How Southwest Determines Your Boarding Card Number, and How You Can Now Jump the Line for $40

In the wake of Southwest announcing that you can now jump to the head of the line for $40 a person if there is room, I’ve received a lot of questions about just exactly how the Southwest boarding process works. I think my favorite was from someone in New York who is used to flying AirTran but just had her first experience on Southwest.

I forgot to do the 24 hour checkin yesterday, but remembered about 4 hours prior and did so from my phone figuring I’d still be OK by beating the airport checkin people. I was peeved to be B48, but figured that we’d be ok. I was surprised in line to see that there were only 3 people behind us for the entire plane. The flight was about 2/3 full. Is it really possible that the entire plane (less 3 people) checked in >4 hours prior?

Oh yes, it is possible. Long time Southwest loyalists might smirk a little at this, but keep in mind that in places like New York and Atlanta, flying Southwest is still a somewhat foreign concept. That’s going to be changing quickly as AirTran gets converted over. So, I thought it was time to break down how Southwest handles boarding. Let’s start with a graphic.

Southwest Boarding Process

Before I start explaining this little picture, I might need to back up a little further. Southwest does not assign seats. At all. It used to be back in the day that you could only check in at the gate. When you got there, it was common to find lines snaking out into the concourse. Plastic boarding cards were handed out beginning 1 hour prior to departure, and boarding was in groups of 30. Those in the first 30 could board in whatever order they lined up in. So you would get camps of homeless-looking people staking their spots. It sucked.

Eventually, this changed to the point where you could check in at the ticket counter and then online. The time limit backed up until it was 24 hours in advance. People were ready at 24 hours out to make sure they got the coveted boarding pass in the first group. But Southwest decided to make a change, so it created an entirely new system. And now it has added more and more to that system to get to the point where it is today. It’s pretty confusing.

The idea is that you get an alphanumeric pass that allows you to board in order. First it’s A1-60, then B1-60, and then C1- whatever is needed depending upon how many people there are. The first people on the plane get the first pick of seats. But there is a wrench here. If the airplane came from somewhere else before, then there could be people already onboard connecting through. They don’t have to get off. This happens a lot if you go to Dallas, because Southwest currently can’t fly nonstop to most cities in the US from there. (This changes in a year or so.) So your boarding number doesn’t give you a perfectly accurate count of what you’re going to find when you walk onboard. But you can be reasonably assured that you’ll get a decent seat if you’re in the A group. B group is iffy, depending upon how many people are with you and how many are already onboard. And C group? You’re screwed.

Now, let’s go through the order.

Big Money (Business Select)
Southwest’s fully refundable rack rate is called the Anytime fare. For $16 to $28 above that fare, you can buy Business Select. (It’s obviously a much bigger buy-up, sometimes hundreds of dollars, if you’re upgrading from a cheap Wanna Get Away fare.) This includes priority check-in and security, a free drink, and bonus points in the Rapid Rewards program. Most importantly, it gives you true priority boarding. They only sell 15 of these on each flight, so you are guaranteed to get something between A1 and A15 (exact number is determined by who checks in first), and that means you’ll get a good seat.

Today, if not all 15 are sold in advance, then those spots just remain empty. Southwest has now decided to change that. If the spots are open when you get to the gate, you can pay $40 to get one. You don’t get any of the other perks that come with Business Select, but you do get on early. This is the first time Southwest has allowed people to buy up to a better number after they know their position. So you can assume that people at the back are going to buy up regularly on this and A1-15 will now be full almost every time.

Kings (A-List Preferred) and Princes (A-List)
Those people who fly Southwest way too much are top tier elites, called A-List Preferred. If you earn 70,000 tier qualifying points or fly 50 one way flights, then you’re in. Those who fly slightly less (35,000 tier qualifying points or 25 one way flights), get A-List. The best you can get as an A-List Preferred is A16, and it will go as high as needed to accommodate them all. After all the Preferred people, then the regular A-List people get their passes. How the order is determined within each group is somewhat of a mystery. According to Southwest spokesperson Whitney Eichinger, “It varies from flight to flight and the exact science behind it is not something we share.”

