How To Get Priority Boarding On Southwest Airlines

Love it or hate it, Southwest Airlines has made a name for itself in the aviation industry thanks to its rather unique approach to boarding. While passengers ticketed through other airlines are familiar with having a listed seat number to their name, Southwest Airlines opts for boarding groups instead. Tickets are assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) as well as a boarding position ranging from 1 to upward of 60 depending on the flight. These numbers determine when you board the plane and once you do, you're officially on the hunt for any available seats.

While some passengers appreciate this unconventional boarding process, others find it stressful. Many travelers fear they'll be stuck with nothing but an uncomfortable middle seat as an option if they don't get a prime boarding time. Then there's the etiquette of airplane seat swapping. If you happen to be someone who finds the process daunting and chaotic, knowing how to get priority boarding on Southwest Airlines is a helpful place to start.

Southwest's priority boarding offers up the chance to have more agency over your boarding time and potential seat selection with the airline. There are a few ways to do it. Purchasing EarlyBird Check-In is one way to grab better boarding times while upgraded boarding is another possibility available at an additional cost.

The boarding benefits of EarlyBird Check-In

Another major difference passengers notice when flying Southwest Airlines is that the planes aren't divided into varying classes. Step onto a Southwest aircraft and you'll find that every seat is created equal. This means priority boarding isn't earned based on whether your ticket reads economy or first-class because neither exists here.

Instead, EarlyBird Check-In is a common way to achieve priority boarding status with Southwest. Yes, it requires being timely and organized and comes with an added cost. However, if you're looking to avoid that very last boarding group and position, it's definitely the way to go. There's never a guarantee you'll earn a spot in the first boarding group, but you'll certainly be closer when you go this route.

Southwest typically allows passengers to check in for their flights 24 hours in advance. When you purchase EarlyBird Check-In, you have the option to check in before that 24-hour timeframe. A unique stipulation to this program is that costs currently start at $15 per flight (even if it's a roundtrip ticket) and fluctuate depending on flight length and destination.

It's also important to note that EarlyBird Check-In is non-refundable if a passenger cancels their own flight. The exception to the rule is if the airline happens to be the one who cancels the flight instead. To secure EarlyBird Check-In, passengers can call the airline directly, pay for service on the website, or use the app up to 36 hours before departure time.

Upgrade your boarding and don't overlook special benefits

Beyond EarlyBird Check-In, passengers flying Southwest Airlines can also consider purchasing an upgraded boarding experience up front. This option guarantees you'll enjoy a boarding position that falls somewhere between A1 and A15 for flights departing within 24 hours. Costs currently begin at $30 per passenger, per segment.

Another factor to consider when you're hoping to enjoy priority boarding is who you're traveling alongside. Those who fly Southwest as a family are automatically eligible for priority boarding which in this particular scenario is referred to as Family Boarding. The current requirement is that one or two adults must be traveling with a child 6 or younger. Family Boarding participants are called after Group A and before Group B.

If you serve in the armed forces (and are active duty), your military benefits can earn you priority boarding with Southwest too. U.S. military members can board flights between Group A and Group B alongside Family Boarding participants. Just be sure you have your valid military ID with you upon arrival at the airport to enjoy this boarding perk.

It's fair to say that Southwest Airlines' boarding policies are unconventional. However, they're most easily navigated when you have a few priority boarding strategies in place. Oftentimes, the investment to upgrade is worth the peace of mind when it comes to flying comfortably alongside family and friends.