Do you Loathe Southwest’s Boarding Procedures? Maybe These Tips & Tricks Will Help

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Southwest's Boarding Procedures

Tips & Tricks for Southwest’s Boarding Procedures

Yesterday I posted a little bit of a tongue in cheek comment about Southwest’s boarding procedure in our Facebook Group.  It got a lot of responses on both sides of the issue.  I know that this topic is pretty evenly divided.  Some people love the procedure while others hate it.

Regardless of whether or not you hate it most of us still fly Southwest because of the value it provides for award travel.  Especially if you are someone with the companion pass.

RELATED: A Review of all 3 Southwest Credit Cards.

My Southwest Boarding Tips & Tricks

Here are my tips and tricks for Southwest’s boarding procedures.  Share any that you have in the comments section.  Also share why you love or hate Southwest’s boarding procedures in the comments section as well, please keep it civilized.

  1. Set an Alarm on Your Phone and Calendar Reminder

What I usually do is place a calendar reminder the evening before I need to check in as a reminder that I need to remind myself to check in.  Annoying already right? Just kidding… kinda.

When that goes off I set an alarm on my phone for a few minutes before the 24 hour check in window.  I also set an alert on my calendar so I get an email 15 minutes before.  This gives me some time to put everything in order.  Especially if I am checking people in on a separate confirmation number as well, which I usually am.

2. Fly With Small Children

Well this one only works for some but it is one to be aware of.  If you have small kids (6 years and under) you can skip everything above.  I am sad that I only get this for another year and a half. I may need to put another one in the oven.  Currently debating whether or not it is worth it.  Upcoming Southwest flights over the next 6 years vs changing more diapers….I guess I’ll pass :).

You are allowed to board during the family boarding period if you have small children.  This happens after the A group boards but before B group boards.  You can wait to check in at the airport if you want and still all sit together.  No need to get up early while on vacation solely to check in for your return flight!

Southwest's Boarding Procedures

3. The Devil You Know Is Better Than the One you Don’t

I always try to sit in a seat where I complete the row.  So if I am flying with my wife I choose a row that already has someone sitting in the window seat.  This ensures that I know who our seat mate will be.  Choosing usually works out better than leaving it to chance.

If we are flying with kids I usually pick an empty row and we split up, 1 adult with each child.  Since the kids are so small I don’t worry about having space as much and I prefer ensuring them a window seat over anything else.

4. The Way to Avoid Early Morning Alarms on Vacation

We are a group of deal seekers so paying $15 extra per person for Early Bird check in doesn’t work for most of us. Early Bird automatically checks you in so you will have a good boarding zone no matter when you go to print/download your ticket. The one instance where I will consider it is if we have an early morning return flight or if we will be somewhere with spotty wi-fi for check in.

Nothing peeves me more than having to set an alarm to wake up while on vacation, especially to check in for a flight!  So to avoid this I will sometimes pay the $15 fee.  Some people will only pay for one person and save a seat for other members in the party.  We have done this in the past when we got C boarding the day of and paid the $40 fee to get bumped up before the flight.  This is a grey area for Southwest and we try to avoid doing it though.

If you do use Early Bird make sure that it is a flight that you are sure you will take since Early Bird is non refundable.

5. Earn A-List Status

This isn’t going to work for most people but if you earn A-List status then you don’t need to worry about checking in for yourself anymore.  A-List members are guaranteed A boarding.  It does not extend to family members or people on your itinerary though.

6. Leave the Middle Open

If you are flying with another person and want to get a row to yourselves your best bet is to sit in the back of the plane.  Also leave the middle seat open since those are the least desirable.  If someone ends up sitting down in your row just have one person move to the middle so you are sitting next to each other.

7. Drink

If that doesn’t work then get yourself some discounted drink tickets off of eBay and that should make the experience a little more fun :).

Conclusion

While Southwest’s boarding procedure isn’t my favorite it is a neccesary evil.  4 of my next 5 flights are on them.  Hopefully a few of these tips make your experience a little easier the next time you fly them.

Do you use any of the above tricks or do you have a new one to share?  Let me know in the comments section.


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41 COMMENTS

  1. Try to get a real count for the flight from a flight attendant. If there are truly no (or few) empty seats (as opposed the the general lying they do on almost every flight: “we’re going to have a full flight”), then I like your “devil you know” thinking. But if there are significant empty seats, then I would slightly amend your advice to get a middle seat “in the back.” I would suggest that the prime empty middle seat zone is just a ways behind the exit rows at mid-plane. Because inevitably, as the plane fills up, people instinctively keep going to the far back looking & hoping for a window or aisle … and then just take middle seats in the very back as they give up (since they can’t swim back upstream). Sometimes the FA’s say “there’s no more windows or aisles – so take whatever middle seat is open” … but I find they do NOT say that more often than not.

