Upgraded Boarding passes.
  • Preboarding: Travelers with disabilities, active-duty military members, and families traveling with children ages 6 and under can board between groups A and B if they do not receive an A boarding pass.

Hot Tip: While you might be inclined to always purchase EarlyBird Check-In , you won’t need it if you’re traveling with a child 6 years old or younger, have A-List or A-List Preferred status, have a Business Select or Anytime ticket, are active-duty military, have a disability, or are planning to purchase Upgraded Boarding.

Southwest Airlines Seat Configurations

Southwest Airlines flies only Boeing 737 planes . Currently, Southwest uses 3 types of 737: Boeing 737-700, Boeing 737-800, and Boeing 737 MAX 8. A fourth type of plane, the Boeing 737 MAX 7, will be coming in the next couple of years to replace some of the older 737-700 planes.

The Boeing 737-700 has 143 seats, and it accounts for  60% of Southwest Airlines’ fleet. Each seat has a width of 17 inches and a pitch of 31 inches.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 700 new

The slightly larger Boeing 737-800 has 175 seats, each with a width of 17 inches and a pitch of 32 to 33 inches.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 800 new

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes are the newest addition to the Southwest fleet. Each plane has 175 seats with a width of 17.8 inches and a pitch of 32 to 33 inches.

Southwest Boeing 737 MAX 8 seat map

The Best Seats on Southwest Airlines

These tips have been collected from countless flights on Southwest Airlines. Keep in mind that since Southwest Airlines has open seating, a specific seat is never guaranteed — not even if you have an A1 boarding position. The flight could have passengers that are staying on the aircraft from the previous flight!

Flying with kids can be interesting. Even the most seasoned young travelers are prone to meltdowns and tantrums occasionally. If you’re flying with kids on Southwest , head to the back of the plane. You’ll want to do this for a few reasons.

  • You’ll find the most empty seats in the back of the plane, so you’ll likely be able to find seats together. If you’re traveling with kids 6 and under, you’ll be able to utilize family boarding. Family boarding happens after the A group, so there shouldn’t be a need to purchase EarlyBird Check-In to guarantee seats together.
  • Sitting in one of the very last rows will put you near the bathrooms and flight attendants. This can be crucial if you end up with a kid who’s sick, messy, or just “kind of” potty-trained.
  • Most people with kids tend to end up near the back of the plane, so you’ll be among passengers who may be understanding if your toddler cries during the entire flight.

Everyone loves extra legroom on a flight and the good news is that Southwest offers more legroom than most other domestic carriers.

However, if you’re really tall , that still might not cut it. Sure, there’s more legroom in the bulkhead and exit rows , but there are 1 or 2 coveted seats on every Southwest flight that you’ll really want to find.

There is a window seat behind the exit row that doesn’t have any seat in front of it, giving you a ridiculous amount of legroom . It’ll be seat 12A on the Boeing 737-700, seats 16A and 16F on the Boeing 737-800, and seats 16A and 16F on the Boeing 737 MAX 8.

You need some luck to get this seat. Your chances are determined by your boarding position and the number of Business Select passengers ahead of you. Business Select passengers tend to be seasoned business travelers who know about this seat.

The Money Seat on Southwest Airlines

If you don’t have a Business Select ticket, but really want this seat, you may want to consider paying for Upgraded Boarding . Different from EarlyBird Check-In, an Upgraded Boarding position can be purchased at the gate or added at check-in if available. This will get you an A1-15 boarding pass and will give you a good chance at getting your desired seat.

These credit cards come with 4 Upgraded Boarding passes per year:

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

If you’re not a fan of turbulence (and, really, who is) look for seats over the wings. These seats offer the smoothest ride. Additionally, seats toward the front of the plane will shield you from turbulence more than seats at the back of the plane, where you’ll feel any up-and-down bobbing more.

If you’ve got a short connection time, you’ll want to get off the plane as quickly as possible. The bulkhead seats (first row) will be your best bet . However, these seats tend to go pretty quickly. If you’re really short on time, you may want to consider paying to upgrade your boarding position. As mentioned, some Southwest credit cards come with free Upgraded Boarding passes.

If you choose the bulkhead, remember that you won’t be able to put a carry-on or personal item in front of you , so everything will need to be stored in the overhead bins.

If the bulkhead seats are already full, choose the first aisle seat you see.

Hot Tip: Looking for a great credit card that will earn tons of points? Check out our guide to the best credit cards for Southwest Airlines flyers .

There’s never a guarantee that you’ll have an empty seat next to you, but you can do your best to be one of the lucky ones if your flight isn’t full. After boarding, head towards the back of the plane, and grab a seat that’s about three-quarters of the way back .

Once the last people have boarded and are looking for an aisle or window seat, they have a tendency to go toward the back of the plane before admitting defeat and taking a middle seat. If you’re just a little way up from the very back, you stand your best chance of missing these people and ending up with an empty seat next to you.

If you’re looking forward to putting your seat back to take a little snooze on your flight, be sure to choose a row that can actually recline.

You’ll want to avoid the exit rows, the row in front of the exit row, plus the last row of seats on the airplane. These seats typically do not recline at all.

Southwest Airlines Exit Row

These rows may have limited or no recline on Southwest Airlines:

  • Boeing 737-700 : Rows 10, 11, and 24
  • Boeing 737-800 : Rows 13, 14, 15, and 30
  • Boeing 737 MAX 8 : Rows 13, 14, 15, and 30

If you’re traveling with a large group and you all want to sit together, your best bet will be to head to the back of the plane . It’s probably not necessary to purchase EarlyBird Check-In as long as your whole party can remember to check in exactly 24 hours ahead of time. You’ll most likely end up with boarding positions in the B boarding group, which should be enough to get most of your group together.

Flying while you’re sick isn’t fun for anyone. While it’s best to stay home if you can, sometimes you have to get on a plane when you aren’t feeling your best. If this is the case, head for the last row of the plane. This way, you’ll be close to the bathroom and most of the passengers will face away from you, so you can be as discreet as possible.

However, if you have a tendency towards motion sickness , a seat over the wings will be your best bet to avoid as much turbulence as possible.

If you want to be the first to get a drink on your Southwest flight, you’ll want to choose your seat wisely. On a 737-700, choose rows 1, 9, or 17. On a 737-800 or 737 MAX 8, you’ll want to choose rows 1, 9, 16, or 23 for the fastest drink service.

Flying on Southwest Airlines can be great — you won’t have to pay to check your bags and you can change your flight with no penalty. Plus, you can choose any seat you want once you’re on the plane. While that might be a little confusing at first, once you know what you’re doing, it’s a great system.

Knowing what type of flyer you are can help guide you to the right seat. Once you know what works best for you, you’ll be boarding your flights like a pro.

Frequently Asked Questions

What rows have the most legroom on southwest airlines.

If legroom is what you’re after, you’ll want to look for a seat in the first row (the bulkhead) of the aircraft or the exit rows. If you’re flying on a Boeing 737-700, the absolute most legroom is in seat 12A which is missing the seat in front of it. On a Boeing 737-800 or Boeing 737 MAX 8, the seats with the most legroom are 16A and 16F.

Can families sit together on Southwest?

Yes, if you’re traveling with young children you will be able to sit together. When you are traveling with a child 6 years old or younger, you’ll be able to use family boarding which takes place before the B group. This ensures you’ll be able to find seats together. If you aren’t traveling with young children, head to the back of the plane when you board for your best chances of finding seats together.

How do you get priority boarding on Southwest?

If you’d like a better boarding position on Southwest, there are a few ways to get it.

  • You can purchase a Business Select ticket which will automatically come with an A1 to A15 boarding position.
  • You can purchase EarlyBird Check-In which will automatically check you in up to 36 hours ahead of time (EarlyBird Check-In comes free with Anytime tickets).
  • You can purchase an Upgraded Boarding position beginning 24 hours before departure if there are spaces available. This will give you an A1 to A15 boarding position.

Where should I sit on a Southwest flight?

The best place to sit on a Southwest flight depends on a few factors. If you want extra legroom, look for the bulkhead seats or exit row seats. If you want the best chance of having an empty seat next to you, head to the mid-back of the plane. If you’ve got a tight connection, stick to an aisle seat in the front of the plane.

What row on Southwest gets drinks first?

To get the fastest drink service on a Southwest Airlines flight, choose row 1, 9, or 17 on a 737-700, or choose row 1, 9, 16, or 23 on a 737-800 or 737 MAX 8.

What is the best seat on Southwest Airlines?

While the best seat can be subjective, seats with the most legroom are often the most coveted. These seats include the bulkhead seats (row 1), the exit row seats, and the window seats behind the exit row door (seat 12A on the Boeing 737-700 and seats 16A and 16F on the Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 737 MAX 8).

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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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Your conspiracy theories about Southwest’s boarding policy are wrong

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

does southwest give seat assignments

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.

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“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 .

does southwest give seat assignments

The Travel Sisters

Tips on how to get a good seat on southwest airlines.

by Matilda | Mar 24, 2021 | Family Travel , Southwest , Tips | 103 comments

Tips on How to Get a Good Seat on Southwest Airlines

Learn how the Southwest Airlines seating process works.

Southwest Airlines has a unique open seating policy – basically, seats are not assigned. When you check in for your Southwest flight, you are assigned a boarding group. Your boarding group and position determine the order in which you will be allowed to board the flight. Upon boarding the flight, you may choose any open seat.

Learn about Southwest Airlines boarding groups.

When you check in for your Southwest flight, you are assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and a boarding position (1-60). During the Southwest boarding process , passengers are instructed to line up in order based on their boarding group and position.  So, passengers holding A group boarding passes board first, then B, then C. Within each group, passengers will line up based on their numbers.  For example, A1 will board before A20.

The key to getting a good seat on Southwest is, obviously, to board early.

