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.”

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.

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?

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

    1. 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 :(

    2. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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 from top to bottom.

  1. 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 for your Concierge Clients when they fly on Southwest? Do you check them in exactly 24 hours before?

    1. SubwayNut – We have the option for our small business clients if they want us to check them in, though many have opted to just buy EarlyBird now. For our individual clients, we haven’t really offered that except in rare cases to frequent users of the service.

  2. 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 who get B30 or lower. If you “check in” at the web site within, say, 20-24 hours of departure, I would think that is pretty safe on most flights (at least those that aren’t 1/2 elites) as far as getting B30 or better and hence a window or aisle seat.

    Would love to hear Brett’s take on this, as well as other people’s thoughts.

    1. Kilroy – It really depends on if there are a lot of people connecting through or not, so it’s never easy to determine exactly what will be ok and what won’t. For example, if you fly from El Paso to Dallas and that plane starts in Phoenix, there’s a really good chance that it will be full of people connecting through to Dallas since nonstops aren’t possible just yet.

      But on a regular route, the low B numbers generally are fine for getting a good seat. But if you’re a family of 4, then it changes things.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

      1. 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!

    4. 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.

  3. 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 the aircraft faster I pay for the “Early Bird”.

    1. 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

    2. 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!!

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

    1. 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”.

      1. 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 up & assign seats!

    2. Travel – There are a couple advantages. First, the airline says it can board faster and they have done studies. Second, sometimes last minute travelers on other airlines who buy the high fares get stuck because all the good seats are already assigned. On Southwest, if you’re a last minute traveler paying full fare, you can pay just a few bucks extra for Biz Select to ensure you get a good seat. It’s also easier for families who may find it hard to get 4 seats together on an assigned-seating airline.

    1. Tom – I hadn’t heard that, but it makes sense. The only benefit being that they can get on before the families, but they probably should get that.

  5. 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.

    1. 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.

  6. 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.

    1. Tom – How would $40 be a rip off? If you find yourself with a C boarding pass and there is room to pay $40 to move up front, then that’s not a bad deal. Since this happens at the gate, you already know your boarding position so you can make a very educated determination on whether or not it’s something that makes sense for you.

      1. Cranky – I do see your point and it makes perfect since… C boarding passes usually means the flight is full or over booked and paying extra to move up to an A1-A15 might be tempting, it all depends on the flight situation. I know if I had a connecting flight with a very short layover the $40 bucks to be closer to the exit door would be worth the hassle of missing my connection. But if I was on a non-stop I don’t think the extra $40 would be worth it.

        1. PS… I’m a 50 yr old retired pleasure traveler who always flies last minute (today I feel like going to cancun) and I always pay business class. So I am probably getting the biggest rip-off of all! ;)

      2. Cranky,

        Does this policy apply if someone is blind or has some other special need? If so, how.

        Jetblue I found from a FA that a person with special needs can sit up front without paying extra for that seat.


        1. Sean, people with special needs get Blue Boarding Passes. People with a blue boarding pass can board before everyone else, even A1

      3. My husband and I paid 60 dollars for early bird seating.Each way. Thats 120 dollars extra. I am not too happy with the fact that some late comer can pay at the last minute and get on ahead of the people who paid a long time ago to get an A position. I get very dizzy and sick in the back of the plane, so I pay the extra money to make sure I can sit closer to the front. Its not fair they can come along at the last minute and get ahead of us. It makes the people that pay for early bird feel ripped off.

          1. Is it $15 per leg? If a flight isnt non-stop do you have to pay $15 for each hop or $15 per flight?

      4. On flights as short as many of Southwest;s, you can usually upgrade your seat on Alaska for <$25 as late as the moment they start boarding. The app closes seat changing about 35 minutes before scheduled departure (unless the flight is late, and then it stays open longer). $40 seems quite high to me and you're just choosing a "better" exactly-the-same seat. On Alaska, the better seats are either up front for earlier deplaning, and/or have extra legroom too.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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…

  10. 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. :)

    1. 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.”

  11. 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 time to check in, I usually get the very tail end of the A group. Wait just a few hours after that, though, and I usually get stuck with something in the B-30 to 40 range.

    You can usually still snag an aisle or window (albeit at the back of the plane) up until around B-40, give or take a few slots. The bigger issue, though, is overhead bin space for your large carry-on if you have one. Pretty much every flight I’ve been on, the call to start gate checking occurs right around the end of the B 1-30 group. If you board after that and have need an overhead space, you’re double SOL – you get to gate check your bag, and you get a middle seat in the back to add insult to injury.

