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Is Southwest Targeting Passengers Who Will Pay More?

Is Southwest Targeting Passengers Who Will Pay More?
Joe Cortez

Frequent Southwest Airlines travelers are starting to wonder if they are being conditioned to pay for extras on their next flight. At least one blogger thinks that the carrier is purposefully boarding passengers without status later down the line, with the idea they will pay for an earlier position at the gate.

Southwest Airlines is well known for its “general admission” seating plans. Travelers are assigned a boarding group and number based on when they checked in, ranging from groups A to C and numbers 1-60. As it stands, someone with a higher number in group A will get a better selection of seats than those with a lower number in groups B or C. But is Southwest purposefully putting passengers without A-List status at the bottom of the boarding list?

Travel blogger Gary Leff of View From the Wing questions just that. On a reader tip, Leff opines that Southwest may be encouraging passengers who receive a lower boarding number to pay up for better seating than that assigned to them at check-in.

According to the reader’s story, they booked a flight between Orlando and Phoenix for $560, and paid an additional $15 for Early Bird automatic check-in. However, the flyer was relegated to the C boarding group, despite the fact Southwest’s automatic check-in would give the flyer priority over those who manually check-in.

Thus, Leff thinks that the airline may be keeping some passengers lower in the queue on purpose, with the goal of asking them to pay more for a guaranteed boarding card between A1 and A15, giving them prime selection of seats. These upgrades can cost significantly more than the $15 Early Bird check-in offered by Southwest.

Can this be battled by regular travelers looking to get to their destination in their selected seat? First, travelers may want to look for a flight not dominated by business travelers. Because business flights have more high-paying and elite customers, they may not have much latitude for non-elite flyers to move upward. Secondly, Leff suggests travelers consider the premium Southwest card, which comes with four upgraded boardings every year.


[Image Source:  Shutterstock]

View Comments (2)


  1. kcreedy

    May 10, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    Leff was explaining why he didn’t think Southwest was giving us low #s so I think you mischaracterized his article. I was the one who wondered if WN assigned me low #s because Big Data tells them I’d buy up to A1-15. But Leff didn’t think WN was that sophisticated. I buy his explanation. It was Easter week, and they probably had a lot of A Listers who get priority over those who buy Early Bird. Cheers — Kathryn

  2. Mtothe M

    May 15, 2019 at 5:12 am

    It’s pretty hard to get too worked up about boarding status on the lower-cost airlines…and SWA is one of them. I don’t particularly care for the cattle call, but have been able to get groups as large as 10 seated pretty well together – even from Group C. The last time we flew got an aisle seat with empty middle seat – in the exit row no less!

    If boarding status is important to you, fly an airline with dedicated FF programs that are more than happy to charge you $200-$300 (ticket price, upgrades) more for the “right” to maybe board 5-7 minutes earlier.

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