I’ve found that an A group or early B group (B1-B30) is always sufficient to provide me with several good open seats and plenty of overhead bin space. B31-B60 can be okay too but it depends on how many people you are traveling with, how full the flight is and whether the flight is connecting from somewhere else. The C group usually means “center seat” and may require you to also gate check overhead bags.

Southwest Airlines Seating Tips How To Get A Good Seat on Southwest Airlines

Check in EXACTLY 24 hours before your flight.

If you would like to get a good seat on your next Southwest Airlines flight, follow this rule. Check in opens 24 hours before your flight’s scheduled departure time. The earlier you check in, the earlier your spot in line will be. Many passengers will also be checking in 24 hours before the flight so a few minutes or seconds can make a big difference in your boarding group or position.  This is especially true on weekdays.  My strategy is to set an alarm or calendar entry five minutes before check in opens.  I pull up my reservation, enter all the necessary details (name, confirmation number) and wait.  As soon as the clock hits the time check-in opens, I hit that check in now button.

If you are unsure whether you will be able to check-in 24 hours prior to your flight, purchase Southwest EarlyBird Check-In.

I prefer not to spend any more money than I have to but found Southwest EarlyBird Check-In useful for those occasions I know I will not be able to manually check in.  The cost for Southwest Early Bird Check In is $15 – $25 one-way per passenger depending on the length of flight and popularity. 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 Early Bird Check In does not guarantee an A boarding position, but you most likely will be in the A or early B group. (See related post :  Is Southwest Early Bird Check In Worth It? ).

Pay even more money or fly more often to guarantee early boarding.

The only way to absolutely guarantee an A1-A15 boarding position on Southwest is to purchase a Business Select fare. This isn’t the most attractive option for leisure passengers though as the fare is more expensive.

If you still want a crack at that A1-A15 spot but don’t want to purchase a Business Select fare, you can try Upgraded Boarding .  Warning: this is not a guaranteed option as it may not be available.  On the day of travel, inquire at the gate or ticket counter before the boarding process begins.  If Upgraded Boarding is available, you can secure a boarding position in the A1-A15 group for $30, $40 or $50 per flight, depending on your itinerary.

Note: If you have a Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority or Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business credit card (our referral links), you will be reimbursed for the purchase of up to 4 Upgraded Boardings each anniversary year .

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards members with A-List and A-List Preferred elite status get priority boarding ahead of general boarding.

Traveling with a child? Familiarize yourself with Southwest family boarding.

Children age six years or younger and a guardian may board during Southwest Family Boarding, which occurs after the “A” group has boarded and before the “B” group begins boarding. If you have an A group boarding pass, go ahead and board with the A group instead of waiting for family boarding.

Don’t arrive late to the gate for your flight.

I repeat, don’t arrive late to the gate for your Southwest flight. There is no point in having an A or B boarding group if you will show up to your flight right before the airplane door closes. Sometimes that can’t be helped if your connecting flight was delayed so I guess at that point, just sit in your middle seat and be thankful you caught your flight.

If you have an early boarding group but by the time you arrive at your gate they are boarding a later group, don’t be shy. Immediately step to the front of the line to scan your boarding pass.  No one will think you are line cutting.

Does Southwest have First Class? No. All seats are economy and Southwest boarding process is first come first serve.

What is a best seat on Southwest?

The best seat on Southwest depends on your own personal needs.  Passengers with a connecting flight might need to sit in the front so they can deplane quicker.  Taller passengers might have an eye on snagging an exit row seat. Larger groups and families traveling with small children might want to make sure they can sit together. Personally, when traveling solo I like an aisle seat – especially one with an empty middle seat next to it. When traveling with my kids, I prefer sitting towards the back.

Find out how full the flight is before you board.

Sometimes Southwest gate agents make an announcement whether the flight is full. If not, I will ask. This is helpful in knowing whether I have a chance at my coveted aisle plus empty middle seat scenario.  On a completely full Southwest flight, I would choose an aisle seat with the middle seat already occupied by someone I wouldn’t mind sitting next to. Similarly, it would be helpful for someone traveling with a lap child to know whether an empty middle seat might be available.

Choose wisely what section of the plane you pick a seat.

Obviously not an exact science but often, older travelers and those with connecting flights seem to choose the front of the plane.  Families typically head towards the back, where they hope to find seats together and maybe an empty middle seat for a lap child.  My sweet spot on Southwest flights is from the middle of the plane to two-thirds of the way back.  The reasoning is that the front middle seats will fill up quickly with people resigned to their middle seat predicament or eager to disembark.  Also, people tend to pass up the middle section of the plane in hopes a random aisle or window seat can be found at the back.  Once they are at the back, they will likely just grab any seat there since it is so difficult to turn around.

Saving seats on Southwest Airlines is controversial and murky.

No one likes to spend any more money than they have to.  For some passengers, this means resorting to “seat saving”.  It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what Southwest’s policy is on saving seats as it is not uniformly enforced. Many people won’t necessarily mind if someone is saving a middle seat next to them for a traveling companion that is close behind but some passengers take it to the extreme.  I’ve witnessed one man board early and attempt to block off a number of seats (on a full flight) for multiple travel companions with a C group. The flight attendant intervened but that is not always the case.

Recognize sneaky and dishonest tactics.

Much like the extreme seat-savers, some people think getting a seat on a plane is a no-holds barred type of thing.  I’ve heard of passengers attempting to keep seats empty by pretending a nonexistent/imaginary travel companion is simply in the bathroom.  Not only is this dishonest but also silly- what happens if they sit nearby and clearly no one returns from the bathroom? Conflict with fellow passengers is never a good thing.

On the less extreme end, sometimes two people traveling together try to block off a middle seat.  This is great for late boarders.  If you spot one of these twosomes, make a beeline for their row and ask to sit in the middle. Most likely, they will offer up either their aisle or window seat.

How to Get a Good Seat on Southwest Airlines

103 Comments

Or you can sit in the middle of a couple and have them talk over you and pass things back and forth for four hours…my recent experience! But I guess sometimes you just get unlucky. But some of your other tips seem worth a try!

Ick, that sounds like a pretty bad flight!

Did you offer to switch seats with one of them?

My friend and I take an isle and a window, our personal preferences. If you take the middle we will not be moving which seems to surprise some passengers. If you are fun, join in our conversations

S Jumps I would join in on the conversation by asking why the two of you think you are worth three seats.

Best response ever

Did he say they’re worth two seats? Do they somehow make the third seat unavailable? NO! He said they both sit where they like and if someone comes to sit in the middle, that’s cool. They don’t swap seats just to be near their friends. Good God some people!

I would smack the shit out of your hands if you passed anything over me. I don’t mind getting apple juice all over me as long as it gets my point across.

You would then get your face smashed in and be on a breathing tube for the rest of your life… and yes, the jail time would be worth it

Internet warriors.

Are you and your friend portly people? You require that extra middle seat to share your snacks and arm rolls?

And I’d do a Taliban on your ass if you touched me

Yeah… That’s called “self-importance” and fits perfectly into how modern day people think of themselves and others. In a world of common decency, the person with the aisle seat would offer to switch with the person in the middle. It’s called “courtesy” but I’m guessing that doesn’t fit into your worldview, moron.

My girlfriend and I do this. Take the isle and window and hope no one comes. But if they do, the above is correct, we’ll offer them window. As I like Isle and my girlfriend will just move over.

Nobody is worth two seats. We just want to sit together. And we just try to pick who we’d prefer to sit with by offering them a seat. It’s no different than picking what middle seat you want to sit in by who’s already there.

Hey, you do what you have to do to be comfortable for a long flight.

You would think that because the passengers are doing all the work here, the tickets would be dirt cheap. Passengers also should be able to get their round trip tickets once and for all. This 24 hour nonsence is horrible, especially if you are away on vacation and 24 hours before you leave you have to remember to get your boarding pass arrangements done. Think about it,we go online, book our flight, go through the 24 hour process and get back online to arrange your own boarding passes. I have tried paying the extra $15 and ended up in Group C! What a ripoff! I did a lot of flying with Southwest, but have not because they do not try to improve any of this. It is a shame because they are a convenient airline for me with very little delays, free baggage, however, their prices have escalated which probably include baggage fees unknown to the passenger.

I guess you only fly SW and think the grass in greener, but SW often runs $100+ less than the competition Basic Economy. This is a new fare that is below economy. This doesn’t even included access to the overhead bin.

One more tips. Before you board, ask if flight is oversold. In lots of cases, the gate agent would let you preboard and sit in the first row so he/she could easily locate you if the flight is actually oversold and a volunteer is needed.

That’s a good one- thanks for sharing!

Unfortunately, I have seen many instances where one passenger purchases early-bird boarding and saves a seat for a traveling companion who boards later. The flight attendants do nothing.

Yeah, I’ve seen flight attendants let it slide too a few times but usually in those cases the second person wasn’t too far behind.

You should just tell them, “Oh, well where are they?” They should have been here if they wanted it.” That easy, seriously. If that is the case, tell them you had that seat they are in already saved before you got on the plane. If they complain or say I sat here first though, say, “Exactly” and just sit down. People are just too submissive.

Nice write up. One thing I’ve noticed is that the FA’S will keep preboarders from sitting in exit rows for obvious reasons. If the flight is super light just wait until everyone has boarded and then go toward the back. Most people want to sit up front. I’ve been on planes where it is totally full in the first 15 rows and nearly empty in the back. People are funny like that.

Thanks! You’re right, people are sometimes in a hurry just to get settled anywhere they grab the first open seat they find.

Thank – you so much for taking the time to write this excellent and complete guide. I’m sure many people, like me, have found very helpful

Who benefits from this idiotic seating policy? Wish Southwest would change this system. Boarding doesn’t move any faster.

Just fly elsewhere, this seating policy sucks.

I just wish southwest would make people with the those huge overstuffed over head bags sit in the back of the plane.I missed a connecting flight because I was seated further back and had to wait almost 30 minutes for families and people trying to maneuver those big bags.I never take extra bags.just a tote that fits under the seat.