    Granted, I do all of my WN flying to and from DAL, so none of this really matters all that much. The longest flight you can currently do without a connection would be something like STL, ABQ, or ELP, so in other words, nothing longer than about an hour and 45 minutes. If you book a through connection with no plane change, but forget to buy Early Bird, you’re only stuck in a bad seat for a short while before you can get up and move to a better one. Granted, you’ll still probably get your rollaboard confiscated.

    1. 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.

        1. 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 have studied it already and decided it’s not worth it.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

    3. 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!

  12. 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 you are left hoping someone large/smelly/loud/chatty doesn’t plunk down next to you.

    1. 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 a person of size.

  13. (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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  14. 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 :-)

    1. 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.

  15. 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 am in the “Eager Beaver” category 100% of the time, and I can’t recall ever getting anything other than an A boarding pass. Even a high-to-mid B would allow one to choose either a window or an aisle on every single WN flight that ever operates.

    $40 to buy up to the A1-15 group is absolute highway robbery IMO. But, I certainly understand why WN did it. They know full well there are plenty of lazy suckers out there (most of them traveling on the company dime) that will gladly do it. Smart from the airline’s perspective, without question.

    1. 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.

  16. 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

    1. 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).

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

  17. 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??!!!

    1. 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).

      1. 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 ended up with someone in his row.

        Crankster, it might be a fun column to have folks share their tricks for keeping the middle seat empty … for example I flew with a colleague who opened the air sick bag and put it in the middle seat … or handled it with a look that he might use it. It was one of the last seats filled :)

  18. 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?

  19. 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?

  20. 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?

    1. 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.

    2. 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?

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

        2. 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.)

        1. 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.

          1. 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.

          2. 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.

        2. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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 part I find awkward is having to peek at or ask other people what their number is to find my spot in line. 5 people don’t always fit between each pole, either. But even the old process was more complicated than the old Hawaiian and Aloha interisland system. They had two lines, one for pre boarding (elites, first class, etc), and one for general boarding. The flights themselves were open seating like Southwest, and so it didn’t matter when you checked in; all that mattered was when you got to the airport and got in line at the gate. I once watched Hawaiian turn a DC-9 in 7 minutes.

    1. 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 to just make sure the elites get on first, then call everyone for the little planes. I remember one time a United Shuttle agent dispensed with zone boarding and just invited everyone on all at once for a lightly loaded 737 flight.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

    1. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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 they got to that mark is being the rebel (no frills, secondary airports, free bags, cattle call, rapid rewards 1.0, etc). However, it now seems like they want to be everyone else without being everyone else. I was so happy when they did away with the original cattle call, it was annoying and bothersome. The change to the numbers is a better but now it is becoming way too complicated. It seems like with a lot of the changes, Southwest is alienating the very base that got them to where they were in the first place IMO. It seems like one way or another, they are going to get the fees from you sooner or later. I also don’t think it’s fair that early bird can be purchased by everyone on the flight. It should be available to the end of the A group and that’s it. If it is really taking all of this to make up the lost revenue, just allow us one free checked bag and be done with it. I really miss when Southwest used to be simple. Also, I wonder what the Airtran customers think of this one even though some weren’t happy with the airline being bought out in the first place.

    1. 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.

  28. 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 are heavily padd for ground delays and other crap.
    Uncomfortable flights packed 3 in a row.
    I decided after today I am done with this crap as I prefer the normal boarding process. Nothing is worth dealing with the southwest boarding comedy.

    1. “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.

  29. 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?

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

    1. 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 never work. The next hurdle for WN will be convincing its loyal passengers all the new fees do not matter because the bags still fly free…

  30. 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 ?

  31. 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.

  32. 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. I also have no problem with the boarding process and find it to be the best organized and least chaotic of the U.S. airlines. I like legacy carriers, but mostly just for the ability to redeem miles on their international partners. Given the choice between Southwest and UA for the same fare and route, Southwest will get my money every time.

  33. 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 lke a celebrity or you were friends with them – they let you board before anyone else.

  34. 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. :)

    1. 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.

  35. 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”?

  36. 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

  37. 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)?

    1. 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.

  38. 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!

  39. 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 :)

  40. 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.

  41. I believe even that though they don’t acknowledge it, Southwest also gives SW credit card customers slightly better boarding positions than non-cardholders. I just checked in to a flight leaving tomorrow 15 minutes ahead of my friend who has a SW premier rewards card, and he got 10 positions earlier in line than I did on both connections. Neither of us are A-list or A-preferred, but both have RR accounts. The same thing happened on our flight earlier this week, so I’m pretty sure this is not an anomaly.

  42. This is a stupid airline that doesn’t realize we are a mobile society and we are long past the print-your-boarding pass days. Spent 1 and a 1/2 hrs getting here, another 50 mins in line to check a bag, now I’m position A54 ($12.50), and I have every expectation of going on with the Lacrosse sticks and bathroom supplies. Here’s my take: DONE with these people.