EarlyBirds
After all the elites get on, then the EarlyBird people get their boarding passes. It used to be $10 each way above any fare you purchased, but it’s going up to $12.50 in a couple weeks. If you buy this, then you are automatically checked in 36 hours in advance and assigned a boarding pass. You have no idea what that will be in advance. If there are a ton of elite members onboard, you could easily find yourself in the B group. Heck, if everyone buys EarlyBird, you could be the last person on the airplane. How do they determine the order? Well, those buy the full Anytime fare get priority. Then all the other fares are put behind. Within each group, it’s determined by when EarlyBird was purchased. So if you buy it way in advance, you’ll have a better number than someone who buys it 2 days before the flight.

Eager Beavers (24 hours)
Once the EarlyBirds are done, then it’s time for the people who don’t want to pay but are sitting at their computer exactly 24 hours in advance to get the best number left. If nobody purchases EarlyBird and there are no elites onboard, that could theoretically be A16. But in reality, you’re really lucky if you get any kind of A boarding pass at all.

Swee’ Pea (Families)
Next up: families, although it’s not odd for the familes and Eager Beavers to switch. Southwest allows family boarding with small kids after the A group. So it’s even possible that with enough elite members, some of them will fall into the B group, behind families. It doesn’t matter what boarding pass the family has – they can board after the A group.

Slackers
After all this, we have the end of the line, the people who didn’t pay for anything extra but also didn’t try to check in online early. In this group, you can also find people who had to make a last minute change, so not exactly slackers. Even if you’re an elite member, if you make a last minute change you’re going to be stuck getting on last. But primarily, it’s people who just didn’t really care or didn’t know how the system worked.

It’s somewhat amazing to me that a primer like this is necessary considering how simple Southwest’s system used to be. But clearly things are different these days. Any questions?

Get Posts via Email When They Go Live or in a Weekly Digest

Leave a Reply

220 Comments on "How Southwest Determines Your Boarding Card Number, and How You Can Now Jump the Line for $40"

avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
MilesAbound
Guest

Once again I am reminded of this AirTran classic, such a shame they are now owned by the cows:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6DdDlPT4Uc

Boarding on SouthWest is an absolutely horrible process

Tom
Guest

Great Video! I had an early Southwest flight from Austin to Atlanta today and me and the Southwest gate attendent thought this was to funny! :)

The flight was half full, so no cattle call :(

Andrew
Guest

You’re kidding, right? Boarding on WN is great, because it completely eliminates the gate lice problem. If legacy airlines had boarding like WN, we’d no longer see elites crowding the gate 30 minutes before boarding because they’re worried that they won’t be among the first 10 people on the plane.

stan
Guest

southwest is a giant hassle, and, as a NYC traveler, they are not cheap. i avoid the chaos.

noahkimmel
Member

I used to be a big southwest guy. Then I realized every other airline is generally cheaper.

Southwest offers no change fees, friendliest service, free bags, etc. But if your plans aren’t changing, your not going to use the extras like 2 bag checks, and your not trying to fly within 2-3 days, generally, in my experience, other airlines are cheaper.

Phill
Guest
I agree that Southwest is now generally more expensive than other airlines except if you could snag a wanna getaway fare during one of their great sales. I would disagree, however, that Southwest has the friendliest service. It seems that the SW crew is going the way of legacy carriers in terms of poor, unsmiling and unfriendly service. I understand, though, that it’s a tough job dealing with all of us cranky flyers day din and day out. If you’re lucky enough to have Virgin America in your area, you are indeed blessed. Virgin America has undoubtedly the friendliest personnel… Read more »
SubwayNut
Guest
Southwest can be cheep, I just booked a nonstop from LGA to Denver for just $89, 8 days before the flight. I was talking to some friends who do LGA-MKE extremely frequently and are AirTran loyalists. With A+ Elite that used to guarantee them Exit Row Seats on nearly every flight, plus Business Class upgrades if any seats are left in that section of the plane. When they end up on Southwest (the route is still being flown by both Airlines which must make for a booking hassle) they don’t get the exit rows anymore. Cranky, What do you offer… Read more »
noahkimmel
Member

SubwayNut–how many stops until you reach denver? criss-cross the USA! :)

Wes
Guest

2 daily LGA-DEN nonstops. Also 2 EWR-DEN, if you are interested…

Batman
Guest

Guess you don’t know what nonstop means…

Tim
Guest

Thanks for the easy to understand explanation of what has become a complicated process. Cranky should be the one to write the Southwest Airlines Boarding School (http://www.southwest.com/html/customer-service/airport-experience/boarding-school/)!

