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I'm flying this week on Southwest Airlines for the first time. I paid for "Early Bird" automatic checkin and the FAQ mentions something about "A" boarding passes. I have no idea what that means, and I know that Southwest doesn't have assigned seats.

How does the boarding process work and is there anything I should be aware of?

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[I asked a meta question about what should the convention for tagging airlines be: meta.travel.stackexchange.com/q/321/583] –  Jonik Sep 22 '11 at 6:20
    
Jonik: We already had the meta discussion about airline tags. I have a bad connection but will link it if I can. –  hippietrail Sep 22 '11 at 8:14
    
It is an awful system, no seat assignments! I pay for Business class, which is double the fare and had A1 or A2, which should be the first/second on the plane for seat choices. But, what no one tells you is that there are 12 or so, disabled passengers ahead who are seated at all the isle seats. So you have to go back 7 or 8 aisles to get a window or aisle seat. Now, most did not seat to have a problem getting up or walking! The ones who did were assisted off after everyone left the plane. –  user4923 Mar 17 '13 at 13:16

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The Southwest website has a tutorial on how their boarding process works. There are no assigned seats, but when you check in online you are assigned a boarding group and number. Groups are boarded in alphabetical order (so "A" is the first to board), and the number (like "A-14") indicates your spot in line within that group (here, the 14th person). There will be signs that tell you where to stand based on your number. (Online check-in starts 24 hours in advance for some reservations; for others, you have to check in at the airport. The earlier you check in, the better your number is.) When you board, you just pick whatever seat on the plane you want that doesn't already have someone sitting in it.

For future reference, there are a few ways to make sure you're in the first boarding group (from the same site):

If you want to be one of the first to board, buy a Business Select Fare to be guaranteed a boarding position at the front of the A group. Rapid Rewards Members with A-List and A-List Preferred status and Customers who buy EarlyBird Check-In™ are also automatically assigned boarding positions before everyone else, ensuring the best boarding positions available.

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They implemented a new seating system where they assign a number with your boarding group. So if you're in Group A, you get assigned a number within the A group. So if you end up with say, A14.. you'll be 14th in line to pick a seat anywhere in the plane. This was designed to minimize the anxious crowding that was occurring by just lumping people into groups.

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People with A boarding passes board first. There are no seat assignments, so the A people get first pick at the seats. Then B, C, etc. It's faster and I like it a lot better.

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