I always just have one regulation size bag that goes in the overhead and is really easy to manage. If it takes that long to maneuver a bag it probably should just be checked in- bummer missing a connection.

I agree. Also one time I decided to put my computer bag up top and people kept trying to push their oversize baggage into it and when I got it out I found it was ripped from some idiot.

I also note the number of wheelchairs (all are pre-boarded along with family members traveling with the wheelchair passenger). These passengers take front seats. If a passenger requiring a wheelchair is traveling alone, however, I’ve noticed that the seats next to them are often open and available.

That’s a good one- especially if you need to be up front to catch a connection.

Some people don’t like the bulkhead seats because there are no trays so you have to hold drinks and or food. What i dont like is that those seats are not kept open for handicapped people who board when that flight was a continuing flight and those passengers are allowed to move to different seats. I had this happen when my handicapped mom and i were on a continuing flight and 2 other bigger guys moved to the bulkhead seats. Then there were handicapped passengers boarding who had to take further seats back. I think southwest needs to change that procedure. Another situation in which i voiced my opion mightily was when our flight was delayed and my mom, which they knew she was handicapped, didnt keep an open seat up front for her and i. We ended up way in the back with her in a middle seat and me in a middle seat further back. She is very hard of hearing so she kept looking at me everytime an announcement came over the pa. If the flight had had difficulty i would not b near her to help her. Its time southwest starts doing seat assignments. It takes just about the same amount of time or longer to board a southwest flight as other airlines. It would b so much easier particularly with all the stupid people who bring big duffles etc on board.

Southwest is Southwest. You really need to fly with someone else. Why would you want to change the only airline with unassigned seating? So many of us love their procedures. I’m partially handicapped. I don’t expect people to wait on me, just give me a little more time. As long as I can get on that plane and get a seat…I’m happy to be going. I love Southwest.

I agree. Southwest is southwest. Overall their my airline of choice domestically for short to mid-range flights. Each airline has different boarding procedures so it sounds like individuals that need customized travel options should go with another carrier. I sometimes do this when I travel. For example when I’m flying to coast to coast or a two to three convection I go with another carrier.

From these comments I think I will stick with United and know I have the seat I want

My son is handicapped and we usually take the first seats. Why? because he cannot walk very far and its easier. We don’t mind waiting to be the last off, as its much easier because they have the wheelchair waiting for us it lets all the others go ahead so there is no waiting. Yes we stay on the plane and do not change but we also stay in the same seats I cannot move to another seat as he is unable to communicate People have difference reasons for staying with the person that is handicapped. besides not able to walk very far he is also mentally chanallanged

I am handicapped and endured the same situation where people were already seated in the first row. I was confused cause there was no handicap first row. I asked the flight attendant where the handicap seating was and she flippantly gestured to the entire plane. I had to tell her that according to the law you must provide accomodations to the handicapped. She immediately changed her tune and asked for volunteers to move. I felt so empowered after that.

Great tips. I have seen many with an imaginary friend, some with two. They simply put all of their things on every seat in a row. Once an FA told somebody like that that they know all the tricks and made her move her stuff. Also encountered somebody with a high B ticket who said that she could stand at the very front of the B line. Even though several of us pointed out that she needs to find her number, she insisted on being in the front. I like Southwest because of their free luggage policy and the ability to bank money when changes are made.

It’s pretty funny when someone gets called out for sketchy behavior. Agree, Southwest’s change policy has come in handy more than a few times for me.

I could have really used these tips when I was selling travel! Great post!

Thanks glad you found them helpful!

The seating policy is the main reason I choose to not fly Southwest. Only time it’s beneficial for me is if I’m traveling with my toddler and get to take advantage of family boarding. Plus, I hate Midway.

I am kinda neutral on the seating policy but it does seem like most people either love or hate it.

I agree! Midway is a drag. I live close to ORD and I’m dreading that I had to book with Southwest out of Midway. Way cheaper and with my trip being in January I needed the flexibility to change if the weather was bad (cruise) and other airlines had little to no nonstop to Houston Hobby. Oh love the not nickel and dining you tho (bags,seats etc) that other airlines do.

its not so much the seating policy for me as it is the 3×3. Why not a 4 and a 2? id pay extra for the 2. would you?

Would love a 4 by 2 as well. I don’t particularly like sitting next to strangers as I require a lot of personal space.

Only fly 2-3 times per year; 3×3 ? Or 4×2 ? Hate the seating policy, love to sit with my wife. I must have an isle sit; I am extreame Claus-tro-pho-bic. The anxiety starts the day before the flight, and gets worse until the flight is over & then the return home!!! Most times the flight booking is done by someone else. When I am in control, I fly with other carriers. BTW, the horrible Clause -Tro-Pho-Bic Anxiety began 50 yrs ago by being pinned down in fire fights in war

Explain this; I check in to a flight the second it’s available and get B15. My friend checks in to the same flight hours later and gets A25. What’s up with that?

I am guessing your friend might have paid for EarlyBird check-in or maybe has A-List status.

I’m traveling for first time on Southwest with 5 family members (adults) and now worried this was bad decision. Nothing like getting stressed the first day of vacation! Suprised there haven’t been numerous altercations.

I don’t think it was necessarily a bad decision as there are a lot of positives about flying Southwest. You should be able to sit together as long as you can board early (in As or low Bs). I recommend putting an alarm and checking in exactly 24 hours before the flight time OR purchasing EarlyBird check-in. If you want to save money, 3 of you can pay for EarlyBird check-in and save the middle seats. I think seat saving is more an issue when 1 person is saving a lot of seats especially those in the aisle or window. On a positive note, I find that Southwest has more legroom than other airlines so you should have a more comfortable flight. Plus they don’t charge for checked bags.

Southwest planes are the DIRTIEST in the industry. Be sure to take disinfecting wipes with you and DON’T use the lavatory

Maybe that’s why the SW planes are so dirty. People aren’t using the bathrooms!

You should carry wipes no matter what plane you’re on. Some people are just nasty and the flight turn arounds aren’t enough time to clean up properly. This or they just don’t care enough.

I’ve written a guide (for myself) with assorted info for the first-time LUV flyer (again me). There’s lots of good tips here that I can add to my cheat-sheet. It’s helpful to be aware of all protocols before flying with them. By flying Southwest, I’m willing to relinquish an assigned seat (United) as long as I know how to get the best seat for me. Thanks!

How do you get on the A list or preferred list

A-list is for frequent flyers. You need to fly 25 qualifying one-way flights or earn 35,000 Tier Qualifying Points in a calendar year.

I will be flying Southwest from Milwaukee to Los Angels – then American Airlines to Hawaii and return to CA. In your opinion, how important is the TSA pre-check program for this type of flight?

Hi Freeman, Sorry for the delay in responding. While it is always nice to have TSA Precheck its value depends on how often you fly. I would not sign up for it only to use it on one trip. How often do you think you will be flying in the next 5 years? Do you knave any children under 13?

Thanks for your reply. We have no children under 13 nor any under 30. And we are in the 75 to 80 plus range, so I don’t know how many more years we might be traveling our selves. So even though we might get caught in a long line this time, based on the dollars, it likely won’t pay off to have the TSA Pre-check?

Probably not worth it to pay for TSA Precheck if will only use it once or twice in 5 years. It is hard to predict the future but I would suggest that each person should divide the cost of TSA by your estimate of how many flights you think you will take in the next 5 years to see how much you would pay for each use.

If you have a credit card that gives you free TSA Precheck then you might as well sign up.

You might also get TSA Precheck randomly on your boarding pass. In the past, seniors were likely to get TSA Precheck without even signing up.

Even if you do not have TSA Precheck, the line might not necessarily be long-it depends on many factors including what time and day you are flying. I would recommend going to the airport early to be on the safe side. You would have to take off shoes, jackets and belts which some people find annoying.

Thanks for the information and your help.

Now I’m worried – I just purchased 8 tickets – for me and my husband and our 8 children. The youngest one is 10, and it would be HORRIBLE if she couldn’t sit with one of us! The others are older and would love not sit with us, but I’m worried about the 10 year old! Is it possible that she would get a boarding number not by mine????

If you are all on the same reservation I think you would get nearby boarding positions.

Even if your boarding groups were not next to each other you can still board together – but you would have to board with the family member that had the last boarding position. (For example, if two people were traveling together and one had A40 while the other had B12, they would both have to board at B12 to be able to walk on the plane together.)

The key to all sit together is to board early (A group or early B group). I would recommend setting an alarm and checking in exactly 24 hours before your flight’s departure time.

We just had this happen on a full flight to Florida. I explained that my 10 year old could not sit alone and the crew asked if anyone could make room. No one responded so crew upped their game and offered free movie or drinks if someone would move to allow 2 free seats. If this happens to anyone speak up. Crew will work with uou

That is great advice. The crew does not want young children sitting alone and will usually help you sit together.

will be traveling with granddaughter and lap baby will I be allowed to board with her during family boarding in order to help with baby? This will also be first time for granddaughter to fly.

I think you would be allowed to board during family boarding. According to southwest: “An adult traveling with a child six years old or younger may board during Family Boarding, which occurs after the “A” group has boarded and before the “B” group begins boarding.”

Traveing southeest airline with a 88 year old individual, that uses a non electric wheel chair and has difficulty walking. Will this person be given pre boardimg seat assignment,early boarding and/or any other preferential treatment. Thanks for your assistance.

My first time flying southwest:

I checked in exactly 24 hours before the flight. Got boarding pass b17

Second time completely forgot, and checked in about 3- 4hr before the flight. Got A17.

So, The “early you check in the better” theory is down the drain. What I did noticed was: My first B position I paid 64 bucks for that flight. My second A17 boarding position I paid over $100 for that flights. So I guess that’s what really matters. Not how early you checked in.