Kilroy
Guest
For some people this matters a lot. Really, though, unless you have a lower rank than, say, B30 or so, your odds of getting on the plane and finding only middle seats available are pretty low (given that most of LUV’s planes seat 120-140 people, and are 3×3, so ~1/3 of those seats are middle seats), even worst case scenario if the flight is full. I don’t have any hard data on this, and I’m sure someone will tell some anecdotes to the contrary, but I would imagine that for many flights it is going to be mostly the slackers… Read more »
MissE
Guest

Well, I just tried to check in one hour before, was poised by my computer, and I still got the B40 position. Hard to believe. SWA “pretends” to be low cost, but when you add on the cost of trying to get a decent seat, all the time spent flying here & there before you get to your destination, I don’t think it’s that great a deal.

Wendy
Guest

I just checked in exactly at 24 hours before on the minute and got B59 and B60 so to me this is ridiculous. Not sure I will use Southwest again. Hoping my daughter and I can get seats together tomorrow. We will see.

So&So
Guest

I just checked in exactly 24 hours ahead, and got a C boarding pass, but even though it’s the only airline flying nonstop from Phoenix to Chicago’s Midway, I won’t be flying SW again!

JuliaZ
Member

On a recent MDW – DEN flight (departing at 7 am on a Tuesday), I checked my friend in 23:53 before the flight (7 minutes after 24 hours), and got B48. On the same MDW – DEN flight six weeks earlier, checking in at 23:58 got him B56. Both planes were (obviously) nearly full.

I personally will never fly Southwest. Between this horrible boarding system, and the peanuts they insist on serving, it is not for me.

Phil
Guest
I don’t have any problem with Southwest’s boarding process. I find it significantly more organized then the free-for-all that occurs when boarding aircraft with most legacy carriers. I have seen Southwest board a 737 quicker and more orderly then a legacy carrier could a regional jet at a gate directly across the terminal. Southwest assigns me a group and a number. I appreciate the fact that I know exactly where to stand and don’t have to wade through 50-100 people standing around a gate. If I have a tight connection, am traveling with a group or need to get off… Read more »
noahkimmel
Member

I agree, the boarding is generally friendly and calm. While I wish I had an assigned seat, I do like that everyone is usually in the gate area, ready to board, with no fights or boarding door creeping

Terri
Guest

Now most of the carriers offer group boarding & it goes very quickly & you know the seat you are getting so people get in, get to the seat & settle in, rather than have people mosey along browsing for seats & not being able to decide where exactly they want to sit. Much better to have seat assignments, no contest!!

Travel
Guest

What would be the advantage to Southwests style of boarding and seat selection compared to the process used by al lot of other airlines?

Sean S.
Guest

The advantage is that there is kind of a “natural selection” at play. People are going to sit where they want, quickly, and the kind of kabuki that occurs when zones are called for people at different rows etc.

At the end of the day no boarding process is especially better as long as carry on regulations are not strictly enforced and the increasingly insane size of many people’s “personal items”.

Terri
Guest
If you happen to be 6’5″ tall, you would agree that seat assignments are a MUST! My boyfriend will not even fly Southwest if we are flying together, I have to go on another airlines as he is too cramped in a regular seat & always pays to upgrade his seat to be sure he has more legroom & it definitely slows down the boarding process to now have assigned seating as people can’t make up their mind where they want to seat & really hold up the lines. NO reason for not assigning seats, really wish Southwest would wise… Read more »
Tom
Guest

*** New boarding policy also: A-listers with B’s or C’s can board after A60***

Jared Hanner
Member

I feel that southwest flights are usually fairly short too. I fly them. Lot from LAX or BUR to the Bay Area or Vegas and I have to say boarding is usually less hectic than a united flight where everyone is trying to board in a group that they don’t belong in… Trying to get on early for that coveted overhead bin space.

Sanjeev M
Guest

When WN gives you 2 bags free, overhead space is not as critical. Although its true people still lug onboard tons of stuff.

This is a good fee in that the people who don’t want to pay still get the same thing as before. Personally, even with a low C boarding pass I can easily find my preference of a window seat a few rows behind the wing.

Tom
Guest

I’m a A-List Preferred Member (I fly Southwest a lot? yes I?m crazy!)
For a lot of people that don?t fly Southwest very often the $40 ($80 RT) is going to be a rip-off!

(M-F) most early morning flights and afternoon flights A1- A15 are filled up with business fliers. Plus a lot early flights are never full, so it?s easy to get an ?A? group boarding pass.
Weekends A1-A15 is usually empty. Some flights like to Atlanta, NYC, Tampa are never full.