  43. I was a slacker. With a want to get away fare and not A list. I arrived at the airport 1.5 hours before my flight and was assigned A25 on a completely sold out flight. I find it hard to believe everyone else slacked off too.

    1. Fun fact: When boarding slots are given up (say, when A-list preferred guy jumps on an earlier standby flight), it gets put back into the assignable pile (instead of everyone moving up one). That means that sometimes the people who signup late get really good slots, but it’s PURE luck.

      I traveled with my colleague once and we jumped an early flight home that we purchased that day. I got A19. He got C6. We purchased the tickets about 2 minutes apart. I guess just one guy moved flights.

  44. You forgot the blue card people. Old, handicapped, obese, and kids flying alone get on before everyone. Sometimes this is 0 people but other times it can be 10+.

  45. I’m an A-list member and buy Business Select every time I fly, but when I use my points for free flights I get the cheapest available fare in order to stretch my points- I’m convinced being an A-list member dos t do shit. I was B2 yesterday and checked in 22 hours prior to my flight. However, before boarding the “B” group, the staff asked if there were anymore A-list members to board- that’s the first time I have ever heard them ask that. I think it’s a matter of the employees not knowing about the rules and regulations. Everybody tells me something different when I ask for clarification.

    1. I am calling you out here. If you truly are an a-list member then the first time you have heard that all a-list members can board after all of the A group would have been one of the countless hours you spend in the Southwest terminal, not the first time you ever received a B boarding pass.

  46. Checked-in exactly at 24 hours for BWI-SJU and got B-6 and B-7. This is the second time in a row that I get low Bs. Before, I would always get A30s when checking in 23-24 hours before flight. What gives???

    1. Got in right at the 24 hr buzzer and got B10. I don’t think they give A’s out that way anymore regardless. Strictly reserved for a-listers and up now.

  47. So I pay for a flight and then have to play EBay style bidding games or pay even more to try and get a seat next to another whom I’m traveling with?????? Absurd in the year 2013. See you on another carrier.

  48. I love AirTran….but the minute that they fully convert to the SouthWest ponzi scheme of checkin and boarding I will be done with them.

  49. I have been flying SW with my wife and three kids for over 10 years and it’s different on every flight… depending on how full the flight is and whether there are lots of business travelers vs less knowing leisure travelers. Often we have different confirmation numbers because of points and rewards. Sometimes I buy the EB and get A-20 and then check my family in at the 24 hr mark and they are A-27,28,29 and 30. Could have saved myself $10 if I had known. Other times, like this morning (Seattle to Chicago), I checked one kid in at the 24-hr mark and received a B-13 and within 3 seconds I checked in another (multiple browser windows all queued up in advance) and they get B-20. My guess for the numbers is probably because fewer families are flying with the kids going back to school this week… mostly business travelers… and more people reading good articles like this one and becoming informed.

  50. I just checked in exactly 24 hours ahead of time to the minute for a flight to Chicago from San Diego, and got a B37. Very frustrating, to say the least. I use SWA a lot for short haul trips up and down the coast of California, but will rethink the airline I use for longer flights. Too many people vying for two few good seats, which makes the process suck. I hate UA, but at least I can pick a seat when I buy tickets weeks in advance.

  51. Didn’t do any of the extra cost or early check in. Was second to last person to get on plane and ended up in a middle seat, row 3. Not bad.

    1. No, BAD. Have fun with 2 strangers’ elbows in your ribs. ps – the middle seat is exactly what we all try to AVOID. It’s the DOG TURD not something to brag about

      1. Uh – actually some of us like the opportunity to meet to strangers, and some of us really like to be up front (your flight is shorter — you get off 5 minutes earlier!) Southwest is great – its cheep, and you get to sit where you want. You just have to know how to play the system (I never have paid for “early bird checkin” or been on any list).

  52. I purchased 2 Wanna Get Away fares on same reservation. I forgot to checkin online yesterday, and just did so now (3 hours before my flight leaves). What’s puzzling is my position is A32 and theirs is B49. I’m not A-list nor did I buy Early Bird. I checked us in together, not separately.

  53. Hate to see all the griping here about the seating system. Try flying Delta and figuring out their elitist method of pricing and assigning seats if you think THIS is confusing. I’ve been flying SWA since the old “line up early” days, and while I preferred that old method (it sure made for people getting to the gate on time!), this new one is ok given that I’m not paying an arm and leg for checked bags, huge change fees (or losing the entire fare) for the crime of needing flexibility, and extras that I really don’t need or want. Also, the ability to use a simple online calendar to find the cheapest seats yourself is phenomenal compared to the mysterious methods used by other carriers. I do wish they had never converted the frequent flyer system though…that used to be much simpler to track.