We have flown on many Southwest flights and do find that, in general, the earlier you check in the better boarding position you get. One factor that affects your position is how many other people are also checking in early for that flight. For example, I have noticed that on weekday flights, I have to check in right at 24 hours because most of the people on those flights are experienced business travelers that also check in at 24 hours. On the other hand, I have checked in later for Sunday morning flights and still got a good boarding position. I have noticed that most people on Sunday flights are traveling for leisure for the weekend, are less experienced and too busy on Saturday to check in at the 24 hour mark. I wonder if that was a factor on your flights?

People may have bought early bird with a reservation. And were automatically checked-in by SW, then less than 24 hours before (even up to 10 minutes before flight) the flight if they cancel their reservation – their ‘A’ boarding position gets put back into the system and whoever checks in next gets that boarding position.

Here is a step by step guide I put together to setup automatic check-in on your own computer at the 24 hr mark – http://www.theartoftravelhacking.com/automatic-check-southwest-flights/

If you sign up for early bird check in, do you still need to check in as well to make sure you have a good boarding position? Or will it automatically show you when you log in what your boarding position is?

early bird checks you in automatically to get a good boarding position – but you will still have to print a boarding pass, get one at the airport kiosk, or pull it up on your phone before you head through security.

We signed up for the Early Bird check in. Does anybody know when I will be able to see what boarding position we received? If I log in 24 hours before the flight to check, will it be there already? Thank you for all of the other great information in this post and in the comments!

I see it when I log in 24 hours before my flight to print my boarding pass.

You’ll be able to see your boarding position right away at the 24 hour mark before you depart. Get the southwest App and they’ll send ya a push alert of your boarding position with early bird.

If you have a connecting flight, and have paid for early bird seating on the first flight, does it also apply to the second flight? We will have to change planes too!

This is one of these rules that often can vary. It should check you in but I’ve had times when I’ve had early bird that it checks in a B assignment.

This might already be mentioned by exit rows also have language, age and mobility requirements. Plus if your on a B737-700 series the window exit seat is removed on some of the aircraft. When in doubt check seat guru!

My husband and I are traveling with 5 children, the youngest being 5 years old. Does that mean that we can all board during family boarding?

In my experience, you will probably be fine. The issue Southwest tries to eliminate in Family Boarding is the opposite…4 adults trying to board with one child/toddler. Just check with the gate agent and be friendly.

Are seniors (85 years old) permitted to board a flight early, and if so, are there certain restrictions as to where they sit?

Recent experience would indicate that most people are paying for the early check in and/or that there are many A+ travelers that automatically get higher boarding numbers. Bottom line if you are an occasional SW flyer be prepared to be at the back of the bus. Checking in early will do you little good. I just checked in and got B51. Started hitting the check in button 2 minutes before my phone showed the exact 24 hour before wheels up time.

I fly SWA exclusively and am A+Preferred meaning I usually board from A16-A21. Not sure I’d pay extra to board A1-A15 as sometimes the flight is a non-originating flight and still contains many passengers flying to the next destination so you don’t get the seat you really want, hence you may have wasted your money unless the goal is to just be able to get an aisle seat or room for your bag. If I don’t get the emergency aisle I’ll sit in row 9 or multiples of 9 as they receive drinks first. I’ve only had a couple bad experiences with miserable flight crews but the exceptional experiences far outweigh those. Great airline and once you learn the boarding process and use the aforementioned tips you’ll never want to fly other airlines. Did I mention free drinks for A+ and above and the Companion Pass Program?

I will protest to the flight attendant when an early boarder puts his personal items in the seat next to him and claims he is saving a seat. I have talked to the airline and this is against their policy. I feel someone doing this is more rude then my complaint!

Travel often with Southwest, and I get really steamed when I see” wheelchair’ passengers get to board early, but on the other end of the flight,often see these same passengers sprinting around the baggage carousels lugging big suitcases.

Southwest needs a better system to identify truly deserving pre-boarders who abuse the system and laugh at the rest of us.

Perhaps its time to require medical certificates signed by doctors?

The second paragraph heading, “The key to getting a good seat…,” made me ask myself, “what’s a good seat?” I appreciate that you addressed that later in the article. As with you, I do prefer an aisle seat if just for the sake of the feeling of extra room on one side of me (briefly tucking in when the service carts come thru), though if I intend to nap on a longer flight I prefer having a window to lean up against, which is also good when a very broad passenger takes the center seat. Despite where you pick to sit, a good seat is ultimately one with overhead storage! I know overhead bin space isn’t earmarked per seat, but there is a common sense factor that makes it somewhat of an unspoken guideline. I despise when a person puts their stuff in the first open bin spot then goes to the back of the plane. The later groups board and someone filling a hole near the front of the plane has no overhead storage and has to make their way to the back to find room in a bin, then make their way back to their seat. If that isn’t bad enough, now they have to get their stuff from the back when the plane deboards, all on the account of a jerk that puts their stuff in a bin space that would typically be for a passenger in that row, rather than putting in close to the seat they chose.

Seat savers are simply violating my right to sit in a seat I’ve paid for. After a trip to Aruba last year we will never, not for all the tea on China ever, fly SWA again. Paid for business Select, arrived very early (this scenario played out identically both inbound and out) and wat in rows 7 and 13 respectively. Outbout a group of 5 children preboarded with 1 adult, each kid took a middle seat and held the entire row for others in their group in later boarding groups. FA’s were useless. Disinterested and unresponsive. I am 6’1”+, 275 and thought that paying for BS (appreciate) seats we’d have options. The seat saving kid brigade took the bulkheads and wing exit rows…how can a child hold a wing exit seat? Bonus, one of the FA’s I had asked to assist us took the opportunity to be discourteous and unprofessional the entire AUA-ISP with stop in MCO trip. Written complaints (email) followed the flights with zero SWA response. I opened 2 Chase Visa cards and purchased BS to maximize points, now I’ve got 150,000 points I will not use. Oh, almost neglected to include that through the credit card spend bonuses I had achieved my Companion Pass. SWA did not honor it for the AUA trip…! Paid full fare for both wife and I, still have a never used Companion Pass. Yikes, SWA will never see another thin dime of my hard earned dollars.

I am concerned after reading everyone’s comments. I am traveling from New York to California with my elderly mom who will be using airport wheelchair assistance to/from the gate, but she cannot sit alone and must be with me as she is non-verbal due to aphasia from a stroke and needs assistance in other areas. It’s also hard for her to get up and down. I was hoping to get the bulkhead seat with her. I’m also nervous because we have a connecting flight changing planes and we need to disembark quickly, which is going to be very difficult. What are your recommendations. She’s already stressed and I feel terrible for her.

I have come to the conclusion that Southwest is the least predictable airline there is both from comments and from my own miserable experience with them. If you haven’t already traveled, can you get a refund on your tickets and book with another less “cattle car” airline? That bulkhead seat is highly coveted by a lot of people for a lot of reasons – claustrophobia, long legs, etc. and usually goes with the first person on the plane. A communication problem will not get you the bulkhead seat. Another airline may cost more but it might be worth it not to have the worries ruin your trip. Southwest may be cheap but there is an old saying: You get what you pay for. Best wishes on your trip.

Hi….I have flown many times with Southwest. People in wheelchairs and whoever is flying with them generally get on the plane first and have the bulkhead seats. The only advantage to flying with them is free baggage. Their tickets are not all that cheap anymore. It takes forever to get a free ticket and there are so many blackout dates. I would fly with them for airport convenience, however, I started to hate when a trip that takes 2-3 hours becomes an all day deal because they stop in Baltimore. I always hated the seating issue and having to stop what you are doing to get your boarding pass online and try to not end up being in C group. Good luck when flying with them.

Blackout dates? Are you kidding me? No such thing!

This policy sucks. Southwest is the walmart of airlines. They heard people in and let them fight for seats that don’t suck. You will not sit with friends/family most of the time. They provide no seating service, letting people fight over seats. If you like being treated like you’re in a third world country, fly Southwest! Dreadful policy.

Print this out and save it. It is from Southwest website. No one can really save a seat.

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

i pretend to be sick and start coughing. unless the flight is completely full, nobody wants to sit next to the guy that might be sick/ill.

may be deranged but it works!

Just completed a roundtrip from L.A. to Newark on Southwest with layovers in Denver and Chicago. Out of the three seating groups I know of (A, B & C), the best we managed for early check- in was B. There was always an offer for A group boarding at the gate for an additional $15-$16 when available. Boarding before the next group also makes overhead storage space easier to find. Southwest ends flights to Newark in November(?) 2019.

Postscript – I forgot to mention my shock when a guy with a full-size guitar case was allowed to take it aboard. There went two overhead storage spaces for the price of one…

Twice, or a flight from Phoenix to Baltimore and back in June I picked the middle seat in the front of the plane with more legroom because I had a small dog and was told it was occupied. I told him I didn’t Believe him ..call him an A hole and told him that If he wanted to mess with me for the rest of the flight which was five hours long. Go ahead. Never heard another word out of him for the rest of the flight. You don’t have these problems on other airlines because you get to pick your seat before your flight. Ruined my flight.

Active duty military board right after “A” (pretty much ~usually have to ~ have to have your CAC card or orders printed…). If you have uniform (which military kind of discourages unless returning from deployment) SW will also cut slack for slightly heavier bag (uniforms + boots etc…) military travel usually has deals with other carriers so frequently does seem to book with SW for some reason. TSA also seem to be nice to me when I use CAC for ID purposes in line. Only had to fly home from deployment once in uniform but number of people and other military people from almost every service were super nice (especially older heroes from ww2 etc…) military generally strongly strongly strongly discourages any alcohol drinks while in uniform so always best to decline drinks except pop or coffee. Families of other service members usually super nice too.

Mil travel *DOESNT* seem to like to use SW for some reason…

If I have 2 southwest planes within 2 hours of each other on one reservation to complete my trip, how many calls are necessary to get my boarding area for entry for both planes.

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Guide To Understanding the Southwest Boarding Groups and Process

Posted on Published: 03/07/2023

Have you ever taken Southwest Airlines? When you book, you don’t get a seat assignment – instead, they use a unique process. Here are our tips for understanding the boarding process, including Southwest boarding groups, family boarding on Southwest, and the Southwest boarding order.