    And as much as the FA’s like to say “don’t avoid eye contact” with people looking for a middle seat … definitely avoid eye contact … it’s like an invitation!! That said, if you have a middle seat open and the plane is filling up … definitely look to make (pleading!) eye contact with the most desirable seat-mate candidate coming down the aisle!

  2. The lack of assigned seating is why I avoid southwest like the plague unless it’s under 75 mins and I have only a laptop bag. I had a meeting in oakland today. But I chose to uber to sfo to fly Alaska with a chance for an upgrade rather than fly southwest from the more convenient airport.

    • I don’t think you are alone in the sentiment. There are a lot of people that feel the same way but probably just as many that love the unassigned seating. I don’t enjoy it but I’ll still do it if it is the best deal.

  3. I have never flown Southwest as the seats and boarding procedure cause me anxiety just thinking about it. I need to know my seat assignment when I purchase my ticket. The thought of a middle seat puts me in panic mode. I don’t think I will ever fly Southwest.

  4. I don’t mind the Southwest system and am so used to it I probably don’t want to travel where you have to pick or pay for a seat. Given Companion for the moment also helps and for that I don’t mind paying the early bird to avoid those families 🙂 We did at one stage just buy one early bird and meet in the plane or try to get in on the 24 hr window but seems easier to pay early bird. We also will leave the seat in the middle and just see if we are lucky enough to remain with the seat empty.

  5. I find the Southwest system annoying, but the above ideas are good ones. My one huge gripe is when people “save” seats for other people. I loathe this practice to the core of my soul. What surprises me is that Southwest allows it, even though it directly contradicts the entire premise of first come, first served.

    • Yeah we only did it the one time and I actually felt bad about it. People will do it right in front of the FA and they won’t say anything. I am surprised…maybe they don’t think it is worth the fight and are avoiding “United” type of situations.

  6. My only complaint about southwest’s process is people who save seats in the front of the plane. If it’s crucial that you sit next to someone, please check in early (or pay the Early Bird Check in fee) and then board together and be willing to sit in the back if necessary.

  7. I avoid Southwest ever since they went to the points system years ago. My wife unfortunately is on Southwest for business fairly often but not enough to A-list. My complaint is that even if she buys the early bird boarding she is mostly getting low B’s which is really not worth it over just checking in right at the 24 hour mark. My advice is if the flight doesn’t seem that full and you aren’t under B30 then go to the back first. So many people are lazy and just fill in toward the front even in the middles. Weird. Years ago I had moderate success with the newspaper trick. You pick an aisle seat toward the back with an open middle. Then open up a newspaper and act really in to reading it with it fully open shielding the middle seat. It also helps if the window mate is a larger person as I’m not small myself. I know it sounds dumb and maybe that is another reason I’ve left Southwest. The worst though is the (usually old couple) that are so cheap they have one person buy up to an A and then get on the plane early only to try and save the seat for the spouse that saved the $15 to board much later. It should be illegal.
    Also note that pre-board persons are not suppose to be allowed to occupy emergency row seats and usually the FA’s do enforce that rule.

  8. Thanks for the positive input. We fly Southwest with CP 10-12 times per year. Love Southwest boarding process Have utilized all your tips. Usually pay for Early Bird boarding. One other tip…. The flight attendant often stands in the exit rows and most people don’t realize you can take those seats. We end up getting exit row that way at least half the time

    • I have noticed they tend to stand there. I am usually in B boarding so no shot at getting them 🙁

      Good tip for anyone who does early bird or A-list people though!

  9. Perspective. I was boarding a flight using a companion pass for my wife so I could get back and care for homeless patients. Two women were arguing about spots 23 and 24. Really? First world complaints for sure. If the companion pass isn’t worth it you can fly another airline. Best airline ever.

  10. My comment is different than others here, buy I don’t mind sitting in the middle seat (There must be something wrong with me I guess, meeting new people and actually talking to them).

    That being said, for the people who don’t like Suthwest’s boarding procedure, you can pay the $15 just like you have to pay extra on most airline’s nowadays to choose a seat.