  54. I am A-List Preferred. I frequently get done with my business much earlier than the return ticket I’ve booked and make a change as soon as I get to the airport. Last week something new happened: On a completely full flight, as a standby I was issued boarding position B-2. Then, in a completely surprise move, as soon as the last member of the A group boarded, the gate agent called for all A-List members (not only preferred, but all A-List) who were holding B and C group boarding passes to board next. Don’t know if this was a fluke or if it’s permanent, but there were probably a dozen or so people who qualified for that. That’s good news for A-Listers who frequently make same-day changes, but obviously everyone else is not going to be happy.

    1. I utilize this often as well. Typically end up with a c pass when I fly standby but always get a good seat after boarding following the A group.

  55. EWR to STL… bought Early Bird Check In for me and my son. Still got A52 and A53. Can’t imagine what non-elite, non-upgraders got.

  56. I was recently told by someone that your boarding line position on a SWA flight is predetermined by the date you bought the ticket not when you check-in. So you can all throw that little tidbit into the boarding position equation too!

  57. Thanx for your January 2013 unravelling of the Southwest early-bird and boarding pass mysteries.
    To me, the pick-your-own-seat policy that Jet Blue and other airlines have is still the best.

    1. the primary problem for many of us isn’t whether you get to pick a seat, it’s how early you get on. these are different things. If you get on early, you not only have a better chance a a good seat, you also have a better chance at OHB space. that’s huge if you’re making a tight connection. When traveling for work by myself, the ohb space is worth a lot more to me than a preassigned seat.

  58. Thanks for the breakdown, I wasn’t sure where I’d fall when I finally made A-List at the end of this year. I can certainly tell this is a cranky flier writing this article though because, as a super-commuter relying on Southwest to get to work each week, I am bothered by the statement “people who fly Southwest way too much”. *sigh*

  59. Well, I haven’t flown Southwest in a while (I fly weekly for business and normally avoid SW since they’re not that great for business travelers). However, there really weren’t any decent alternatives, so I chose to go with SW on a TPA-STL flight. I paid the additional small fee for the EarlyBird, but still ended up with a B boarding pass! What’s the point of paying for EarlyBird if you still end up with a poor boarding number? I guess it’s back to the regular airlines, since at least with the normal airlines, if I’m travelling weekly, I can get status and get upgraded to first class, which is something SW doesn’t even have.

    1. low b isn’t bad, especially at the rate swa changes for eb. I’ve never had a B and ended up in the middle, and at the eb price,. avoiding middle and having ohb space is plenty worth it that inconsequential cost.

  60. Business preferred, A-list preferred, A-list, Early bird??? No wonder after checking in right on the second 24 hrs before I got an A-52. I am going to fly some other airlines from now on. This is really stupid.

  61. Man you really do have some Cranky Ass Fliers.

    Look people, I don’t care if you are A1 or B47, keep in mind that if the flight is full or nearly full, all the damn seats are getting taken anyway.

    There is, just like any carrier really, no way to know if your A1 won’t get you the exact seat you want, only to find the 350lb Smelly guy who boards with a nice big Tupperware full of Curry or something you find utterly disgusting won’t plop down right beside you.

    I just checked in for BUR to OAK, 1 hour flight, at about 23.5 hours and got B11. Am I miffed I didn’t get an A, yeah sure. BUT

    Southwest still sends me free drink coupons a couple times a year if I fly enough.
    They still do free bag checks as far as I know (I almost always carry on)
    They still give out a small snack with their drinks for free
    And best of all? Their staff still seems like they WANT to work there.

    Have any of you flown AA or United lately? Holy crap those people are mostly angry, charge you for everything under the sun, and you still get treated like cattle and shoved into a plans jam packed with people for popular routes.

    Sack up and quit your crying or buy a First class ticket on another carrier.

    PS: Can anyone explain to me how to check in for a 2nd flight in less then 24 hours? I am flying into OAK and then back out 12 hours later. My return flight is now less than 24 hours away but I can’t seem to find a way to Check in for that one. It keeps only showing me the morning flight to OAK as my only check in option.

    PPS: IF you are changing planes as part of a one way ticket / leg of a round trip, you also get an automatic early check in for your 2nd leg of the trip. I recently did BUR to OAK to SLC. BUR to OAK I was in the B group but it also let me print a ticket for OAK to SLC that was like A12 or something and based on the time at which I checked in, that 2nd leg of the flight was >24 horus away.

  62. yes, it can be a little frustrating to get a high boarding pass designation, but southwest makes up for this with the rapid rewards program.