When Southwest Airlines started flying out of Boston, I knew that I wanted to book a flight and try them out. I’ve always heard great things about their flights and customer service. It did take a while to happen though because they initially didn’t fly to many destinations from Boston.

Eventually, I traveled on Southwest Airlines a few times for business trips – usually going on one per year or so. I knew a little bit about the unique Southwest Airlines boarding process but didn’t get too concerned about it because I was flying solo and wasn’t picky about the seat that I would end up with.

It wasn’t until a few years later that, for our spring break vacation, we booked a Southwest Vacations trip to San Antonio, Texas. It was my first time traveling on Southwest Airlines as a family, and so I spent a lot of time learning more about the Southwest Airlines boarding process.

Are you traveling with Southwest Airlines soon? Or perhaps you aren’t sure if you want to try them out? Here’s what you need to know about the Southwest Airlines boarding procedure (including the answer to the question – when does Southwest board families? – hint, it’s not first, which is important to know).

Southwest Airlines boarding line up at airport

Understanding the Southwest Airlines Boarding Process – Including Southwest Boarding Groups

Purchasing a ticket on southwest airlines.

You can definitely get great rates on Southwest Airlines, and your ticket comes with two free checked bags which is almost unheard of in the airline industry. However, when you purchase a ticket, you won’t be given the option of choosing a seat. In fact, no one on the plane will have a seating assignment printed on their ticket, as there are no assigned seats.

The Southwest boarding process is pretty unique – with Southwest, the boarding order is determined by the numbers on your ticket. You’ll be given a boarding number when you check in to your flight (24 hours before your flight).

Those who check-in right at the 24-hour mark are given better boarding numbers – if you care where you sit, you absolutely need to check in right on time, and by right on time, I mean EXACTLY 24 hours in advance. The longer you wait, the worse your boarding number will be.

If you can’t check in at the 24-hour point for some reason (after all, you’ll want to enjoy your vacation!), or you have a strong preference as to where you’ll want to sit, you can choose to get the early bird option on your tickets. What does early bird check-in get you?

Those with Southwest EarlyBird check-in with have their boarding number reserved in advance (Southwest says that it’s 36 hours in advance of the departure time) and can access the boarding pass 24 hours in advance. It’s an automatic check-in, which is great if you don’t want to worry about things.

Because of that, you’ll have an earlier boarding number than those who check in exactly 24 hours in advance. The EarlyBird option currently starts at $15 per person, per leg of your flight (prices are always subject to change). However, pricing varies by the popularity and length of your flight.

Note that it does not guarantee an A boarding group, although we did have A boarding positions for our flights during our trip (we purchased EarlyBird for this trip – it didn’t come with our Southwest vacation package).

Those with the early bird can get boarding passes with numbers as low as A-16. To get boarding numbers A 1-15, you have the option to upgrade from 24 hours in advance to 30 minutes before departure.

The cost for this varies, and you’ll be able to add this when you check in online. You can also get boarding group A 1-15 if you have a Business Select ticket.

I always hate spending extra money after already paying quite a bit for my flight, and $15 per leg per person can add up. So you’ll want to think about that added cost when you are evaluating what flights to purchase.

Only you will know if Southwest Early Bird is worth it, but it really may be the only way to ensure a better shot at sitting together – especially when traveling with a child who won’t want to sit alone.

In recent years, I’ve found that many guests do choose to purchase the early bird option, making it more essential for a good boarding number.

Lining Up in the A, B, and C Southwest Boarding Groups

When they are ready to board the aircraft, they will start with preboarding. Those guests will have a preboarding document in addition to their boarding pass. According to Southwest, “preboarding is available for “Customers who have specific seating needs to accommodate a disability, and/or need assistance in boarding the aircraft, and/or need to stow an assistive device”. If you need preboarding, you’ll want to talk to the airline in advance.

They’ll also tell A to line up. If you are in the A group, you’ll find the sign near where you need to stand, and make sure that you are in the correct order. Travelers board the aircraft in the order assigned to them.

If part of your group has a lower number and you want to board together, you’ll need to board with the later boarding positions. They look at the boarding number as they scan the boarding pass, so you definitely need to be in the correct spot. There’s no way to skip ahead.

Southwest Boarding Order and Southwest Airlines Family Boarding Process

The Southwest Airlines family boarding process is different than other airlines. After group A boards the aircraft, the airline will board families with young (6 years or younger) children for family boarding (Southwest doesn’t have any special boarding for families with kids over age 6). Two adults traveling with a child 6 years or younger can board with the child.

While that family boarding is happening, the B group lines up in the boarding spots that were just vacated by the A group. After the B group enters the aircraft, the C group lines up.

If you are traveling with a family (with kids older than 6), you’ll probably want to get Earlybird if you all want to sit together. The plane definitely does start to fill up once it gets to the B and C boarding groups, and it can be more difficult to get seats together.

Although it was an expensive add-on for all of us, I think it was worth it to pay extra for the peace of mind. I don’t like to stress about where we are seated on a plane, and my kids don’t like sitting separately.

In some cases, you may have a flight that makes a stop, where you don’t get off the flight. This happens quite a bit with Southwest. On our trip to San Antonio, we had a stop in Nashville.

We were supposed to stay on the plane, but there was an aircraft change and we had to switch. In that case, they had us board right after pre-boarding, and before the A group. Things like this can make the aircraft fill up a bit, even before the official Southwest boarding process has started. So even if you have those A 1-15 spots, some people may be on the plane before you.

While this whole boarding process may seem a bit complicated if you aren’t familiar with it, it’s quick to get used to. Most of the people flying Southwest are familiar with the process because they’ve been through it before, so it runs pretty smoothly.

The actual boarding of the plane seems quick – probably because everyone knows exactly when they’ll be getting on the plane, and people take the first available seat that they want, rather than searching for a specific seat.

I also love the fact that people aren’t hovering by the plane entrance, waiting for their zone to be called. Because everyone has a specific spot to stand in, the entrance to the boarding area doesn’t get cluttered.

Just keep in mind that the plane does get filled up if it’s a full flight. Most of the people in the early boarding groups take the exit rows, then the aisle and window seats. If you have a late B or C boarding group, you have a good chance that you’ll be sitting in the middle row, unless the plane isn’t full.

Because Southwest does offer two free checked bags with each ticket, overhead space isn’t as much of an issue as seat location is. Don’t take the risk that the flight won’t be full, because that doesn’t happen much anymore. Most flights usually are full.

Southwest has a consistent fleet of planes, so most flights will seem familiar. If you have a seat that you typically like, you can find it on most flights.

Southwest Airlines jet

Southwest Amenities

You may be interested in Southwest’s customer of size policy , in addition to their seating policy. There are other things to know about Southwest airlines as well.

While you aren’t getting a seat assignment on Southwest, you will be getting other amenities. The two free checked bags is a big benefit and one you won’t find on other airlines. You’ll also have a generous cancellation/change policy, which is great if your vacation plans change. I’ve had to add days to our vacation and was so pleased with how simple it is.

Once onboard, you’ll have access to the in-flight entertainment system. Rather than the seatback screens, you may find on other airlines, Southwest’s entertainment system allows you to use your own electronic device. Bring your own, and make sure it’s fully charged!

Southwest Airlines flights now offer WiFi for a flat fee (free for their preferred members). In addition, they are currently working on adding USB-A and USB-C outlets for guests to use.

Have you ever flown on Southwest Airlines? What do you think about the Southwest Airlines boarding process?

Southwest boarding area with seats and columns with boarding numbers

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Thursday 13th of April 2023

in this article you mentioned early bird is $15.00, correction, it $50.00 round trip and is non refundable if you have to cancel. I wish it were $15.00 a flight? Ive been flying Southwest over twenty years. I fly 5 times a year on South West, and it becomes very expensive for a 83 year old senior. Unfortunately flying is the only way to see my grandchildren. I wish they had a special rate for seniors. Unfortunately, making money is number one for the airlines, and the flyers are paying the price.

Jodi Grundig

Hi - thanks for reading! I mention in the article that it starts at $15 but varies based on the route, etc. You can find the details of that directly on Southwest's website here: https://www.southwest.com/help/booking/earlybird-checkin

It definitely can add up. I wish they had a special rate too. I can imagine it can become expensive.

ROBERT ONDERICK

Sunday 5th of May 2019

EXACTLY, WHO GETS THE "A" GROUP SEATING? WE HAVE BEEN FLYING SOUTHWEST FOR THE PAST FIVE YEARS AND ALWAYS CALL FOR CHECK IN WITHIN 5 MINUTES OF THE 24 HOUR REQUIREMENT. USUALLY GET SEATING BETWEEN B30 AND B60. VERY DIFFICULT TO GET SEATING BELOW B30. SIGNED, CONFUSED

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Travel Spill

Boarding Southwest Airlines: A Complete Guide to the Chaos

by Amanda Slutzky | Jul 25, 2023

Southwest Airlines is known for its unique, free-for-all boarding process that might be more reminiscent of the Hunger Games than what passengers are used to on other airlines. Instead of assigned seats, Southwest Airlines divide passengers into zones A, B, or C, split into boarding positions 1-30 and 31-60.

The unique boarding process involves passengers lining up by boarding position at the gate, then scrambling for any available seat once they’re on the plane.

For travelers who value flexibility and a more personalized in-flight experience, Southwest’s boarding process can be an attractive option. However, the process can be confusing and overwhelming for those who are unfamiliar with it. This guide will help you understand Southwest’s boarding order, how Southwest’s boarding process works, how to secure a favorable boarding position, and the logistics of the process so you can get the best seat even if you booked a Wanna Get Away fare .

In this post:

How Does Boarding on Southwest Airlines Work?

Unlike other airlines, Southwest does not assign seats to passengers at the time of booking.

