Southwest Boarding Groups Explained (A-List, Groups A, B, & C) [2019]

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Are you wondering how exactly Southwest boarding groups work?

This article will show you everything you need to know about the Southwest boarding process.

I’ll also show you different ways that you can get priority boarding and talk about things like family boarding and military boarding. I’ll also give you some details about Southwest seating (charts, maps, etc.) and some tips for getting the best seats. 

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How many boarding groups does Southwest have?

Southwest has three main boarding groups:

  • Boarding group A
  • Boarding group B
  • Boarding group C

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How does Southwest boarding work?

When you check-in for your flight, you’ll be assigned a boarding group and within that boarding group you’ll be assigned a number 1 through 60.

So for example, you might be assigned A50, which means you’ll be the 50th person to board within Group A.

It could vary depending on the airport, but generally, you’ll see monitors or signs showing you where to stand for your group (e..g, A 1-30, A 31-60) and then silver posts marked with numbers which will tell you where to stand within a range of five numbers.

So if you have A50, you’ll line up when you see the “A” sign or monitor and then you’ll locate the section that might have something like “50 to 55” marked.

Once you find where you need to stand, you’ll simply wait for them to start boarding and proceed to make your way to the plane. Once you’re inside the plane, you can choose any seat since seats are not assigned with Southwest. 

As unconventional as it might sound from other airlines like United, the boarding procedures are usually pretty smooth.


What order does Southwest board its planes?

Although there are only three boarding groups, the actual boarding process for the planes is actually more complex.

Here’s how Southwest boarding process/order works: 

Passengers already on the plane

Some passengers may already be on the plane depending on the origin of the flight. But if some passengers got off the plane for a layover, they might be among the first to board.

This means that you could have a Business Select ticket, and still have several people board before you depending on the size of the crowds.

Pre-boarding

Pre-boarding will consist of those passengers who need extra time or assistance to board (those with disabilities and people with service animals will usually be included in this group as well).

Other passengers who might at this time are those with large camera equipment, instruments, and certain other select people.

Business Select

The next individuals to board are those who purchased Business Select fares. Southwest doesn’t offer a traditional first class but they do offer Business Select fares, which offer you the highest earning rate for Rapid Rewards.

And after them, those who were upgraded to Business Select will board.

(More on those tickets below).

A-list Preferred

The next to board will be A-List Preferred, which is the top-tier elite status offered by Southwest.

You can qualify for it by flying 50 one-way qualifying segments or earning 70,000 qualifying points. You’ll receive a 100% bonus on Rapid Rewards earned priority check-in and security lane access. You’ll also get free in-flight wifi (on planes equipped with wifi) and the ability to get on earlier flights for free.

A-list

A-list is the bottom-tier elite status just below A-List Preferred and so they board right after A-List Preferred.

A-List can be achieved by flying 25 one-way qualifying segments or earning 35,000 qualifying points. You’ll receive a 25% bonus on Rapid Rewards earned priority check-in and security lane access.

EarlyBird

The next passengers to board will be those with EarlyBird.

Southwest EarlyBird automatically checks you in 36 hours prior to departure and while it does not guarantee an A boarding spot, it will offer you a much better chance of getting a window or aisle seat.

Read more below on whether or not it’s worth it. 

Boarding Group A

if you are traveling with a kid 6 or under, you should be able to board in between Group A and Group B (this is the family boarding time).

Also, if you’re A-List and you purchased a last minute ticket you’ll be able to board between Group A and Group B.

And finally, military members (usually in uniform but not always) can board between Group A and Group B. If you’re not traveling in your uniform, consider showing your military ID to a gate agent and inquiring about priority boarding.

Boarding Group B

If you’re in boarding group B, you can still get a decent seat if you’re in B1 to B30, but the closer you get to boarding group C, the tougher it’s going to be to get your desired seat.

However, if you’re okay with sitting in the rear of the plane, it will be easier to find desirable seats or seats together.

Boarding Group C

Most of the time if you’re in group C, it’s going to be very difficult to get a window seat or aisle seat. Head towards the back for your best odds.

Standbys

Standbys will be the last to board.


Companion Pass Boarding

The Southwest Companion Pass allows a partner to fly for free with you for up to two full calendar years and it’s one of the most valuable travel perks sought by many.

When you utilize the Companion Pass you and your partner will not necessarily get boarding passes right next to each other. Southwest did run a trial allowing companions to board next to each other but I’m unaware of the results of the trial.


