Southwest Airlines has a boarding policy that is very different from most other US airlines like United Airlines and Delta. Instead of selecting your seat before hand, you simply find the best available seats when you are boarding. This means that you want to have a plan before you step into a Southwest plane.
So to help you find the best seat on a Southwest plane, I’ve put together this article with detailed information about how the boarding policy works and exactly which seats to go after. I also have a couple of specific pointers to help you snag the best seats and avoid the worst seats.
What are the best seats on Southwest Airlines?
The best seat on Southwest Airlines depends on which type of aircraft that you’re flying on and your personal preferences. I’ll break down the different types of aircraft below and give you some insight into what you will want to consider when trying to decide on your personal preferences.
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Best Southwest credit cards
Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card
The Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card comes with the following benefits:
- No foreign transaction fees
- 6,000 anniversary points (learn more)
- Earn 1,500 Tier-Qualifying Points for every $10,000 in purchases, up to 15,000 Tier-Qualifying Points each calendar year
- $99 Annual fee
Southwest Airlines Priority Card
The Southwest Airlines Priority Card comes with all of the benefits offered below:
- Bonus spending:
- 2X Rapid Rewards on Southwest purchases
- 2X Rapid Rewards on hotel and car rental partner purchases.
- 1X Rapid Rewards on all other purchases
- $75 Southwest annual travel credit (learn more)
- 7,500 anniversary points each year
- Four Upgraded Boardings per year when available.
- 20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and movies
- No foreign transaction fees
- Earn tier qualifying points towards A-list Status
- $149 annual fee applied to your first billing statement
The best seat on a Southwest 737-700
The best seat for extra legroom on a 737-700 is the coveted seat 12A, as it allows you to extend your legs more than any other seat on the aircraft.
The reason you have so much room is that there is no passenger seat in front of you versus a normal economy seat on a 737-700 that has 31 inches of pitch and 17 inches of width.
This is great for more legroom but you have to remember that you won’t have a place to put your carry-on underneath the seat in the row in front of you (row 11). Many times, you can simply ask a passenger to help push your bag underneath seat 10A, which they should happily do for you.
There are other seats with additional legroom in the emergency exit rows. Any seats in rows 11 and 12 will have additional legroom. Personally, I love seats 11B and 11C because they allow Brad and I to sit as a couple without having to brush elbows with other passengers — these are perfect for the Companion Pass.
But there are a couple of drawbacks. For one, you might not be able to recline. And also, note that these seats can be colder sometimes so think twice about wearing shorts.
The seats up front, known as the bulkhead seats, also have more legroom but don’t have any seats to slide your carry-on under. With these seats, you will be the first to get off the plane which can help you avoid long immigration lines if you are flying on an international route.
Be careful about row 10 because you may not be able to recline the seats in that row. Also, the row in the very back of the plane will have limited recline not to mention the fact that it is right next to the lavatory. The back of the plane can be colder as well.
Some seats on the 737-700 will have misaligned windows. So if you really enjoy those sweet window views when up in the clouds, you want to avoid seats 7A and 8F. Row 10 also has misaligned windows.
The best seat on a Southwest 737-800
The larger 737–800 has a slightly different seat map than the 700. On this plane, seat 16A and 16F will be the seats with the most amount of legroom. And what I love most about the 800 is that there are two rows with the couple seats: 15B + 15C and 15D + 15E.
That is significant because many times it can make it worth upgrading to Business Select on an 800 because it’s easier to get one of the best seats. (I’ll talk about upgrading more below.)
More legroom can also be found in bulkhead seats 2A, 2B, and 2C. But keep in mind that the tray tables will be inside the armrests making the seats a little less wide.
Misaligned window seats on the 800 include 9A and 10F.
A normal economy seat on a 737-800 that has 32 to 33 inches of pitch and 17 inches of width, so you have more legroom on a 737-800.
The best seat on a Southwest 737 MAX 8
The newest aircraft is the 737 MAX 8. This aircraft was problematic when rolled out but is now in service.
That’s good news because it means there is another aircraft with two special seats with lots of extra legroom. Try to go for seats 16A and 16F. There are two sections perfect for couples in row 15 but be aware there might be limited recline in rows 13, 14, and 15.
Luckily, it doesn’t look like there are misaligned windows on this aircraft.
A normal economy seat on a 737 MAX 8 has 32 to 33 inches of pitch and 17.8 inches of width, making it the most roomy Southwest aircraft.
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The most common type of aircraft
The 737-700 is the most common type of aircraft that Southwest flies so this will be the most popular type of seating chart that you will come across. In case you are wondering about the make up of the Southwest Airlines fleet here it is:
|737 Max 8||34(a)||175|
Something to know about the 737-700, is that it is one of the least bathroom friendly aircraft. It only has one lavatory in the front and one in the back, while the other aircraft have two in the back. For people with bladder issues, a seat in the back near the bathroom might be one of the best seats to go for.
Southwest Airlines boarding process
Now that you know what the best seats are on each aircraft, you need to know how the Southwest boarding process works.
Unlike other airlines like Delta or United, Southwest Airlines does not allow you to reserve a seat at the time of booking or prior to boarding.
