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Southwest Tests Moving Family Boarding Forward

Families may soon be able to board faster aboard Southwest, as the carrier tests a new process to move families to between higher groups.
Families traveling together aboard Southwest Airlines may be able to get on the aircraft faster – albeit a little further back on their aircraft.


TheStreet reports the Dallas-based airline is testing a new family boarding process, which would move those with smaller children to before group A.


Families Could Board Sooner, But Behind Exit Rows

Under the airline’s current policy, families traveling with children under six years old are invited to board their aircraft between groups A and B with open seating assignments. Their main competition – the U.S. legacy carriers – often allow families with young children to pre-board their aircraft, but with assigned seats.


In the coming year, Southwest Airlines will begin to test allowing families to also pre-board the aircraft, before group A. Because the airline doesn’t offer seating assignments, the groups will need to be seated behind the first 15 rows of the aircraft.


While the new policy benefits families, it would potentially make it more difficult for those who pay for automatic check in and A-List elites. Those flyers would have fewer seats to choose from, in addition to overhead bin space. The test will run on select flights at airports across the United States for an unknown period of time, before a final decision is made.


While Southwest is trialing the new process, other passenger-favorite benefits won’t be changing. In previous statements, airline chief executive Bob Jordan said flyers will still be able to check two bags for free.


Changes Tested as Lawmakers Fight to Keep Families Together 

The potential change for Southwest comes as legislators put more pressure on airlines to keep families sitting together. In July 2022, the Transportation Department issued a new rulemaking notice “urging” airlines to “do everything in their power” to keep families seated together.


Share your thoughts about the changes on the FlyerTalk Forums.

CowboyinBRLA February 21, 2023

IF - and  it's a big if - Southwest actually enforces the "last 15 rows" policy for family groups, that's a plus. I doubt they'll be able to really enforce it, though. The only way to be sure is to stop all other boarding until those groups are seated, make sure they're all in the back, and then resume boarding.

But they need to enforce the "sit together" rule. I could easily see a family with three kids where every kid wants the window seat, so the parents let the kids sit in three separate rows for the windows, and the parents take two of the aisle seats. Family group with early boarding? All in the minimum number of rows to accommodate them. 

LikeToJourney January 11, 2023

It's not a bad idea but will be difficult to enforce.  The first time a child has a complete meltdown because he doesn't want to sit in the back of the plane, it will be all over the news. 

weibelt December 26, 2022

I think when a lot of people read this, they focus on the fact that people without children get to go first and disenfranchise those without kids. 

I think that there are some benefits for those flying without kids with this new boarding system.

Now there will be 15 rows that are free of children. No babies crying, no kids kicking the back of your seat every 3 minutes for 4 hours. The children are now in the back of the plane. Previously, I have seen it be very common with the credit card upgraded boarding perk for many families to buy 1 upgraded boarding and then save a row or two for everyone and you don't know that you will be sitting next to kids until they sit down during C boarding.

This also prevents kids from sitting behind you or beside you when you have A boarding, and they come on. 

There would be ~90 seats (plus the exit rows) that would be child-free, and that should be able to accommodate all of A and some of B. This change will likely allow early B group boarders to sit in the child-free section.

dirtrat December 23, 2022

It's a bad idea and will force me to move to other airlines! I live in an area that is fully serviced by Southwest and have used them for decades. Now it seems all passengers are not on equal boarding terms! I'm being punished because I'm a SOLO traveler! Why shouldn't these people either check in early like everyone else or buy earlybird boarding? 

mmbenidt December 23, 2022

I used to regularly be among the first several people to board the plane; behind the people who paid full BS fare (usually a few) and the people who fly like 200 segments a year. I am normally A17-20.
Now, I'm regularly behind those folks plus 12ish more people who have a credit card with free upgraded boarding, pre-boarding and everyone on the plane who was connecting. A1-15 used to be sparse and now it's full every time. And they're considering adding families to the docket?

I'm already regularly ending up somewhere near the windowless rows almost every flight as one of the most frequent flyers.

Seems like they've traded people with loyalty for people willing to pay for perks; it's time that I start considering doing the same.