The Southwest Boarding Process – some LUV it, some hate it, but regardless of these feelings, when you fly Southwest you will have to deal with it!
Southwest has “open seating” – meaning that if a seat is open when you walk down the aisle, it is yours to sit in. Southwest is the only domestic carrier that allows passengers to pick their own seat while boarding (a practice dating back to the founding of the airline), and while passengers do not have a seat assignment, they do receive a boarding position, which makes all the difference!
It’s simple. First on the plane gets first choice of seats. Front seats, aisle seats, window seats, exit row seats (extra legroom) are the first to receive a pair of buns in them. Find yourself with an inferior boarding position? Enjoy sitting apart from your travel companions in that middle seat or that seat next to the rear bathroom!
Remember – Boarding Positions are as follows (in ranking of priority first to last):
So, now that we have established that boarding position is key… How can you ensure you receive a higher priority boarding position?
Simple – time or money.
Let’s take a look at your options! I’ll detail your options from the cheapest and last in boarding line, to the most expensive , A1 position – whether paying with your time or paying with your wallet!
Do Less, You Can’t
Boarding Position – Generally C 1-30 or C 31-60 (maybe a B if the flight is undersold)
Don’t care about your seat on the plane? Not worried about space in the overhead bin for your carry-on bag? You’re in luck! Sit back, relax, check-in to your flight when you get to the airport and get on the plane. Simple.
Cost – Free!
Fast Fingers – Generally A31-60 through B31-60 and anywhere in-between
Southwest flights are available exactly 24 hours prior to scheduled flight departure time – to the second. So, if you are looking to grab a good boarding position, you should aim to check-in as close to the 24 hour mark as possible. The earlier you check in, the closer your assigned spot will be to the front of the line.
For me, this means setting multiple alarms and alerts on my phone and staring at the computer/phone screen 5 minutes prior to the 24 hour mark, literally watching the minutes tick by. Most of the time I am rewarded with an A boarding position, but even on my fastest days I am pushed into the B Group…
Cost – Free! Except for your time taken to be ready at the 24 hour check-in mark!
Squad Goals – Generally between A60 and B1
Traveling with young kids? You need help and Southwest knows it! If you are traveling with a child six years old or younger then you can board during Family Boarding – after the “A” group and before the “B” group. That said, if you have “A” group boarding passes, best to sick with that position.
Cost – Free*? Could factor in the financial cost of having a child or perhaps the emotional cost of traveling with young children, but for now, I will call it free*.
The Poor Man’s (actually rich) Fast Fingers – Generally between A 31-60 (possibly a “B” position if there are loads of Business travelers)
Fancy an “A” boarding position without the 24 hour check-in commitment? Get it while the gettin’ is good and go for the EarlyBird Special! For a fee, Southwest will automatically check you in and assign your boarding position at 36 hours prior to departure. That means that you will have a 12-hour jump on those Fast Finger fools watching the clock tick! Keep in mind though that EarlyBird Check-In doesn’t guarantee an A boarding position (Status holders and Business Select flyers may scoop most of the availability), but merely increases your chances by cutting the line 12 hours earlier.
Cost – $15 – per one-way ($30 for a round-trip)
Have Status? Good news if you are a frequent Southwest flyer, because Southwest will lump you into this category as well! Rapid Rewards Members with A-List and A-List Preferred status also receive boarding assignments at 36 hour prior to flight at no extra cost!
Let Me, Let Me Upgrade You
Ok, so you balked at the $15 Poor Man’s Fast Fingers, missed the deadline for the Fast Fingers, and have an aging squad (kid over 7 years old), but don’t you worry because you still have a shot at a premier boarding position – but it will cost you!
Splurge for upgraded boarding at the gate for an A1 – A15 boarding group! Careful keeping all of your eggs in this basket though – because if there are a high number of business travelers than this option might not even be available…
Cost – a whooping $30 or $40 per flight (depending your itinerary)!
Money Can’t Buy You Class
But it can buy you a better boarding position! If you want a guaranteed A1 – A15 boarding position, then buy a Business Select fare! Sure, this fare will cost multiples more that the Anytime and Wanna Get Away fares that Southwest offers…
But isn’t that premier boarding position worth it!?
I don’t think so either…
If you care about your seat on the plane and your overhead bin space then your Southwest boarding position matters.
If you don’t care, then more power to you! We are all going to the same place and we will all get there at the same time!
Happy Southwest Travels!