Myself? I usually book business select with my southwest visa card for the rapid rewards.

Tom
Guest

This new boarding option will only be offered at the gate on the day of travel, beginning 45 minutes before the flight departs. Customers will hear an announcement in the gate area and will be able to purchase an available boarding position via credit card from a Customer Service Agent. Customers will only have the opportunity to purchase these positions if available. The airline successfully tested this new boarding option in San Diego last month, and received positive feedback.

Tom
Guest

Plus continuations flights where the plane already has lots of passengers on? Pay $40 to sit in the back half of the plane? Bwaaaa haaa haaaaa!

David SF eastbay
Member

Amazing, WN can’t program their computer for international travel, not even to Canada or Mexico, but can program their computer to know all this ‘who gets what assigned number’ crap!!!!!!!!!!

I think I’d be in the ‘slacker’ group since it’s the easiest to figure out, just do nothing but show up…..lol

JRS
Guest

I would be in the slacker category, I don’t care where I sit, its just a plane
ride after all, not a lifetime committment. :)

Wes
Guest

I like your style. If only more travelers felt this way, as oppposed to the current view of “this aircraft is here solely to serve MY needs.”

MeanMeosh
Guest
FWIW, here’s been my experience: – Early Bird usually gets me a slot between A-45 and 50. The worst I’ve gotten has been mid-50s in the A group. I have never personally been stuck with a B boarding pass after paying for Early Bird, though I’m sure it happens on busier routes, and I for one wouldn’t be particularly happy if it happened to me. – The couple of times I’ve forgotten to do Early Bird, or had to do a last minute change, the results have been hit or miss. If I go in exactly 24 hours before flight… Read more »
MeanMeosh
Guest

One thing I forgot to add – my biggest complaint with WN, as a non-frequent flier, is the absolute chaos at security at WN terminals if you don’t have priority. Even STL takes nearly 30 minutes to clear at rush hour. If the guys on Cedar Springs are looking for a new ancillary revenue source, I for one would gladly pay a higher fee for a package that includes priority security with Early Bird boarding.

Derek Pugh
Member

They have it…it’s called business select… ;)

MeanMeosh
Guest
True, but what I was really getting at was passengers who aren’t already buying full fare “Anytime” fares, where the buy-up to Business Select isn’t very much. The price difference between a “Wanna Get Away” and Business Select fare can easily be a few hundred bucks one way. What I had in mind was something like AA’s “Priority AAccess”, where you pay something like $39 each way and get priority security and Group 1 boarding. Personally I think they could make some money off of that (perhaps Early Bird Plus?), but then again, I’m sure the corporate folks at WN… Read more »
Tom
Guest

A-listers get Priority Check-in and Security Lane Access. At some airports it works great at others like MCO not so much. I fly mainly out of Austin or Houston Hobby and their TSA is very fast, but they are airports that once you get past TSA you have access to the entire airport.

Adam
Guest

I fly HOU-MCO / MCO-HOU weekly and have never head a problem with the priority lane at MCO. I think my longest wait was about 8 minutes — which is pretty decent. Compared with ATL where the concierge line is 20-30 min, MCO is about average — as compared to HOU, DAL, etc.

Joanne
Guest

I just checked in maybe 5 minutes off of my 24 hour check in time and received B48!! So much for being an early bird!

Brian
Guest
I find Southwest’s system to be perfect for the average business/causal traveler with no status. On legacy airlines I spend countless times checking online to see if a better seat opened up. If I book a month in advance that’s a lot of seat checking. With WN there is nothing to worry about. Checking in 24 hours before still gets you a aisle or window and room for your carry on. I actually prefer to board in the B’s as a solo traveller. You can let some of the plane fill in and choose an ideal seatmate. Boarding first means… Read more »
Todd
Guest
While living in Baltimore I flew SWA regularly. My boss said having A was like being prey and holding a C was like being a predator. With his C in hand he’d go slowly down the aisle looking for people averting their eyes and storing their coats/books/laptops on the middle seat. He’d say “Is that seat taken?” They would begrudgingly move their stuff, then he’d say “On second thought I’m going to go further back.” He was looking for two thin and preferably attractive females to sit in between. Pretty much never got stuck next to a screaming baby or… Read more »
html
Guest

Todd, devious but pure genius A+

MikeF
Guest

(smirk) Southwest was so reviled by the sales executives at the last company I worked for, it was eventually removed as a flight option by our in-house travel folks. And things like this are one reason why. Someday they’ll join the current century and do away with this stupid bus-terminal style boarding. I don’t give rat’s butt if it’s good for them and their “system.” It’s miserable and unnecessarily complex for those of us paying money to fly their Texas hee-haw airline.