    1. Earning just a-list gets you into that short security line every time you fly, no matter what. and it doesn’t take that many flights/points to get a-list.
    2. Earning a-list also lets you board between A and B groups, even if you have a B or C boarding pass. This has been the policy/option for as long as I can remember, and I make use of it often (I often get B and C boarding passes). And again…doesn’t take that much to make a-list.
    3. A-list preferred gets you free wifi on every flight (!!!) and double points
    4. Companion pass. I just earned this. What other airline lets you bring a friend on every flight you take FOR FREE?
    5. Combine all of this with no-charge changes and free checked bags…

    …makes me prefer flying SW…

  63. Gotta role with Joe here. I am a loyal sw flyer and love the RR program. Seems like I get enough points every 3 flights to book my wife a free ticket.

    I flew Frontier this past summer and I STILL can’t figure out their bag system. If you book online it is free, if you check in online your CARRY ON is $25. If you wait till the gate it is $40. Then you had the gate lady making every person put their carry on in the little “prove it fits” box. Doesn’t fit? Another $50 please. Then you get on the plane…….$3 for soda, $19 for peanuts and $75 to use the bathroom (ok, I made the peanuts and the bathroom part up).

    Just like the commercial says, keep your nickel and your dimes and fly with SW

  64. Well this will be my first time flying sw and I do not know what to speckt hope is a good experience but I am a little scare since I am used to seat assigment system

    1. I’m with you Julio… I’m scared because I’ve had seat assignments and always sit with my husband, yet I select our seats for a fee and usually fly Delta for the points as well as pay the fees for luggage.

      I’m not going to stress about it because my luggage flies free and their prices are beating Delta from San Diego to Atlanta. Soooo glad because we make that cross country flight lots. Hey the greatest thing for me is I’m retired and I’m not in a hurry to get on or off the plane… Because in the end… We all will be getting to our destination that we paid for so… No big deal!

  65. I just wanted add that as far as Early Bird assignments go, it was interesting to see your comment that Anytime fares all get assigned EB numbers before Wanna Get Aways. Why? Because they paid more.

    It would stand to reason that within a group (Anytime, Wanna Get Away), that price would also take precedence.

    So if you book a Wanna Get Away fare at $100, and two months later, I book it at $200, I get a better number than you

  66. What is with the PREBOARDING??
    I decided to spend extra money to buy our family Business Select and checked in 24 hours ahead so we had the A1, A2, A3 and A4. You’d think we would have gotten good seats for that… but nooooo.

    We had exactly 18 people “preboard”… now mind you, I have no problem if elderly or people with dissabilities are in need of an early board for extra time. The list here was: 2 ladies in their late 20s (no dissabilities); a couple who were spry and in their late 60s; and a number of people in 2 families who were between 18-55ish. I understand fully that one or a few of these people could possibly have a dissability that is not visible. But 18 of them??? Come on.

    I asked the stewardess about this and the response was “we are not allowed to ask about dissabilities, so anyone can get pre-boarding.”

    So apparently you don’t need to pay extra, or check in 24 hours ahead… just claim a dissability and you can preboard.

  67. Forgot to check in until 14 hours before my flight tomorrow. Got a message saying they had reached their maximum for pre-printed boarding passes and to get my position at the gate. The flight is full, am I screwed?

  68. Realistically if you care that much about your boarding position you are the epitome of everything that is wrong with airtravel.

  69. Other Carriers———> No rat race 24 hours before the flight to maybe get a decent spot.
    Other Carriers———> You know you’re sitting beside your family.(if you choose)
    Other Carriers———> Upgrade costs more but actually gets you an upgraded seat.
    Other Carriers———> Usually what we fly.

  70. Earned my a list last year. Flying SAT to TPA tomorrow am for a Valentine Weekend Getaway with my wife. Booked WGA flight in early December. Printed out boarding pass A-17 SAT – HOU. A-18 HOU to TPA. First flight as a A-Lister member. Looking forward to the priority lane and TSA-pre in the am. Wife got A-51 and A-57.

  71. I’m flying SW first time in years. Company call me this morning and said be in Las Vegas tomorrow. Got B39. I’m 62 and will try limping. My knees really do hurt.

  72. I was planning on flying SW in April with my son, ticket price is really good and the flight is nonstop……but from reading all these comments does this mean that a child and his parent are not assigned seats together?