    • I think a lot of people are getting stuck in mid to late B’s with early bird…that makes me question it’s value

  11. I’m in the disliking camp. Have the companion pass now and actually looking forward to it expiring! After a super miserable experience being squeezed in the midddle between two large individuals on last row of plane, I changed two things for a cross country flight. We bought the early bird for the three of us both ways. Also opted against carryon luggage since that way we could get seats without continuing to walk down aisle looking for overhead space. Our $90 bought us us very end of the B boarding both times. Also find that unless I book very far in advance, the flights are quite expensive. Not unusual to find 400 and 500 or more flights for a 90 minute or 2 hour flight.
    I wish there were some way to invalidate the tickets of anyone saving a seat for someone who has not bought the early bird. That just crosses an ethical line for me…so clearly treating others in a way you would not wish to be treated. I like your idea of choosing a row with one person so at least you know who you have. And part of the problem is the airlines just making the seats too darned small for so many Americans. Without that issue, I don’t think there would be the same fear regarding seatmates!

  12. When only middle seats are empty, look for obvious couples in window and aisle seats as one of them usually moves over to the middle seat. Of course, that doesn’t work with my husband and me as he prefers the window and I prefer the aisle. We don’t plan on talking through a flight anyway and do we really need to sit together for a few hours over our preferred seating? Unless the middle seat gets chatty, most never know we’re a couple. I know it’s annoying sitting in a middle seat and having window and aisle continually conversing with each other.

  13. We fly SW all the time with our family. I much PREFER their seating method. I don’t enjoy paying $100 per ticket on reward flights on United for E+ or other airlines to reserve any seat. In all of our years flying SW, I have never had a middle seat between strangers. We never pay for EB, but do check in right at the 24 hr mark, and have never once gotten a C boarding position. As long as you are in the B’s or higher, you won’t either. I also like that boarding is so much more orderly then other airlines where everyone is crowded around the gate trying to be the first one in their group.

    • Is E+ a fair comparison though? It comes with a lot more perks and more legroom compared to SW seats.

      I haven’t had to pay for a seat on a flight unless I am choosing a premium seat. But I don’t fly Spirit or Frontier where that is common practice either.

  14. We love Southwest for so many reasons and always have a CP or 2. What I have found invaluable is the ability to cancel or change award tickets at any time. I really like being able to book in advance even for tentative trips. And I also love the ability to rebook if the points go down. Sometimes that savings is amazing! Those things definitely make up for having to set alarms or pay a little extra for a seat in my book. We often pay for Early Bird on long flights just to be sure we’ll sit together.

    I have one other tip if you forget to check in at 24 hours and your only option is a middle seat. Look for a row where it looks like the window and aisle passengers might be traveling together. They will generally move together and give up the aisle!

    • Their cancellation policy is what keeps me around. If they ever changed that I would probably book slightly more expensive award flights on other airlines. Fingers crossed it never changes!

      Good tip!

  15. I really appreciate how much faster the boarding process is with Southwest which is why I don’t mind it. I always set an alarm for checkin and never have a problem finding a good seat, especially when flying alone. The only time when I got a really bad seat was when I fell a sleep at the gate for my flight home from Las Vegas at 8am and only woke up as they were calling for last call for boarding :). That was the least fun flight I’ve ever had to take.

    • I bet! I missed the family boarding once and we had to board in the C’s and luckily a few people were willing to move so we could grab seats together. Totally our fault but stressful none the less.

  16. Please explain how a family of 4 with 7 and 9 year olds would be seated on a SA flight. Surely the airline doesn’t allow the children to be separated from their parents and middle seated with strangers if the extra measures you mention above are not utilized?

    • A lot of the time people will make adjustments and move for families but that is why you have to stay on top of stuff when flying them. Probably worth paying the early bird fee if you are worried about it – but you would need to factor in that cost and see if it still is a good deal.

  17. Sensible tips, for the most part. However, I find the “couples leave the middle seat open” strategy to be rather churlish. Not just with Southwest, but also when they do this booking assigned seats on other airlines.

    And “saving seats”?? OK at a wedding reception maybe, but not OK where people have paid a significant amount for a ticket which should allow them to have “equal access” to all seats (at least amongst their “boarding group”).

    That said, I’m all for avoiding eye contact…!

    • It reminds me of that Doritos commercial where the guy was making a mess until a pretty lady walked down the aisle lol

  18. I have the “script” program and have tried it 3 times (Google Chrome) Once it didn’t work at all, and twice I got a mid “C” number. Went back to Early Bird for one uf us (my wife & I). Have the CP

  19. I love southwest! Such a simple website, points stretch far, my CP makes it even farther, connections in Denver to eat free steaks on PP, cancel award flights up to the last minute for no hassle at all, 2 free checked bags each, etc… heck, I’ve even sat in the middle and survived, oh no!!

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