Sean S.
Guest

Surprisingly this doesn’t seem to concern Southwest whom still attracts loads of paying pax. I’m a pretty big defender of legacy airlines and traditional bundled services, but the reality is the markets big enough to sustain people at various price point and products. The person who has elite status on a legacy is not likely to switch to Southwest, just like a person who likes Southwest is not going to switch to a legacy carrier.

Tom
Guest

I’ve flown all the legacy airlines and I find Southwest’s way of boarding to be fast and effective. They turn though flights around pretty fast. Plus most people don’t fly a lot and they never seem to listen to the gate attendants boarding calls.

Michael
Guest

At least on Southwest if I’m a nobody (no status, etc) I’m still a somebody with a fairly decent shot at getting a decent seat and not having to gate check my bag. My last few experiences on UA have been a nobody like me is boarding group 7 and then have to play bag gate check roulette. Sure loyalty has it’s perks, but we’re still human dammit :-)

Tom
Guest

I totally agree! Plus with Southwest you might get the chance of sitting next to a very attractive women. Plus I get tons of drink couples that I always share with people around me and I tend to make lots of happy travelers.

Wes
Guest
Of all the things that blow my mind in this world, the huge number of critics of WN’s boarding process is very near the top of the list. I honestly wonder if most people simply don’t understand the system. This seemingly wide-held opinion that WN’s system is bogus whereas flights on the legacies board like a well-oiled machine is amazing to me. An outright bias against WN is the only other thing I can come up with as far as the critics go….??? It is not that difficult. CF, you did a great job of laying it all out. I… Read more »
Joflyer
Guest

This system may not be complicated but it surely isn’t as simple as, “this is your seat, sit here, done.” To most, myself included, there would be apprehension associated with a system I didn’t know or understand. Nevertheless, I’ve never flown Southwest but I’ve always been curious to try their system.

WarrEagle
Member

You’ve never flown SWA and your commenting. Sheesh

noahkimmel
Member

My only gripe is that they will sell Early Bird right up until the last seat on the plane. I understand they want to make money. But if I’m going to be in the C group, and behind all the families and stuff,I dont think I should pay extra to do it. But I suppse its a gamble, and a scenario that rarely happens

Wes
Guest

I agree with you here. It would be nice if there were someway for a potential “Early Bird” purchaser to see how far back the assignments had already been doled out. No difficulty at all for me in understanding why WN does not do that, as it would certainly hurt business (fewer Early Bird’s sold).

Tom
Guest

Noah… if you paid early bird it is highly unlikely that you would get a C group. Southwest planes hold about 140 people. Each group is 60 people. Early bird assigns you a boarding pass 24 hrs before the flight, so it is highly unlikely that 120 people (group A + B) would have purchased early bird seating.

MikeABQ
Guest

Actually, Early Bird ASSIGNS your boarding position 36 hours in advance of departure; then you can print your boarding pass 24 hours in advance of departure. If you don’t buy Early Bird (or have “status”) you can only get your boarding position assignment 24 hours in advance.

Markoh80
Member

I love the passengers on Southwest that race to get a window or aisle seat, then they get mad when someone has to take the middle seat. What did you expect??!!!

Wes
Guest

Especially galling is when 2 people traveling together grab the window and the aisle seats, and then evidently don’t hear the FAs announce multiple times that it will be a full flight with not a single open seat (yes, including the middle seat between the two of you where your coats and purses currently sit).

john96
Member
I boarded a WN flight recently, and it was going to be 3/4 full or better. It had been a long day, and I wanted to deplane quickly, so I wanted to sit near the front. I managed to find an open OH bin space and window seat at about row 5. I asked the nice gentleman who was sitting in the aisle if I could have the window. He suggested that I move on down the aisle. I said I didn’t want to. he got up in a huff, and marched himself down the aisle. Ultimately he would have… Read more »
Tom
Guest

Does that mean if I fly business select and get an A3 boarding pass can I sell it to someone in B or C group for say $35 bucks and undercut Southwest’s upgrade seating program?

Chicago Chris
Member

I read Southwest tested this at SAN before the national roll out. If I remember correctly they also tested the Early Bird program there too. Anyone know why SAN gets to be the Guinea pig?

