Southwest Airlines Family Pre-Boarding Policy and Tips

In a good way, Southwest Airlines is a unique airline.  Most of Southwest’s airlines policies are very customer friendly.  One policy that I don’t like is their family pre-boarding policy.

Open Boarding, Southwest Airlines, and Family Pre-Boarding

Unlike most airlines, Southwest does not assign seats when you buy a ticket.  So, for example, when you buy a seat on other airlines, you can choose your seat (like 23B).  However, with Southwest, when you buy your tickets you don’t know where you are going to sit.

Then, when you check in for your flight, you will be assigned a boarding position.  Those with a lower alphabet number (A is before B) and a lower number (A3 is before A12) will be allowed on the plane first.

From there, passengers who board the plane first can sit on any seat they wish – as long as it is not already occupied.

The impact for families is obvious – what if there are not enough open seats for your family?

Here are some tips on how do deal with …

Family Boarding on Southwest

Back in the good old days, Southwest would have pity on families.  They would usher families with young kids to the front of the boarding line so families could easily board and be able to sit together.  Families would pre-board before the general A-C boarding would begin.

Currently, Southwest boards families at the start of the B boarding group.

The problem is twofold.  Families need to fight through the boarding process with all other travelers.  This makes boarding stressful for everyone.  In addition, families are less likely to be able to sit together.

Tips For Traveling With Family On Southwest Airlines

Check in online 24 hours in advance.

Your boarding priority is determined by how early you check in for your flight.  Since you are allowed to check in 24 hours in advance, you should.  At least check in as soon as possible.

Don’t worry, if you get a boarding position higher than B1, you can just board during ordinary family boarding.

Be prepared to sit in two groups.

While traveling as a family, it is nice to be prepared to sit apart from each other.  In our case, we are a family of five, so we know who is going to sit with daddy and who is going to sit with mommy if there are not 5 seats close to each other.

Make a kind appeal to a flight attendant.

If you are having trouble finding a suitable seating arrangement, just let the flight attendant know.  They always do their best to make sure there is a suitable seating arrangement.  While they might not be able to help if you don’t get your preference, you can expect them to help if your 3 year old kid is going to need to sit by him or herself.

Be flexible.

Since you know to expect a possible seating issue, if you can’t all sit together that is fine.  Don’t let it ruin your vacation.  While it’s not a policy I like, it is not a big enough reason not to fly Southwest with families.  Southwest has some other outstanding policies (you can read about Southwest advantages here) that make up for this one.


  1. Raines says

    Well if I would have known this, I wouldn’t have chosen Southwest. Are they nuts? Are they trying to tick people off?

    Good to know they are pretty much the only airline that does this. After our flight with them, I can cross them off my list.

    • Craig says

      Out of the 15 or so times I’ve flown with our family we’ve all sat together except for one time. That flights was already half full (with passengers from a previous stop). If you’re worried about all sitting together it should be fine. But, yes. It is a hassle at times.

  2. says

    These are good tips. I would highly stress checking in online exactly 24 hours before your scheduled departure time. Usually you can get in to group A with this method (at least one person from your group anyway).

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