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Travel Tips: Checkin and Boarding on Southwest Airlines

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At Southwest Airlines, we know we stand out in the travel industry for a lot of reasons.  We like to boast the friendliest Employees in the business and competitive fares, but we know our boarding procedure is unique too.  It’s not unusual for first-time Passengers to ask what their seat number is.  Weathered Southwest road warriors smile knowingly and help explain how our system works. Let’s start at the beginning:  When you book your flight, you can add your Rapid Rewards number to the reservation.  This way you can earn points and keep track of your travel online.  Our A-List Preferred and A-List Members get automatic checkin.  If you’re not a tier-member, you can purchase automatic checkin, or as we call it, EarlyBird Check-In.  It’s $15.00 per flight, per person.  It’s a great option if you’ll be on vacation and without internet access or if you’ll be busy the day before you leave.  We’ll take care of getting you checked in, and you can meet us at the airport.  It’s not a guaranteed "A" boarding position, but we do promise to get you checked-in before boarding positions are open to everyone else.

check in online

If you’re really set on an "A" boarding pass, you can purchase a Business Select ticket.  We reserve A1-A15 for these Passengers.  You’ll also earn double the points of a Wanna Get Away fare and get a complimentary drink! We ask all of our Passengers to checkin so we can get a realistic idea of our flight load and plan accordingly.  Since we don’t charge any change fees, we know our Customers might change plans last minute.  Checkin is our way of saying, “You’re still coming, right?” At 36 hours before takeoff, our computer system will automatically checkin our A-List Preferred Passengers, then our A-List Passengers, and finally the EarlyBird Passengers.  At this time, the boarding position, including the Group (A-C) and the number (1-60), is assigned to each of those Passengers.

change flight

At 24 hours before takeoff, the system is open to all other Passengers on the flight.  Anyone can go to  or use the SWA app to plug in their confirmation number to checkin and get their boarding position.  They are assigned in the order you checkin.  The earlier you checkin online, the lower your number will be. You can print your boarding pass at home or use our Mobile Boarding Pass option and send it via text or email.  You can always wait and print at the airport too.  At the 24-hour mark, the Passengers with automatic checkin will be able to view their boarding passes although they were already assigned.  At Southwest, we cannot change your boarding position once it is assigned. When you get to the airport, you’ll need your boarding pass to get through TSA Security.  Thirty minutes before takeoff, the boarding process will begin.  First, any Passengers with special seating needs will preboard.  All Passengers within the "A" boarding group will line up in numerical order with the help of the columns.  After the "A" group, any families with children ages 4 and under can board together.  Groups "B" and "C" follow Family Boarding. If you miss your boarding position, you can jump in with the next group.  If you are traveling with someone you know, you can both board with the lower position or board with your own positions and try to find nearby seats.  Best of all, there are no seat fees and no worries if plans change last minute and you need to avoid your ex-boyfriend onboard.

app check in.jpg

This method of boarding has allowed us to have the fastest “turns” in the country since 1971.  Less down time between flights increases efficiency (and in turn, helps us keep our fares low!).  While we’ve considered and tested other methods of seating, both extensive research and Customer feedback confirmed that it would be best for us to keep our open-seating format.  We understand that open-seating may not be every Customer’s preference, but we are confident that this method benefits both the Company and the Customer as it results in lower costs and lower fares!