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Families First: Southwest is Testing A New Boarding Process

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Some love it and others hate it, but Southwest handles boarding much different than other airlines. Forget seat assignments: Passengers line up 60 at a time, file onto the plane, and pick any unoccupied seats they want. But now, Southwest is trying out something different.

The airline is in the midst of a trial allowing families with young children to board the plane first (before Southwest's A boarding group) … but only if they sit toward the back of the plane. Southwest first announced this pilot for flights departing Atlanta (ATL) last month during a media day event, Travel Weekly reports.

Southwest already has a “Family Boarding” process in place all across its network, allowing up to two adults traveling with children six or under to board the plane after the A boarding group, but before the B group. But they're moving that up in this test, giving families an even earlier head start on boarding before A boarding group tickets in exchange for picking seats behind row 15.

It's unclear when Southwest may decide to make this test a permanent part of boarding or ditch it. But it comes as a welcome pilot for flying families, and, if implemented, would be another flyer-friendly policy Southwest can hang its hat on along with free checked bags and free change or cancellation on every fare.

southwest boarding 

Read next: Why You Should Care About Southwest and Always Compare Prices

So if Southwest already has a Family Boarding policy, why make this change?

Angela Marano, Southwest's vice president of transformation, explained that the airline is trying out new ways to speed up turnaround times between flights – and boarding is a massive piece of that. If Southwest can shave five or ten minutes off its boarding time, it means more flights can operate in a day with more paying passengers.

By allowing families with young children on board first, Southwest might be able to cut down on the delays as families struggle to find seats together, getting those planes in the air faster. It would also take the pressure off families to check in as early as possible, securing an earlier boarding position to board sooner and pick seats together.

But this test also comes as federal regulators have pressured U.S. airlines to ensure families can sit with their children without paying additional fees. From American to United, almost all the major airlines allow travelers to pick seats in advance. But buying a basic economy ticket – or a fare with an ultra-low cost carrier like Spirit or Frontier – may mean you have to pay extra to sit next to your child.

A man sitting in front of an airplane window 

Read more: Can I Sit with My Kids Flying Basic Economy? Questions, Answered

But Southwest is different. The airline doesn't sell basic economy fares and has promised it never will. More importantly, there's no advanced seat assignment with Southwest.

When you check in with Southwest starting 24 hours before departure, you're given a boarding letter (A, B, or C) and a number (1 through 60). A1 is the first to board and C60 is the last. The earlier you check-in, the earlier you can board the plane – though Southwest sells “EarlyBird Check-In” and offers earlier boarding positions to flyers with status or Business Select and Anytime fares.

If it expands after a brief test in Atlanta, Southwest would cut through that convoluted system for families, letting them board right away.


Bottom Line

Southwest is trying out a new spin on its boarding process, allowing families to board the plane first (and pick seats toward the back of the plane) in hopes of speeding up the boarding process.

Whether it expands to Southwest flights nationwide for good is anyone's guess. But if so, it should streamline the boarding process, help out families, and cut down turnaround times for its aircraft, too.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

5 Responses

  • I like the simplicity of this approach and getting families together in the rear of the plane first would speed up boarding IMHO.

  • With MCO as my home airport, it’s absurd to allow families with children under 6 to board first as it ends up being a large number of passengers. As a result, I choose not to fly Southwest out of MCO anymore. I remember years ago, the announcement being made that that policy did not apply at MCO. I’d fly Southwest out of MCO again if that were brought back.

  • I won’t flying southwest if this becomes permanent. Seating families from row 15 back is ridiculous. It just going to cause us A1-A60 to be forced way back in the plane. Rather fly and choose a seat if I’m going to be discriminated against because I’m not traveling with kids. How about we board seniors 1st. Or women traveling alone. This is garbage!
    I hope others feel the same.

  • I fly 12+ flights per year & this is a great idea! Families win as there is no issues about sitting together as long as they are are in rows 19~30. ( this is usually where families end up when they board AFTER group A). It also speeds up the boarding process as families need SPACE & time to get the kids situated. For those concerned about A list or Group A upgrades this does not affect us. ( 108 seats are in the first 18 rows which are excluded from family boarding) The airline now has a greater chance to be on time & provide even better service. A simple policy change where everyone wins!

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