How to Get a Good Seat on Southwest Airlines

Unlike many other American airlines, Southwest doesn’t have assigned seating. Things are done pretty much on a first come, first served basis. Finding a good seat really comes down to just how early you get on the plane.

Thankfully, Southwest has made it possible to get a good seat on one of its flights through several services. In addition, we’ll discuss some tips and tricks to help you secure a window or aisle seat for maximum comfort.

How Seating on Southwest Airlines Works

How to Get a Good Seat on Southwest AirlinesWhile there might not be an official assigned seating arrangement for Southwest passengers, there is a boarding order which is established from the time the flight is booked to the moment the gate begins boarding. This arrangement is done by assigning each passenger a boarding order. This order placement is assigned during check-in, and the first folks to check in get the best place in the line.

Boarding is done by groups. Group A is the first to go up. If you have boarding pass A 50, you’re in the first boarding group behind everyone with boarding assignment A 1-49. If you get A 50, don’t worry. The first 15 seats are reserved for premiere customers and those with disabilities (blue sleeves on their boarding pass given at the gate when you indicate a need for assistance during seating).

If you’re one of the last passengers to arrive at check-in, you’re probably going to be in the C group, which is the last group to board the plane. If you’re in this group, you’re probably going to be stuck with a middle seat.

EarlyBird Check-in

One of the more obvious ways to get a better seat is by signing up for EarlyBird Check-in. This services checks you into your flight 36 hours before takeoff automatically. This gives you a head start over other passengers that wait until that 24-hour-mark to check in online.

With EarlyBird Check-in, all you need to do is sign in to the Southwest app or website and print your ticket prior to approaching the gate. You’re almost guaranteed a spot in the A group or early B group, though seat order is fairly random among folks using EarlyBird Check-In.

The price for this upgrade is $10 per flight, which comes out to $20 for a round trip. That’s a small price to pay to have a good spot in the line reserved for you.

Online Check-in

If spending a $10 premium isn’t your cup of tea, you could set an alarm to go off five minutes before the 24-hour mark prior to takeoff. If your flight is scheduled for 6:30am on Sunday, you should log in to the Southwest Airlines Online Check-in page and check in for your flight at 6:30am on Saturday. This will give you the best possible spot in line without paying extra.

Even if you check in at 23 hours and 59 minutes before your flight, you might get stuck in the B group. Remember that everyone on your flight probably knows this tip already and are doing the exact same thing. Be quick, and don’t despair if you don’t get the best spot. You can still find aisle and window seats in the B group.

You can make check-in even easier for yourself by downloading the official Southwest mobile app for iOS. This app allows you to check flight status, check-in, and manage your Rapid Rewards program from your phone.

Avoid the Exit Rows

There is one row on many plane in the Southwest fleet that has two seats. If these seats are already taken, avoid any others in the exit row at all costs. These seats fill up fast, and you will almost always have someone sitting next to you if you choose to sit there.

Unless leg room is of absolute importance to you, avoid the exit rows in favor of one of the back rows.

Sit in the Front Row

If you sit in the front row early on, you’re actually in a good spot. This allows you to not only be one of the first off the plane, but it’s also one of the rows people pass by hoping for a better empty seat closer to the back of the plane. People don’t come back to the first row from the back very often.

Business Select Fare — A Crack at Seat 12F

Perhaps the closest thing Southwest Airlines has to first class is the Business Select fare. This gives you one of the coveted A 1-15 boarding positions, and first crack at 12F, the so-called best spot on the majority of Southwest Airlines’ planes.

This seat has no seat directly in front of it. Unless you’re flying with this type of fare, the chances of getting one of these seats is slim — very slim.

Keep in mind that you’re going to pay almost double for this privilege. It isn’t worth it on a domestic flight. Trust me.

Sit in the Middle or Aisle Seat Early

This comes with some risk, but if you take the aisle seat right off, the chances of someone picking your row go down. No one wants to climb over you, and folks are still too polite to ask a stranger to stand up if an alternative seat is within view. This is a dirty trick, but you could gain the mental advantage that gains you a comfortable, spacious flight.

This doesn’t work out very well if you’re on a full plane. You might find yourself stuck with the middle seat if someone calls your bluff.

Go During the Off Season

I know, I know. This tip isn’t really that brilliant. The fact is, if you hate traveling in a cluttered cabin, try making plans to visit places during the off season. You’ll probably find better deals at the hotel, cheaper flights, and friendlier locals. Probably my favorite advantage is the increased likelihood that you’ll be flying on a less-crowded plane.

Either way, those are my tips for finding the best seats on a Southwest flight; what are yours?

6 comments On How to Get a Good Seat on Southwest Airlines

  • I love Southwest. The truly make flying as fun as possible. Early Bird Check-In is a great add to their suite of services.

  • Matt,  I’ll disagree with you about the emergency exit row seats… those are very valuable if you either a) are taller than 6′ or b) have a 15″ laptop or larger and plan to use it on the plane. 

    I’m both tall and have a 15″ macbook pro, and I can tell you that on southwest, I can’t use it unless I’m in the emergency exit rows.

    And in my experience, they don’t always fill up first – tho of course everyone avoids the middle seat regardless of the row. Several times I’ve been on flights where the middle seat in an emergency exit row was empty. Believe it or not, some people don’t like the responsibility in case of an actual emergency! HA

    My favorite seat is the right hand seat in the 2 seat emergency exit row – but I rarely get that one – some couple always seems to grab those two before I get there! My second favorite would be the aisle seat on the left emergency row because I can hang my right arm out in the aisle while I’m working on the laptop.

    Maybe I should have bought a 13″ laptop instead 🙂

  • By the way, isn’t 12F in an emergency exit row?

    If that’s the one your talking about – tho it has incredible leg room (I’ve been in that seat a couple of times), it seems to me to be thinner (I haven’t measured, but I’d swear that the window seats are a few inches narrower than the others) and it is just more awkward to sit in from my experience. 

    but the leg room is amazing 🙂

  • MATT…very good description about pre-boarding a SWA flight.  Early bird is the way to go and worth every bit of $10.  I still  dislike this process and would rather have an assigned seat.  Then again, I don’t always have to fly SWA.  BTW, their FF program is very good even though it takes a B.S. in Math to first understand it but it can actually work great for you IF you know what to look for.

  • Father of Five

    If you fly with young children (4 and under, I believe), you qualify for “family boarding” and get to board after the A group, but before the B group, regardless of the boarding group assignment you have on your boarding pass.

  • Do not fly SouthWest.

    I cannot believe with all the other airlines available, people subject themselves to this process. When I travel with my family, I want to sit with them, period. I do not want my 12 yr old sitting next to a whatever and my 15 yr old daughter next to a worse than whatever. Absolute BS.

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