Instead, passengers are assigned a boarding position when they check-in for their flight. During check-in for Southwest Airlines, you will receive a designated boarding group and position, ranging from A to C and 1 to 60 respectively. This information will be printed on your boarding pass.

The boarding process will start with Group A, followed by Group B, and then Group C. Each category has a range of numbers, and passengers are assigned a specific number within their category. This boarding position determines the order in which passengers board the aircraft and select their seats. 

Southwest Boarding Pass edited - Southwest

During the boarding process, the gate agent will announce the boarding groups and their corresponding positions (e.g., Group A, positions 1-30). You should head to the gate area and stand between the numbered posts, or “boarding columns” as Southwest terms them, that correspond to your assigned boarding position.

Southwest Boarding Columns - Southwest

Then, you board with your group when you’re called. Once you’re on the plane, you can choose any available seat and store your belongings in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. Prepare for takeoff!

Of course, if your goal is to board the plane first, it’s smart to aim for boarding group A. However, if you end up boarding group C and position 60, you might have to settle for a middle seat in the back next to the toilet.

Pro-tip: Be ready to board when your group is called! Pay attention to the boarding announcements and be ready to board when your group is called. Unlike on other airlines, if you show up to board last minute, you will lose your boarding position and it’s unlikely your preferred seat will still be available when you’re on board.

What Is the Southwest Boarding Order

Southwest’s boarding order is based on the boarding positions assigned to passengers. The boarding order is as follows:

Pre-boarding : This is for passengers who need extra assistance, such as those with disabilities, unaccompanied minors, and families with young children.

Business Select : This is for passengers who have purchased a Business Select fare. These passengers are assigned the first boarding positions in the A group (A1-A15).

Upgraded Boarding : Passengers flying with Anytime, Wanna Get Away, or Wanna Get Away Plus fares have the ability to purchase Upgraded Boarding starting at $30 per segment based on availability. This will allow them to board A1-A15 as well.

Group A: After Business Select & Upgraded Boarding complete boarding, other passengers in Group A will have the opportunity to board (positions A16-A60).

Group B : Passengers with boarding positions B1-B60.

Group C: Passengers with boarding positions C1-C60.

Southwest Airlines aircraft

How to Get Your Southwest Boarding Position

To get your Southwest boarding position, you can check in online or using the Southwest app starting exactly 24 hours before your flight’s scheduled departure time.

You can use a mobile boarding pass, print your boarding pass at home, or get a boarding pass at the airport. If you forget to check in ahead of time, you will be assigned a boarding position at airport check-in.

How to Get the Best Seat on Southwest Airlines

Securing the prime seat on a Southwest flight boils down to nabbing a spot in the A1-15 boarding group. With this coveted position, passengers get first picks on seating. Southwest Airlines organizes passengers into boarding ‘zones’. These zones, labeled A, B, and C, are further split into two groups: positions 1 to 30 and 31 to 60. Once on board, passengers choose their seats. The allocation to a particular zone hinges on a variety of factors.

Ticket Type

Fare type impacts your boarding zone. Buying a Business Select fare gets you a spot in the ‘A’ zone, positions 1 to 15, allowing you to choose from more seat options. Purchasing EarlyBird Check-In with a Wanna Get Away fare auto-checks you in 36 hours before departure, but doesn’t guarantee an ‘A’ zone.

Elite Status

Regular passengers can earn A-List or A-List Preferred elite status by taking a certain number of flights or earning qualifying Southwest Rapid Reward points. Like EarlyBird Check-In, elite status holders auto-check-in 36 hours before the flight. The check-in sequence is Business Select, A-List Preferred, A-List, and then EarlyBird.

Southwest will automatically reserve boarding positions for all elite members of its Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program and their travel companions 36 hours prior to departure. See the complete terms for details.

Check-In Time

For less expensive fares like Wanna Get Away and for non-elite status passengers, zone assignment depends on check-in time. You can check-in up to 24 hours before departure. Earlier check-in usually means a better zone and position.

Traveling with Young Children

Families with children aged 6 or younger may board between the ‘A’ and ‘B’ zones. The policy applies to the whole family.

Get A Southwest Credit Card

Get a complimentary upgraded boarding position on Southwest by having the Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card or the Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card. This benefit allows you to receive up to four upgraded boardings to positions A1-A15 every year on your anniversary. The process for getting upgraded boarding is the same as for any other customer, requiring you to buy it at the ticket desk or gate on the day of travel, and it’s subject to availability.

You’ll receive a credit reimbursement for the cost, whether it’s $30 or $50. You can purchase all four upgraded boardings at once or for different flights, giving you the option to upgrade your seat once or enjoy the VIP treatment multiple times throughout the year.

Other Ways To Secure Better Seats On Southwest

If getting an A1-A15 boarding position is not necessarily your goal or isn’t feasible, you still have options to improve your chances in Southwest’s seating Hunger Games. Here are some tips on how to get your preferred seat on Southwest Airlines.

While purchasing EarlyBird Check-In or a Business Select fare is the easiest way to ensure you have a high Southwest boarding zone, if you don’t want to spend the money, there are other things you can do to improve your odds of boarding early and getting a blood seat.

Check-In Early (Set An Alert)

The earlier you check in for your flight, the better your chances of getting a good boarding position. Check in online or using the Southwest app exactly 24 hours before your flight’s scheduled departure time.

For a good boarding zone, check in as close to 24 hours before your flight as possible. This is important if you didn’t opt for EarlyBird Check-In, a Business Select fare, or aren’t traveling with kids aged 6 or younger. Set alerts as reminders. Don’t forget return flight alerts and consider time zones when setting reminders.

Multiple Devices for Check-In

Traveling with others using Southwest Rapid Reward points means each person must check in separately. Have each passenger’s name and confirmation number ready. This also applies if checking in a companion using a Southwest Companion Pass. Use multiple devices for check-in. Keep personal information private. Check in on the Southwest website or by using the Southwest mobile app.

EarlyBird Check-In

EarlyBird boarding positions are assigned in the order of purchase. For an additional fee, you can purchase EarlyBird Check-In from Southwest and they’ll automatically check you in 36 hours before your flight’s scheduled departure time. While it might not get you into A1-A15, you’ll still have a great chance of having a higher boarding position.

Upgraded boarding can be purchased on the day of travel at the ticket desk or gate, or up to 24 hours before takeoff through Southwest’s website.

The cost of upgraded boarding varies depending on your itinerary, typically ranging from $30 to $50 per segment. Once the 24-hour check-in window begins, these positions are not assigned to regular ticket customers. Therefore, if there is a low number of elite flyers or Business Select passengers on the flight, there may be some A1-A15 positions available for purchase.

Seat Selection & Saving Seats

The first seats to fill up are usually at the front and aisle. While Southwest Airlines doesn’t have a policy on saving seats for passengers who board later, it can be controversial with other passengers. You’ll want to be considerate of this when selecting seats.

We regret any disappointment during the boarding process today. As you may know, all Southwest flights are open seating, and we don't have a specific policy for or against saving seats. We apologize for any frustration, and hope for smoother sailing in the future. -Hannah — Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 28, 2022

Southwest Airlines boarding mobile pass - Southwest

The Logistics of Boarding Southwest Flights

Boarding a Southwest flight can be a little chaotic, but there are some things you can do to make the process smoother for everyone on board. Your passengers and crew will thank you.

  • Know which seats to choose: The best seats on Southwest Airlines are typically the exit rows and bulkhead seats. These seats offer more legroom and are located at the front of the aircraft.
  • Move quickly down the aisle: Once you board the aircraft, move quickly down the aisle to find a seat. This will help keep the boarding process moving smoothly.
  • Store your luggage quickly: If you have a carry-on bag, try to store it quickly to avoid blocking the aisle. 

Bottom Line

Southwest’s boarding process is different from other airlines and requires passengers to be aware of their assigned boarding position and boarding groups. While this process can provide passengers with the opportunity to select their desired seat and potentially improve their overall travel experience, its enjoyableness may vary depending on the individual traveler’s preferences and circumstances.

Some passengers may find Southwest’s boarding process stressful or chaotic, particularly if they are not familiar with the process or have specific seating requirements. Others may appreciate the flexibility and convenience that the process provides. Factors such as travel purpose, route, and time of day can also impact how Southwest’s boarding process goes.

Regardless of how you feel about Southwest’s boarding process, if you find yourself flying the Luv carrier, understanding how boarding works and following the tips provided can help ensure a smoother boarding experience — and help you get the seat you want.

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3 Ways to Always Get a Good Seat on Southwest Airlines

Many people fly Southwest Airlines for the low fares, free checked bags and no change fees, but its boarding process is one that passengers either love or hate.

In this post, I’ll provide three ways to ALWAYS get a “good” seat when flying on Southwest.

How Southwest’s boarding process works

If you’re not familiar, Southwest has an open seating policy. You’re assigned a boarding group (A, B or C) and position (1-60) that you can find on your boarding pass.

Passengers will line up at the gate based on their boarding group and position.

Family boarding is permitted. An adult with a child six or younger can board after the A group and before the B group.

Preboarding is allowed for unaccompanied minors and passengers with disabilities.

Don’t want a middle seat? How to get a window or aisle seat on Southwest 

I fly Southwest several times a year and prefer a window seat near the front of the plane. I’ll also take a window or aisle seat near the back of the aircraft to avoid a middle seat.

Based on my experience, it’s not difficult to get a window or aisle seat on a fully-booked flight if you’re part of the A or B boarding groups.

Those seats begin to become more scarce when the B 31-60 passengers are called.

For passengers in the C group, a middle seat may be all that’s left. At this stage, there may also be no more overhead bin space available for carry-on bags.

The bottom line: You’re going to have a more pleasant boarding experience on Southwest if you’re in the A or B boarding groups.

Read on for my three tips to always get your favorite seat on Southwest Airlines…

1. Check in exactly 24 hours before your flight 

Southwest lets you check in for your flight 24 hours before it departs, so set an alarm on your smartphone and have your confirmation number handy.