    1. There are no assigned seats. However, with children can board after the A group. Just let the gate attendant know your situation. Assuming its an empty plane at the start of boarding, there will be plenty of seats for you to sit with your son. I’ve flow SWA my whole life. Folks are mostly concerned with overhead storage. I check everything except my laptop which I store under the seat in front of me. 90% of my travel is from DAL-HRL. This article fails to mention that the staff on the other airlines are usually cranky and clearly don’t enjoy their jobs. I’ve flown the other airlines to the same area and to other places: cranky staff, small planes, and folks carrying on way too much due to the exorbitant baggage fees. I’ve rarely had a cranky SWA staff. I just want to get from point A to point B for less than or just a bit more than it would cost to drive as the drive is a boring bear.

  73. Even though there aren’t assigned seats most families do find seats together easily. It’s one of the reasons families get the option of seating after the A group and before the B group.

  74. I am already not liking the Southwest experience. I want to know what I am getting and I want the ability to buy what I want. Loved AirTran ability to upgrade to first class. I used to fly all the time and now I want comfort and am willing to pay for it. I have read three blogs just to decipher the system for boarding. And I still don’t really know what I am getting after paying the 12.50. Really don’t understand the philosophy of this airline. Probably will find another. But I will try to keep an open mind.

  75. Single flyer. Made reservation 5 weeks in advance using RR points on WannaGetAway fare and purchased Early Bird check in. Checked in online exactly 24 hrs (on the nose) in advance. Got A39 and A47 for each leg of my itinerary. Not bad! Wonder if using RR points helped? Wonder if checking in exactly 24 in advance helped?

  76. No guarantee of anything now that one person can buy up to A1-A15 spot at check in for $40 and then the seat hoarder saves entire rows of seats for their friends with C positions!!

  77. The “Blue” pre-boarding issue is getting out of control. I’m A List and fly SW all the time. Recently I sat next to a young couple (20s) at the gate. They were joking with each other that this was the 4th time they had requested blue sleeves to beat all the other suckers that aren’t willing to “cheat a little.” They don’t even try to fake it. They practically danced down the jet-way.

    As others have said, SW isn’t allowed to ask any questions. This is a big issue and getting bigger and needs to be fixed!

  78. You forgot to mention at the end of A boarding families and other A listers who bought last minute tickets get to board regardless of boarding number.

    Also my company worked a deal with southwest that I’m automatically checked in at 24 hours even when I didn’t have status.

    If you’re a slacker pay the $12.50 and forget about it.

  79. My partner and I prefer flying Delta with an assigned seat and no worries about when we check in.We use SW only to fly from Phx to CA. The reason we do this is because it’s more convenient than flying with Delta. It’s cheaper and direct. It seems that Delta flies east then back west extending our travel time from 1 hour to about 4 hours. Ridiculous! Anyway, we always pay for the earlybird check in and always end up in the A group. One time I even got A16 and I’m not an A-lister!! I believe that flight was from Vegas to Phx. I’m one of those people who takes no chances and check in exactly 24 hours before our flight. After reading this, I guess it doesn’t matter since they check the earlybirds in 36 hours prior to leaving. When flying SW I’m still not taking any chances and will continue to check in exactly 24 hours prior.

  80. Flying out of ABQ saw WN take over a lot of the routes over the decades. It was a hidden hub that lots of DAL passengers going on to the west coast. With the Wright amendment coming off in November will be losing lots of flights. Anyway I’ve been traveling more lately, some observations. When airplanes were 65% full it worked well. Now like the other carrier’s full airplanes make seat selection and boarding a hassle. As long as the planes are full 1 of 3 will have a center seat and 50% of the passengers will sit in the rear half of the plane. Funny thing when did WN start flying the biggest jets on a lot of routes? I won’t reiterate the good explanation of boarding priority and lack of premium seating (all coach same pitch) but will say in a lot of regards it reduces expectations of all passengers equally. This work better than AA’s preflight seat map that shows nothing but center seats and does not allow $ upgrades on frequent flier and inexpensive fares. May be changing my option on this though if WN started charging for bags or changes on cheap fares high value no charge perks. Seeing more families with one buying preboarding and “reserving” seats not allowed according to WN but with attendants are getting people seated and do not want to police this. Another thing I’ve run into is being last to board and trying to take a center seat towards the front, normally don’t carry on so overhead is not an issue. Have had window seat yell at me and other passengers tell me will make my flight hell if I sit next to them. Think these folks (dressed well) are used to flying first class but AA & UA and others fly so many commuter flights no longer an option on a lot of flights.

    Something to be aware of. Very seldom if I sign in at 24 hours am I more than 60 passengers behind all the priority and other hot fingers. I can pay $12 for 36 hour priority if that is a problem can’t do this at 23 hours and 59 minutes when you get a bad boarding pass. If I am flying out of a hub such as MDW where incoming connections will have get a couple hours jump based on originating departure flight time normally in an earlier time zone. Also WN will only issue two boarding passes per record. So fly in night before even though your return is less than 24 hours cannot get seating till you complete flight for first leg for originating return and until your second leg is closed out with departure. A nice gate agent did this for me at MDW so my return seating only kind of sucked. Solution book two separate records one for outgoing and return if you are returning on a connecting flight within 24 hours.