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater
Guest
Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

Because San Diego is the balls.

Walter
Guest

I have never flown Southwest and have a pretty basic question. I’m thinking of booking a ticket for an upcoming trip that would be a direct, 1-stop flight (same plane). When the plane makes the first stop, can I just find myself a better seat once everyone gets off and before the new folks board?

MikeABQ
Guest

Yes, yes and yes! The FA’s will do a “through count” and after they confirm the count you can change seats.

MeanMeosh
Guest

If you are on a direct flight with a stop enroute (i.e. same flight number), then the answer is yes. Once everyone has deboarded and the FAs do a headcount of through passengers, you are given an opportunity to switch seats before the new passengers get on.

Ron
Guest

Long ago (Pre-9/11) I was on a through Southwest flight, and I was allowed to change seats, then leave the plane and walk around the terminal, then get back to my saved upgraded seat. Is this still possible?

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater
Guest

Not sure about this story. I started flying SWA in the late-90’s and was on a number of multi-stop through flights (back then their schedule was full of short hops so you could conceivably fly somewhere while making 3 stops enroute) and they never allowed anyone flying through to deplane because they would turn the flight around in about 20 minutes. You could change seats, sure, but the only time you got off was at your final destination. They don’t do 20 minute turns anymore (they’re 30 now) but you still don’t deplane.

MileageUpdate
Guest

I was on a flight in Oct to Vegas w a stop at Midway. Got off and got lunch. FA was the one who recommend a lot of the holdovers get off and get food before departing. happens all the time.

MikeABQ
Guest

When the flights are on-time, and therefore subject to a 30-minute turnaround, then no, they won’t let you deplane. In the cases where I was allowed to deplane we were significantly early, and by that I mean 20 mins or more. (And yes, early arrivals DO happen, LOL.)

Wes
Guest

No, cannot leave the aircraft as a through passenger.

MikeABQ
Guest

That’s not entirely true. If the plane arrives early I’ve been given the option to deplane with the caveat that I cannot re-board until boarding begins for the next segment of the flight. Most recently I did this in October in Salt Lake City. I was able to take a walk and grab some lunch before continuing to DEN. And the gate agent allowed me and the other continuing customers to re-board ahead of everyone else. If we’re talking the usual SWA 30-min turnaround, then no, they prefer to didn’t deplane.

MikeABQ
Guest

So sorry for my bad grammar. The last night should be “they prefer if you didn’t deplane. But if the plane has arrived early often they will allow you off the aircraft before the next departure.

Wes
Guest

Interesting. What documentation are you given to re-board with?

MikeABQ
Guest

Replying to Wes, we weren’t give any documentation but the gate agent did take our names coming off the plane and checked them off his list as we re-boarded.

ptahcha
Guest

Incorrect. You can step off the plane as a through passenger after they do the through count. However, you lose your seating advantage, as you have to reboard with the rest of the crowd. You keep the stub from the original BP to reboard.

MikeABQ
Guest

In the interest of full disclosure I am A-List on SWA. There’s a lot to like about SWA and a lot to dislike but that’s going to be true at any airline. I usually fly SWA as they offer flights where I want to go at a price I’m willing to pay. I’ll admit that the process of ISSUING boarding pass assignments is rather convoluted but the boarding PROCESS is pretty darn smooth, except for the folks who don’t understand the process and there’s always one or two on every flight.

David M
Guest
The concept I’m fine with, it’s the price point that bothers me. I paid $9 last summer at the check-in kiosk for Group 1 boarding on an American flight HNL-LAX-SAN. Normally I wouldn’t bother, but this time I was traveling with a rollaboard suitcase with a bunch of fragile items with it, so I didn’t want to run the risk of the overhead bins filling up before I boarded and having to gate check it. Of course, I had to valet it on the CRJ-700 to SAN anyway, but it survived that. I don’t really mind Southwest’s boarding process; the… Read more »
David M
Guest
More thoughts on SWA versus the legacy boarding process… It’s definitely less crowded. At the legacies you end up with a pretty big crowd huddled around the gate waiting for their zone or row number to be called. Southwest’s poles that you line up next to help to move this away from the door and organize it a bit more. If you want zone boarding taken to it’s absurd extreme, I once watched a United Express agent go through each zone one at a time on a 30-seat EMB-120. Most of the zones were empty. Usually they have the sense… Read more »
donna_pursell
Member

Thanks for the up-date! I thought you still got a plastic card. Now that was democratic. Now only a leisure flyer, I don’t use SWA ’cause they don’t seem to be going to the places I want non stop. However they used to have the “friendlyest” Stews in the industry–a big plus! Is this still true?? No doubt in my mind that UA has the LEAST friendly Stews in the world. So the longer the flight the greater importance to cabin crew vs rapid boarding.

