Most U.S. airlines share a similar attitude about seat assignments: If you pay for a flight, an assigned seat is part of your fare. What’s more, you’re usually able to select which seats you want at the time of booking.
There are some exceptions, of course. If you book a basic economy fare on a legacy carrier, or if you fly on a discount airline such as Frontier, your seat will be assigned at check-in — you don’t get to choose it, unless you pay a fee. Either way, you’ll have a seat assignment at the time you board the plane.
Southwest Airlines, on the other hand, has an entirely different process when it comes to seat selection. There are no assigned seats on Southwest, only assigned boarding groups and numbers that dictate the order in which passengers get on the plane.
Because of this, some flyers stress out when they think about flying Southwest. Will they get to sit with their friends? Will they board the plane dead last? Will they get stuck in a dreaded middle seat for the duration of their trip?
These are all reasonable concerns, but if you dismiss flying on Southwest because of them, you could be missing out. You’ll often find great prices on Southwest, you can change or cancel your Southwest ticket without any penalties, and you get two free checked bags on every flight. Ironically, Southwest’s seating policy can actually make it easier for families to fly together. (See also: Why Southwest Is the Best Domestic Airline for Families)
You can minimize boarding anxieties by knowing how the Southwest boarding system works and taking a few steps to ensure you get a great seat. Here are the best ways to get good seats on this unique discount airline.
Check in as early as allowed
When you check in for your Southwest flight, you will be assigned a boarding group based on the time you check in. The first boarding group is Group A, the second is Group B, and the third is Group C. Each group assignment comes with a number between one and 60, too, indicating your place within that group.
Check in early enough and you could get a boarding position such as A50. Check in late, on the other hand, and your boarding position could be closer to C60. You’ll use your group letter and boarding number to find your place in line within the Southwest boarding queue when it’s time to board the plane.
You can pay extra to get into Group A (more on that in a minute), but you usually don’t need to. Here’s the free way to score a great seat on Southwest: Since boarding groups and numbers are based on when you check in and you can check in as early as 24 hours before…
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