  81. I will lament the loss of AirTran, almost always on time and great seating options. As a business traveler a cost effective alternative to the full fare airlines. Over 400 time I flew Airtran, very few complaints
    Southwest in the past was OK. They have fallen low, late and canceled flights are the norm and the “new seats” are nothing more than greed. Squeeze as many passengers as possible on the plane. I never checked fares when flying Airtran, I will always check for alternatives to SW.

  82. SafetyMan, I’m with you on that one……..I dread the cattle call and game playing of SouthWest and I loved Air Tran.

  83. Ok, Since when is getting on a plane first the best?

    I say B1-15 is the best…..Why?
    I feel who sits near me for the next 5 hours matters most than being the first off the plane.
    All the A’s, well you get on the plan first, but its not going to leave without everyone, so getting on first doesn’t get the plane in the air any sooner, AND, most importantly, you do not get to choose who sits next to you. Sitting there, you analyze everyone coming down the aisle. Please, please, don’t sit near me, please!!!
    At the end of the A’s comes the families, let them get on so you can see where not to sit. Then comes B1-B15.
    As you waltz down the aisle you can still have 1)your pick of aisle or window, 2) you can review the A listers and decide if you want to sit near them, AND 3) you can steer clear of the families.
    My ideal seat mate? Small asian women. They are small, they don’t hog the arm rest, and they typically have good hygiene.

  84. We are traveling with 2 young kids (2 & 5). Do I still need to purchase early bird or will we automatically board after group A?

  85. Brett, how about doing an update? This – while basically accurate – needs tweaked. It’s now only $12 to get on the “A” List! Lol And, of course, there is no longer the restriction on flights out of DAL. Bob

    1. Bob S – I don’t generally go back and update old posts, and it hasn’t changed enough for me to write a new one. But I suppose if a lot of people are still referencing this, then it might be good to show the updated pricing.

  86. I dont remember SW being bad, I havnt flown with them in years, but had to go to a job for a week, and my employer used SW. had to take 4 flights. Holy eff never again. I felt like I was on a city public bus, the line felt like cattle being herded… everyone had huge full size suit cases trying to be passed off for carry on, Im usually good with a backpack and laptop bag…jesus christ people were trying to cram full size suit cases overhead screwing everyone in a seat over the B’s.
    Screaming kids, plenty of them, 3 out of 4 flights were ridiculous.
    Im not saying every other airline is perfect, but thus experience with SW was THE WORST, I have ever had. I would have rather drove 8hrs than do this again…. thats saying a lot , im nt a complainer usually, i like to get on, get where im going and be done with it… but this experience with Southwest had me so disgusted I took to their website and the internet.
    Never again SW. I much prefer buying my ticket online, picking my seat… get to the airport with my one carry on 1 hr before, get to the terminal after everyone boards and walk right on to my assigned seat that I picked… non of this massive glut of people in line and hovering around the line, free for all, that doesnt save any time. No thanks SouthWest, sriously felt like riding a disgusting north philadelphia route bus at 24,000ft….. you are definitely Septa of the skies.

  87. I’ve flown Southwest for over 17 years between SAN and SMF…..I remember the good ol’ days for the 1st several years when the internet was less used and smart phones did not exist. Southwest had online check-in and you’d get in the first 20 spots almost guaranteed – this was before business select or earlybird. Most people didn’t use the online check-in feature then. That slowly changed about 10 or so years ago. These days you have to be on the second of 24 hrs to get a sub-A on a full flight. Poor sheeple actually pay money for the Early Bird. Have never once paid for that money-throw-away. There are always folks who don’t care much who check-in at the airport to ensure you get an aisle seat with bin space.

  88. Personally, I can’t stand the SW boarding process. I don’t need the hassle of trying to figure-out the best strategy for landing a decent seat. Who wants to waste their time on that nonsense?

    I’ll only fly SW if they’re the only carrier with a direct flight. …and when I do, I checked-in right at the 24 hour mark and still often get a sport in group C. …probably for the reasons mentioned in the article.

    It’s just dumb system IMHO.

  89. I’m with Matt – I fly SW a bunch, but I hate the boarding process. We travel light, so I don’t care about overhead bin space or being first on/off the plane (an extra 5 minutes to disembark isn’t going to ruin my trip). But I do care about getting to sit with my family.