Wes
Guest

Yes, WN absolutey has the friendliest staff not only in the air, but on the ground as well.

Mark
Guest

My only questions is why on earth does anyone bother with this insanity?!?!? I’ll take zone boarding over playing craps and hoping your number comes up when checking in. I’ll gladly stand in line waiting to get on the plane knowing i’ve already got a window seat reserved thanks.

Wes
Guest

I’ll gladly pay $10 (or better yet pay nothing and have the sense to check in 24 hours prior) and choose any window seat I want. Nothing insane about that at all. Smooth boarding process.

garyedel
Member

Free market and consumer choice at work. I like order and want an assigned seat. therefore I have nothing bad to say about SW but this Air Tran flier is taking his MKE business elsewhere.

MikeABQ
Guest

Very well put.

Ron
Guest

I was once on a Southwest plane where we had to deplane prior to takeoff due to a maintenance issue. The flight attendants kindly asked that everyone remember their seat and return to it. Yeah, right… Boarding the second time was a mad rush. This was with the old plastic boarding card system, I wonder how it works now.

john
Guest

LOL…BEST Cranky Diagram/image – ever!

nm
Guest

Agree that’s the awesome-st by a mile!!!! LMAO

pilotaaron1
Guest
Cranky, you forgot the pre-boarders also. Depending on the destination that can be at least another 10-12 people. I will admit I am not a fan of this change in the Southwest “game” (what I call it). It is starting to become a little complicated. I do find it funny that we refer the legacy carriers as “full service” although Southwest includes more service with the ticket than the legacy carriers. That being said IMO I feel that Southwest is suffering from an identity problem. If I’m not mistaken, Southwest is the largest domestic airline in the US. And how… Read more »
nhcylist
Guest

I was going to mention pre-boarders as well. My wife had a broken foot last year when we flew Southwest so paid close attention to the pre-boarder process since she needed the extra time with crutches. I’ve watched after that as well. There are MANY folks who need wheelchairs to get on (and get front row seats) but need no assistance to get off. Not to say there are not legitimate folks in this situation but I have no doubt there are folks who game the system this way.

ptahcha
Guest

Those flight attendants are miracle workers.

Rick vw
Guest
I fly Southwest multiple times a week, mostly between Chicago and New York (mdw-lag). My status is a list preferred and companion pass holder. It means I mostly get to check in between a16 and a20. My experience over the 2 years I have been doing this? Pretty horrific. Almost always the flights are fully booked so youre sitting there cramped with 3 in a row. Many planes they fly still have smaller overhead bins and everyone schleps huge bags on, which always greatly delays the boarding. Then they lose their place in line for take off. Result? Most flights… Read more »
Wes
Guest
“Almost always the flights are fully booked so youre sitting there cramped with 3 in a row.” The NERVE of Southwest Airlines to install 137 seats and then go and sell every last one of them. What in the world are they thinking? Don’t they know Americans need an entire row to themselves so as to not feel bothered or disrupted? Gee whiz, what is this world coming to? I have to actually SIT next to someone, maybe even two people, for my entire 2 HOUR!!!!! flight to New York? I don’t know if I can possibly stand it.
Dumbski
Guest

A-List Preferred? After reading your sob story, you don’t sound like it . . .

TravelBloggerBuzz
Guest

Great post! As I have started using Southwest more this is very helpful to me! I will feature it in my “Best Of” category in tomorrow’s Buzz post. Thanks!

Eric
Guest

Sounds awful. Glad i’ve never had to fly southwest.

djbtravels
Member

Another reason not to fly SWA, 6 boarding zones…. sounds like a nightmare , however if I did fly SWA…. I would pay to skip ahead in the security line ,they are out the door at LAX and in NOLA 2x as long what is it at SWA only terminals that makes the lines so much longer ?…. don’t they offer free bags thus less crap going thru the Xray?