Either go to Southwest.com or click “Check in” from the itinerary the airline emailed you.

To get a seat in the A group, you must act quickly. For a recent trip, I checked in only five minutes after the window opened and was assigned B12.

For that reason, you want to be ready exactly 24 hours before your flight departs to check in.

2. Pay for EarlyBird Check-In

If you won’t be near a computer or phone to check in exactly 24 hours before your departure, you can guarantee an excellent seat on Southwest for a fee.

EarlyBird Check-In costs between $15 and $25 each way per passenger.

With EarlyBird Check-In, you’ll automatically be checked in for your flight and will receive your boarding position 36 hours before departure.

Although you’re not guaranteed an A boarding position, that’s been my experience.

In addition to a better seat selection, boarding the plane earlier will give you access to overhead bin space before those get filled up.

Here are some other things to know about EarlyBird Check-In:

  • You can purchase EarlyBird Check-In up to 36 hours prior to a flight’s scheduled local departure time
  • EarlyBird Check-In Customers will receive boarding positions after Business Select and A-List Customers
  •  A credit card must be used for the purchase of EarlyBird Check-In
  • If you cancel your flight, you won’t be refunded for the EarlyBird Check-In purchase
  • Southwest will only refund the EarlyBird Check-In purchase if the airline has to cancel your flight
  • EarlyBird Check-In can be purchased as part of the original flight purchase or added to a flight later on

To add EarlyBird Check-In, have your confirmation number ready and follow this link.

Southwest EarlyBird Check-In

3. See if Upgraded Boarding is available 

If you checked in for your flight within 24 hours of the departure and aren’t happy with your boarding group, it’s too late to pay for EarlyBird Check-In and get a better seat.

However, Upgraded Boarding may be available the day of your flight at the departure gate or ticket counter.

As you would imagine, Upgraded Boarding is more expensive than EarlyBird Check-In.

If Upgraded Boarding is available for your flight, you’ll pay between $30 and $50 to be among the first to board the plane — in the A1 to A15 boarding group.

Again, just ask at the departure gate or ticket counter to see if they can help you out.

Bonus tip: Free Upgraded Boardings with Southwest’s credit card 

For frequent Southwest Airlines travelers, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card may be worth looking into.

Southwest has several personal credit cards from Chase, but only the Priority card has an Upgraded Boarding benefit.

With this card, you can get four Upgraded Boardings per year when available.

The Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card has a $149 annual fee, but its benefits offset that cost for people who fly Southwest a lot:

  • 2 points for every $1 that you spend spent on Southwest and Rapid Rewards partners
  • 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • 7,500 points every year on your anniversary
  • $75 Southwest® annual travel credit
  • Four Upgraded Boardings per year when available
  • 20% back on inflight purchaess
  • No foreign transaction fees

I don’t currently have this credit card, but I previously used Southwest’s credit card with a $69 annual fee when I flew with them more often — it’s a great card.

I just wanted to share the details of the Priority card because of the boarding benefit.

Final thought 

These three strategies help me have a more enjoyable flying experience on Southwest Airlines.

For most trips, I follow the first tip and stand by at my computer exactly 24 hours before departure to get a good boarding position at no extra cost.

However, I have paid $15 for EarlyBird Check-In on long flights across the country.

The Upgraded Boarding option is my least favorite, but I used it once when I forgot to check in and ended up in the C boarding group.

In that case, the $30 I spent for the A2 position was money well spent.

Do you have any tips and tricks to always get a good seat when you fly on Southwest Airlines? Let me know in the comments below!

For more ways to save, please consider subscribing to my new YouTube channel!

1 thought on “3 Ways to Always Get a Good Seat on Southwest Airlines”

Another hint: If you’re on a flight that has a lot of families (e.g. heading to Orange County or Orlando, where half the plane is Disney-bound) you don’t have to stress out about a low C-group ticket nearly as much. Why? Because families will use up those middle seats so that they can sit together!

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Simple Flying

How many boarding groups does southwest have and how to move up.

One of the only carriers to still have 'free seat selection,' and checking in on time is key.

Southwest Airlines is best known for its unrestricted seating policies, which allow passengers to occupy pretty much any seat they like upon boarding. Based on the boarding group, passengers are free to select any seat, including emergency exit rows and bulkhead. As such, the boarding group becomes critical in terms of where passengers can actually sit.This article explores the number of boarding groups Southwest Airlines offers and how the airline manages boarding procedures within tight turnaround times, as highlighted by Southwest Airlines .

Three groups

  • A unique group and position combination (for example, A35) will be displayed on the boarding pass, representing a reserved spot in the boarding group at the gate.
  • Numbered posts in each of our gate areas indicate where to line up.
  • When the boarding group is called, the passenger must find the designated place in line and board the aircraft in numerical order.

Southwest has three boarding groups, A, B, and C, and each group has 60' positions.' Upon checking in, you'll be assigned one of these 180 positions, determining when you can board and choose your seat. In addition to these three, the carrier also offers preboarding and family/military/extra boarding groups.

One's boarding position is determined on a first-come-first-serve basis, with check-in opening precisely 24 hours before departure. However, there are a few ways to 'jump the queue.' The first is with Upgraded Boarding, available to elite Rapid Rewards members and Business Select fare customers, which guarantees an A1 to A15 boarding position, ensuring you get a comfortable place on the flight. If there are any remaining positions, Upgraded Boarding can also be purchased online or at the gate (watch out for a sign) starting at $30 per flight.

Another way to confirm your place is to use EarlyBird Check-In, which automatically checks you in before the 24-hour mark and must be purchased 36 hours before flying. While this doesn't guarantee a position, you'll usually end up somewhere in the back of the A15-60 pack or right at the front of the B group, depending on how many elite members are flying and when you purchase the service. Starting at only $15, this is usually a good solution for longer flights.

Love learning about points and miles? Read more of our loyalty news and guides here .

Just 121 Miles: Southwest's New Very Short Route

Boarding order.

Preboarding:

To be eligible for preboarding, the traveler and one companion can approach the gate before boarding starts, where a staff member will determine if they are allowed. The requirements include those with an assistive device that needs to be stowed, like a wheelchair, those with disabilities, and anyone needing assistance boarding. Only two passengers will get the PRBD group; other companions must continue as usual and cannot occupy emergency exit rows.

As some might be familiar, passengers queue alongside numbered signs with positions from 0 to 60, in increments of five, in two rows. Upgraded Boarding passengers (A1-A15) board first, followed by EarlyBird Check-In passengers. If you're fortunate with check-in timing, you might even find yourself in Group A.

Extra Time Passengers, Family, and Active Duty Military:

If you don't qualify for preboarding but still require additional time to board, say due to an injury, Southwest staff will give you a special boarding pass, allowing you to board right after Group A. Next are families with children under six years old and active duty military members (with ID) who can board without speaking to staff beforehand.

Southwest Airlines' Busiest Routes From Los Angeles International Airport

Family Boarding and Seating:

If you are traveling with a child six years old or younger:

  • Up to two adults traveling with a child six years old or younger may board during Family Boarding, which occurs after the "A" group has boarded and before the "B" group begins boarding.
  • There should be enough open seats for the child to sit next to at least one accompanying adult.
  • If the child and adults all hold "A" boarding passes, they should board in their assigned boarding position rather than wait for Family Boarding.
  • If you need and request assistance, Southwest will endeavor to seat a child next to one accompanying passenger (14 and older) to the maximum extent practicable and at no additional cost.

The group you're most likely to end up in if you check in on time and don't pay extra; passengers once again queue up along with the numbered boards and wait to board. Follow the signs to ensure you're in the correct section to avoid issues later at the gate.

If you forgot to check in on time or booked on the day, you'll find yourself stuck in Group C, boarding the plane last. This usually relegates you to a middle seat in the back or an aisle if you're lucky. Of course, the fewer the people onboard, the better chance you'll have at getting a decent seat.

How to get the best seats

Of course, the best way to confirm your seats in advance (or get close) is to buy a Business Select fare or pay for early boarding. Southwest Rapid Rewards elite members also get preferential boarding, and some co-branded cards offer credit for purchasing Upgraded Boarding.

Is Southwest Airlines Still A Low-Fare Carrier?

But if you don't want to pay more, the best way is to set an alarm for exactly 24 hours and 1 minute before your flight. Check-in opens 24 hours before, and that one-minute warning is enough to open the Southwest app or website and your reservation to hit the button. You'll still end up in Group B, most likely, but a window seat is far more comfortable and takes away the stress from the free seating chart.

What are your tips for getting a good boarding position on Southwest? Let us know in the comments!

Southwest Airlines

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

does southwest give seat assignments

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 .

Support local journalism.  Subscribe to  azcentral.com  today.

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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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?????

' src=

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.

' src=

Hello, ” Marco ” with Southwest Airlines is out of touch, not fair regarding “saved seats”. I almost missed my several connecting flights by being too nice and giving up multiple “”” saved “”” seats in the first 15 rows. I will NEVER do this again. If I am A33, why should C33 be able to have my seat ( saved by someone else ??? ).

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Is Southwest going to start assigning seats? CEO says the airline is weighing changes.

does southwest give seat assignments

Southwest Airlines is considering doing away with open, single-class seating on its aircraft.

In an interview with CNBC , ahead of the airline’s first-quarter earnings call on Thursday, CEO Bob Jordan said the company is weighing options for cabin reconfiguration to address its recent revenue shortfall.

“We’re looking into new initiatives, things like the way we seat and board our aircraft,” Jordan told the network.

Southwest has long differentiated itself from other airlines with one class of seating and little variability – no extra legroom seats or first class on its 737 fleet. But now, Jordan said it may be time to change the strategy.

Cruising Altitude: Another Boeing plane issue? Don't fall for the headlines.

“Customer preferences do change over time,” he told CNBC. He acknowledged the airline hasn’t made any decisions on implementing a new strategy but said studies about what they could do have yielded “interesting” results. 