    This morning, I checked in at 23 hrs 58min and got C15, C17, C18. I guess that extra minute I waited really hurt. :)

  90. Southwest’s boarding process gets everyone on the plane faster and more comfortably, and with fewer announcements. the the other airlines. you can observe it at any gate concourse. If you have a b (like of you don’t have internet at home and had to check in at the airport. ticket you can usually still get a window or isle seat if you want. since they don’t have “business class” seats they don’t cram in the coach passengers as tight and you have appreciably more legroom then you would on a delta 737.

    There is a “Mythbusters” episode testing airline boarding methods that proves systems similar to southwest’s to be much faster than boarding systems used by most airlines.

  91. I am a northerner who now lives in the south and is forced to use SW as almost the only available carrier for most destinations. I mostly travel solo for business and I’m thin woman never have a problem getting a seat anywhere. However the boarding process still stresses me out. SW is so close to being an awesome Airline. I don’t understand how with the technology available in 2016 and the trouble they go to for boarding signage, why they couldn’t just put a button on there to allow you to reserve a seat? Even if they board faster with current system – as long as they leave on time, what difference does it make? I don’t get their end game? a man said to me, ‘at least we don’t have to pay extra for better seating SW”. Don’t you? Elite status? Paying $12.50 to jump the queue. What’s that? It frustrates me to no end if I have to stand under a number like an idiot when I’m used to knowing my seat ahead of time and not stressing negotiating with people. I’ll never get it!

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  93. Hi everyone, can someone explain the difference between the B and C boarding group, other than the obvious “C is lower priority.” This is my first time flying WN and I don’t really understand how (or even why) there’s a difference between the B and C groups. Why doesn’t WN just increase the number of B slots until they reach capacity? Why have a C group at all?

    1. Joe – No good reason. Each group has 60, so that’s why you go from B to C. Could they have put 120 in B instead? Yep, I assume they could have.

  94. I used to be a loyal Delta flier, then American. However SWA has won my business by (a) Not being cranky jerks to their customers (b) not gouging me with baggage fees; and the final straw (c) screwing over business travelers whose company will not pay for all the new preferred seat options.

  95. I used to pay to board early and then I noticed that because I am a small person, invariably a big person, usually male, would sit next to me after I chose my aisle seat. They would stretch out, always hog the shared arm rest and spill into my paid for space. So, now I wait and check in online. As long as I’m at the end of B or start of C, I get to find the smaller sized woman who will not crowd me out, sit in relative comfort and I don’t pay anything extra. Recently, however, the people who are only buying one early bird and then saving seats for their pals have made for a lot of post boarding squabbling so that the flight is pretty much unpleasant. Turns out SW doesn’t care to get involved and encourage a sort of a ‘duke it out’ approach to solve the issues. Now that I’m hearing other lines are cheaper, I may need to move on.

    1. YES, the agents don’t enforce the airline’s supposed “pick ANY seat” policy, it is a (very bad) joke!!! Too many people saving seats (whether for a person boarding later, or for own selfish “I want TWO seat spaces” purposes). AGENTS need to enforce this! AIRLINE is not supporting policy they claim to be so spectacular.

  96. I have yet to get into the A group, even when checking in exactly 24 hours before. Just now, I checked in exactly to the second at the 24 hour mark (I sat there watching my computer clock), and still ended up with B31. This is for a weekday, non-holiday flight from a smaller regional airport. Assuming the A16 start of regular check-in as listed above, somehow 74 people managed to click the check-in button half a second before I did?

    1. Matt – No, anyone who is an A List member (elite status) gets slotted first starting at A16. Then it’s anyone who paid $15 for EarlyBird checkin.
      Then you.

  97. Cranky, now the problem is the flyers who buy one early bird, get on first, then save premium adjoining seats for friends with a C position. So here I am with my high B-2 slot being denied a good seat, held for a C-48 friend. And the airline attendants are supporting the seat holders, outright or quietly, in my experience. And a problem too is the child boarding policy: often see children well OVER the age limit being used by families to justify their access to plane ahead of others in B/C boarding. Think the “open seating” claim has become a joke with all the work-arounds provided & supported by Southwest. Best to book a seat-reserved flight on another airline & KNOW where you’ll be, no added variables, no bait & switch!!!

  98. Flying from SEA to STL .. purchased the early bird ($15) about a week ago. Checked in 24hours b4 flight time and was assigned B3 so still didn’t get A group …on the flight to Washington I had done the same and was assigned A39 so you just have no idea what will happen… Not a big deal as long as I have a seat :)

  99. The early bird check in can be well worth it unless you end up on a flight with lots of elites. We plan our trips early and buy tickets early. We got early bird for a trip coming up tomorrow and we got A18 and A19! Chances are most business seats wont be sold and we will be the 7-10th person to board the plane with our pick of almost any seat we want.

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Cranky Flier