Andy
Member

LAX has long lines at every terminal, and in NOLA (my home airport) I’ve never had longer than a 15 minute wait.

martin
Member

Brilliant description. With some adaption should be on the Southwest website!

drybean
Member
I agree altho I would not change a thing in Brett’s post. Entertaining and accurate. Of course when WN started it was more fun…the only place you could buy a ticket was on the plane…the only beer they served was Texas beer (Lone Star & Pearl)…the filght attendants and gate agents wore hot pants and long white (go-go) boots…it transformed aviation from the passenger’s stand point and made the aisle seat more popular than the window seat. Here we are 40 years later…40 profitable years…and a lot of frequent flyers said 3×3 all coach seats with no assigned seating would… Read more »
ray4u2001
Member

Hi cranky.
Just wondering if southwest will keep this boarding process once they start flying international. I heard you needed assigned seating to fly international ?

Don
Guest

I love Southwest on all flights less than 2 hours. I usually am in the last section when I do fly them. My only gripe is the same as everyone else. Boarding last with only middle seats left. Sorry people; unless you paid for 2 seats I’m sitting there because I have no other option.

Rob
Guest
Apparently I need to start reading more often because my comment is a little late to the game. In any event, this change doesn’t really impact me — I think it will be a great option for those who want to skip to the front, and a possible money maker for Southwest. It is only the first few boarding positions and I’m never there anyhow and don’t plan on paying the fee myself, but I have been paying the EarlyBoarding fee and probably will continue to do so even after the increase to $12. It’s worth it to board sooner.… Read more »
ptahcha
Guest

I missed the days when you have to run to the gate to get plastic boarding card, hoping a smaller number. Oh wait, not really…..

trackback

[…] Business Class AirTran has a Business Class cabin while Southwest is all coach. So how does that work? Well, it sort of works now that Southwest has Business Select. […]

Daus
Guest
I am an a-list preferrred and a business select flyer. I pay to be at the top of the line, just so I can get a good seat. What gets me is they do not always honor this. Anyone can request a blue boarding pass and they get in front of the a-list preferred. Seriously, ANYONE. Just ask for it and you can boarded ahead of time. Those people that board on a wheelchair? Yeah…for some reason they don’t need it while leaving the plane. Also, be friends with the person running the gate. For some reason, if you look… Read more »
Steve
Guest

Southwest Philosophy- Get the hell on, get the hell off… & we throw a bag of peanuts at you along the way. Happy employees and no dicking around waiting like Delta, United, etc…
It’s how you make a profit for the last 30 plus years….
I like the fact that so many business folks turn their noses at SW. Just means less A Listers to dilute the pool for the rest of us. :)

Ryan
Guest

Spoken like a king. I never understood why people get territorial over seats. It seems people’s neanderthal-like tendencies come back and override logic and understanding. Facts: It’s not your airplane. There will be other passengers. If sitting next to somebody is going to ruin your day, PLEASE change to another airline.

Jessica
Guest

I don’t see why people are so concerned with when they board. Is it such a tragedy that you don’t get the freedom to pick who you sit next to? You are there to simply fly to a destination, not everything has to be a luxury. It has clearly been a system that works according to the long run of profitable business Southwest has done. What system would you prefer since there is so many “problems”?

Rob
Guest

Southwest has the worst boarding process ever. It is not any faster. If anything it is slower because when you get on no one knows where to sit and everyone’s pushing and shoving. Horrable southwest

WarrEagle
Member

What planet are you from? Never seen that on a SW flight, ever.

SWA Virgin
Guest

Flying for the first time on SW. I am an A-Lister because of my A+ Elite at AirTran. My wife is no an A-Lister. Does my wife get an A boarding pass because we are in the same reservation or she gets a boarding pass based on her check-in (or Early Bird)?

D stud
Guest

It depends on who is running the gate. My wife was not allowed to board with me even though I was an a-list. However, one flight I saw a gate attendant allow a couple with the same situation board together. I’ve seen people board ahead of everyone including priority if they know the gate attendant.

Julia
Guest

Thanks so much for the easy explanation. Flying from Wichita to Philadelphia the end of June..hopefully since SW is new here it won’t be too bad. I’ve paid for early check in a few times and it was never really worth it. I miss the old boarding process. I’ll try to be an early bird and hope for the best!

danis
Guest

Nice share. I just booked a nonstop flight for late June with SW. I found it cheaper than the others. I will come back to share my experience :)

Valerie
Guest

Just wanted to add that if you are an A-lister and you make a last minute change and get a bad boarding number, they will let you board between A & B groups with the families.

wpDiscuz