For now, the only reliable way for Southwest customers can get their seating preference is to pay extra for an earlier boarding position. Southwest Airlines does not currently assign seats and passengers claim their real estate as they board the plane in an assigned order. 

Zach Wichter is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in New York. You can reach him at [email protected].

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Southwest Airlines Says Assigned Seats For Passengers A Possibility

does southwest give seat assignments

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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.

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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.

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Incoming Southwest CEO Says Assigned Seats May Be in Airline's Future

Southwest does not currently assign seats but instead gives passengers a boarding group and reserved boarding number when they check in.

does southwest give seat assignments

Assigned seating may be in Southwest's future, the airline's incoming CEO said at a virtual town hall this week.

The airline, long known for its unique way of doing things, does not currently assign seats but instead gives passengers a boarding group and reserved boarding number when they check in. However, incoming CEO Robert Jordan, who was previously the airline's executive vice president and will officially take the reins in February, said it may be time for a change.

"Could we one day need to take back up the assigned-seating question? I think we may have to do that," Jordan said, per Travel Weekly , adding the airline would look at the impact of seat assignments on things like turnaround time and how important it is to business travelers. "Just know this. We are committed to continuing to look at our product, making sure it's relevant."

But Jordan added the potential move isn't something customers can expect to see in the immediate future. And as for another Southwest mainstay, Jordan said free checked bags aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

Instead, Jordan said the airline will focus on things like providing more reliable Wi-Fi, hiring more workers (which will, in turn, mean more planes in the sky), and restoring full in-flight service.

"We need to get back to the point where you can set your watch by the reliability of our operations," he said, adding, "It's going to take into 2023 to restore the network completely back to where we were in 2019."

Southwest has also added new customer services this year, like allowing passengers traveling back to the United States from international destinations to purchase discounted COVID-19 test kits .

The airline is also known for its Companion Pass program , which allows eligible fliers to designate one other person to fly with them nearly for free.

Alison Fox is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure. When she's not in New York City, she likes to spend her time at the beach or exploring new destinations and hopes to visit every country in the world. Follow her adventures on Instagram .

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Open seating no more? Southwest CEO says airline is weighing cabin changes

By leslie josephs,cnbc • published 3 hours ago • updated 1 hour ago.

  • Southwest is weighing changes to boarding and seating.
  • The carrier stands out from other large airlines with its open seating plan.
  • Meanwhile rivals like Delta and United have touted high revenue growth for premium seating.

Southwest Airlines is weighing changes to its cabin that could involve abandoning its single-class, open-seating system to drive up revenue, CEO Bob Jordan told CNBC on Thursday.

The changes would mark a massive shift for the carrier that has stood apart from rivals for decades with its simpler business model.

"We're looking into new initiatives, things like the way we seat and board our aircraft," Jordan said in an interview after the carrier's disappointing first-quarter report.

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Southwest's all- Boeing 737 fleet has a single economy class cabin and no seating assignments, though it does offer earlier boarding to customers for a fee so they can snag their preferred seats. The airline has focused on keeping its product simple and user-friendly for years, aiming to keep its own costs and complexity to a minimum.

Meanwhile, rivals including Delta and United have touted high revenue growth for premium seating such as business class and strong upsell rates .

Jordan said no decisions have been made on what kind of changes Southwest will ultimately make, but he said studies have yielded "interesting" results.

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"Customer preferences do change over time," Jordan said.

— CNBC's Phil LeBeau contributed to this report.

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This article tagged under:

does southwest give seat assignments

IMAGES

  1. 7 Tips for Mastering Southwest Check-In and Boarding

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  2. Southwest Airplane Seating Map

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  3. SeatGuru Seat Map Southwest Boeing 737-800 (738)

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  4. Southwest Airlines 737 Max Seat Map

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  5. Southwest Boeing 737 800 Seat Map

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  6. Southwest Airplane Seating Map

    does southwest give seat assignments

COMMENTS

  1. Boarding Process

    When your boarding group is called, find your designated place in line and board the aircraft in numerical order with your boarding group. Southwest-operated flights have open seating. Once onboard, simply choose any available seat and stow your carryon items in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. Family Boarding and Seating.

  2. How to snag the best seats on Southwest Airlines

    Group B 1-60. Group C 1-60. SOUTHWEST AIRLINES. When the traveler checks in for their flight, Southwest assigns each passenger a boarding group letter — A, B or C — and a position from 1 to 60. The unique boarding code, such as A45 or B52, is printed directly on the boarding pass and represents the person's place in line at the gate.

  3. Southwest Airlines Boarding Process & Groups [2024]

    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.

  4. How Does The Southwest Airlines Boarding Process Work?

    On Southwest Airlines flights, people are assigned boarding positions in order of fare status and check-in. Higher fares and earlier check-in lead to better positions, and earlier boarding positions mean greater odds of getting their desired aircraft seat. Every flight is organized into three boarding 'groups': A, B, and C.

  5. How to Hack Southwest's Boarding Groups

    From there, you'll 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 ...

  6. Southwest Boarding Groups Explained: From A-List to Group C! [2023]

    I'll also give you some details about Southwest seating (charts, maps, etc.) and some tips for getting the best seats. Table of Contents. How many boarding groups does Southwest have? ... It makes me think that SWA is assigning random line assignments Not in numerical order. With 75 passengers you would expect the bottom half of the A group ...

  7. How to get seats together as a family on Southwest Airlines

    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.

  8. Southwest Airlines' Unique Boarding Process Explained

    How boarding works on Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines is the only major airline in the world that doesn't assign seats. Rather the airline has a very different boarding process — the order of passenger boarding is determined by the "position" someone is in, and as a result that's also the order in which people can pick seats once on the plane.

  9. The Best Seats When Flying on Southwest Airlines [2024]

    Boeing 737-700. The Boeing 737-700 has 143 seats, and it accounts for 60% of Southwest Airlines' fleet. Each seat has a width of 17 inches and a pitch of 31 inches. Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 seat map. Image Credit: SeatGuru.

  10. Southwest boarding process: How to get Group A and more tips

    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 ...

  11. Tips on How to Get a Good Seat on Southwest Airlines

    Check in EXACTLY 24 hours before your flight. If you would like to get a good seat on your next Southwest Airlines flight, follow this rule. Check in opens 24 hours before your flight's scheduled departure time. The earlier you check in, the earlier your spot in line will be. Many passengers will also be checking in 24 hours before the flight ...

  12. Guide To Understanding the Southwest Boarding Groups and Process

    However, when you purchase a ticket, you won't be given the option of choosing a seat. In fact, no one on the plane will have a seating assignment printed on their ticket, as there are no assigned seats. The Southwest boarding process is pretty unique - with Southwest, the boarding order is determined by the numbers on your ticket.

  13. This is how to get the best seats on your next Southwest flight ...

    If you get the chance to be in A 1 - 30, you'll get your pick of the best seats on the plane. B boarding group: This is the next best boarding group to be in if you want the chance to select a ...

  14. Why Has Southwest Airlines Persisted With Unallocated Seating?

    Southwest Airlines' unallocated seat assignments, or "open seating," have been a part of the airline since its beginnings. The unique seating model not only aligns with Southwest's egalitarian ticketing model but also improves boarding times. Southwest monetizes its boarding groups by offering passengers the option to purchase upgraded boarding ...

  15. The Ultimate Guide to Southwest Airlines' Boarding Process: Tips

    Securing the prime seat on a Southwest flight boils down to nabbing a spot in the A1-15 boarding group. With this coveted position, passengers get first picks on seating. ... For less expensive fares like Wanna Get Away and for non-elite status passengers, zone assignment depends on check-in time. You can check-in up to 24 hours before ...

  16. 3 Ways to Always Get a Good Seat on Southwest Airlines

    Read on for my three tips to always get your favorite seat on Southwest Airlines…. 1. Check in exactly 24 hours before your flight. Southwest lets you check in for your flight 24 hours before it departs, so set an alarm on your smartphone and have your confirmation number handy. Either go to Southwest.com or click "Check in" from the ...

  17. How Many Boarding Groups Does Southwest Have And How To Move Up

    Three groups. Southwest has three boarding groups, A, B, and C, and each group has 60 'positions.'. Upon checking in, you'll be assigned one of these 180 positions, determining when you can board and choose your seat. In addition to these three, the carrier also offers preboarding and family/military/extra boarding groups.

  18. How many seats are available on Southwest? Boarding-position tips

    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 ...

  19. What To Do About Southwest's Stance on Saving Seats

    October 6, 2023. Southwest does things differently. 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 ...

  20. Southwest Airlines may change its open seating and boarding policy

    0:32. Southwest Airlines is considering doing away with open, single-class seating on its aircraft. In an interview with CNBC, ahead of the airline's first-quarter earnings call on Thursday, CEO ...

  21. Solved: No assigned seat

    Explorer B. This is standard on Southwest. All seats are available to you. What you get is a boarding order and you get on the plane in that order. When you are on, you pick whatever seat, wherever you want on the plane. The boarding order is A1-60, then B1-60, then C1-60. The lower your boarding number the more choices you'll have when on the ...

  22. Southwest Airlines Says Assigned Seats For Passengers A Possibility

    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.".

  23. Southwest May Have Assigned Seats in the Future, Incoming CEO Says

    Published on January 21, 2022. Assigned seating may be in Southwest's future, the airline's incoming CEO said at a virtual town hall this week. The airline, long known for its unique way of doing ...

  24. Assigned Seating and Thoughts? : r/SouthwestAirlines

    We loaded based on assigned rows vs groups. Only crazy thing was exit row seating ($68 extra) was practically empty. Flight attendant monitored people boarding and made them move if not assigned. I think southwest could do something similar but maybe A-list could op for exit row or front of plane as a consolidation.

  25. Open seating no more? Southwest CEO says airline is weighing cabin

    Southwest's all-Boeing 737 fleet has a single economy class cabin and no seating assignments, though it does offer earlier boarding to customers for a fee so they can snag their preferred seats ...