Instead, you will choose your seat as you board the plane.
It’s not quite as disorderly as it might first sound.
That’s because each passenger is given a boarding position when they check in 24 hours prior to departure. That boarding position dictates where exactly the passenger lines up when it is time for boarding.
There are three separate boarding groups which consist of groups A, B, and C and within each boarding group, you will be assigned a number (one through 60) which is exactly where you will lineup as each boarding group is called.
To get the best seats on the plane, you are going to have to get a group A boarding position and usually a low one. For example, if you want to get one of the coveted seats like 12A on a 737-700, chances are you will need to have a boarding pass like “A6” or even “A1.”
It all depends on the type of people boarding your plane, though. I’ve boarded some Southwest planes where most of the high boarding pass passengers are more interested in the seats upfront. Other times, I’ve seen the emergency exit rows fill up very quick.
Luckily, there are a couple of things that you can do to be one of the first people to board the plane and get one of the best seats.
How to get the best seats on Southwest
The first thing you can do is purchase a Business Select ticket. These are the most expensive type of tickets that you can purchase with Southwest Airlines and Business Select comes with a number of benefits including:
- Guaranteed A1-A15 boarding
- Fly By lane access
- Free premium drink
- 12 Rapid Rewards per dollar spent
- Fully refundable fare
If you don’t want to shell out all that cash for an expensive Business Select ticket, you can also look into upgrading. Upgrading to Business Select will be much cheaper and it’s something that I have done many times in order to secure one of the best seats on the plane.
The cost to upgrade to Business Select varies from $30 to $50 per segment, depending on the route.
The problem is that on some routes there may not be any availability allowing you to upgrade your tickets. This is especially true when you are flying on routes that are heavy with business travelers.
But, let’s say you are flying to somewhere like the Caribbean or another international destination that Southwest flies to, in many cases you could receive an A1 boarding pass when you upgrade.
You can also purchase Southwest EarlyBird for $15 to $25 (one-way) which automatically checks you in 36 hours before departure.
EarlyBird will help you get a window or aisle seat but generally will not get you a boarding pass low enough to secure one of the best seats mentioned above.
Tip: Some Southwest credit cards now come with two credits for EarlyBird.
Emergency exit row restrictions
Before deciding to sit in one of the emergency exit rows, be aware that not everybody is eligible to sit in those seats.
There are certain age restrictions with sitting in the emergency exit rows. For example, you have to be at least the age of 15 (no unaccompanied minors).
Also if you have mobility issues then you are not allowed to sit in the emergency exit rows because you could potentially be called upon to assist with emergency exits. In fact, federal law requires you to have “sufficient mobility, strength, or dexterity in both arms and hands, and both legs.”
You also cannot have visual impairments, or other issues that prevent you from reading or hearing properly.
Before departure, you will be asked by a flight attendant to agree to assist if needed and they will need verbal confirmation before allowing you to sit there.
Getting an extra seat on Southwest
Sometimes you might need an extra seat when flying on Southwest. For example, if you are a customer of size who will occupy space on an adjacent seat, Southwest will require you to get an additional seat.
The good news is that Southwest will refund you the price of the additional seat!
The recommendation is for you to purchase your extra seat online so that Southwest knows what to expect in terms of occupancy for that flight. If you wait until you arrive at the gate to get your extra seat you won’t have to pay but you risk having to force someone off the flight so it is much more considerate to reserve your extra seat ahead of time.
One limitation of getting an extra seat with Southwest is that they don’t allow you to purchase an extra seat just because you want a little bit more space. In other words, you have to have a specific need such as being a passenger of size or transporting a large instrument.
We put together a full guide on how to get an extra seat on Southwest and you can read about it here.
Best Seats on Southwest FAQ
If you’re looking for extra legroom then you might consider rows 10 through 12 on a 737-700 or rows 13 through 16 on a 737-800.
With the Southwest Priority Credit Card you can get reimbursed for up to four Business Select upgrades per year.
The cost to upgrade to Business Select varies from $30 to $50 per segment, depending on the route.
Seat 12A has no seat in front of it and thus has extra long legroom.
You can get the best seats by purchasing or upgrading to Business Select. That’s because you will be among the first people to board the plane and will have first dibs on seats.
You can get Boarding Group A by purchasing or upgrading to Business Select. With the Southwest Priority Credit Card you can get reimbursed for up to four Business Select upgrades per year.
Southwest EarlyBird can get you Group A but it is not guaranteed.
No, some seats do not have window views. On a 737-700 these include seats 7A and 8F and row 10. Misaligned window seats on the 737-800 include 9A and 10F.
Southwest Airlines does not allow you to reserve a seat at the time of booking or prior to boarding.
Southwest can fit Boeing 143 passengers on a 737-700 and 175 passengers on a Boeing 737-800.
Southwest has approximately 734 planes in service.
Seat width ranges from 17″ on the 737-700 and 737-800 to 17.8″ on the 737 MAX 8.
The best seat on a Southwest plane depends on your personal preferences but generally if you’re looking for legroom, the emergency exit rows are great. See my tips for flying Southwest for more!
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.