Why do boarding groups matter?

Besides just being able to board the plane quicker and choose your desired seat (window or aisle), there are two specific reasons why you’d want a higher boarding pass.

Baggage

Southwest has a generous baggage policy where they allow you to check two bags for free.

As for carry-ons, it’s the same baggage policy that most other major airlines have for their standard tickets: 1 personal item and 1 carry-on.

So by getting a better boarding position, you’ll be able to guarantee that you’ll have overhead storage for your bags.

Emergency row seats

Emergency exit rows on Southwest planes have extra legroom and/or have rows with only two seats which are great for couples.

By securing a higher boarding pass, your flight can become a lot more enjoyable as you’ll have more room.

Southwest usually flies 737-700s and 737-800s and the 737-800s have more emergency exit rows with only two seats, so it’s a good idea to check ahead of time (if possible) to see which type of aircraft you are flying on.


Southwest seating details (seating chart)

If you’re flying Southwest, chances are you’ll be flying on a 737-700 or a 737-800. You might be wondering about how much room you’ll have with your Southwest seating and here’s what you can expect: 

  • 737-700 — Pitch (leg room): 31 inches; width 17 inches
  • 737-800 — Pitch (leg room): 32 to 33 inches; width 17 inches
  • 737-800MAX — Pitch (leg room): 32 to 33 inches; width 17.8 inches

So as you can see, when it comes to Southwest seating, you’ll get more leg room with the 737-800 according to SeatGuru and you’ll have a wider seat with the 737-800 Max. .8 inches might now sound like that much but every little bit helps when you’re flying. You can view the Southwest seating charts here


Get the best seat selection (Southwest priority boarding)

There are a few ways that you can secure “priority boarding” with Southwest. I put that in quotations because there aren’t true priority boarding groups but there are some ways you can effectively get priority boarding and get the best seat selection. 

Business Select

If you purchase a Business Select fare, you’ll be guaranteed a boarding position A1 to A15.

Business Select fares are usually just a little bit more expensive than Anytime fares but they allow you to earn more points and also offer the following benefits:

  • Guaranteed A1-A15 boarding
  • Fly By lane access
  • Free premium drink
  • 12 Rapid Rewards per dollar spent
  • Fully refundable fare

You can read more on whether or not Business Select fares are worth it here

Upgrade to Business Select

Instead of purchasing Business Select fares you can also upgrade.

The cost to upgrade to Business Select varies from $30 to $50 per segment, depending on the route.

To upgrade, simply approach the ticket counter or desk at the departure gate and inquire about the upgrade. Sometimes they make you upgrade at the gate reserved for your flight but other times you can do it at check-in or at another Southwest gate. Southwest should be able to tell you exactly what boarding number you’d receive before you upgrade so you can see if it’s worth it.

The new Southwest Priority Credit Card now offers up to four upgrades to priority boarding (A1 to A15) based on availability per year.

Among other benefits, it also offers a $75 annual credit, 20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and movies, and 20% back on in-flight drinks, WiFi, messaging, and movies. It’s not a bad way to cover those upgrades to Business Select if you only need to cover a few of those a year. 

Southwest EarlyBird

Another option to secure a priority boarding position is to go with Southwest EarlyBird.

This will automatically check you in 36 hours prior to departure. EarlyBird does not guarantee an A boarding pass but it will almost always get you a boarding pass that will allow you to get an aisle or window seat.

For the most part, you should be able to get a window seat or aisle seat just by checking in yourself 24 hours before your flight. (It’s often possible to get an A boarding pass checking in on your own.)

However, if you won’t be available to check in 24 hours prior or you don’t think that you’ll remember then EarlyBird could be worth it.

EarlyBid used to cost $10 each way and then it was increased to $15 each way. But recently, the pricing was changed to dynamic pricing so it could cost up to $25.

You can read more about whether or not Southwest EarlyBird is worth it here. 


Can you save seats on Southwest?

There’s a lot of debate as to whether or not its acceptable to saves seats on Southwest flights.

For the most part it does seemed to be frowned upon but you can usually save seats within reason.

Generally, saving seats at the rear of the plane is not an issue, especially if you’re trying to keep your family together.

With that said, if you have a very large group, you might be inviting some issues since saving multiple rows can get a little messy at times.

Also, you don’t want to save seats in the front of the plane, as that might lead to confrontations. In addition, it’s usually not a good idea to save seats in the emergency exit rows as those are usually in high demand.

Tip: One trick I’ve done in the past is to get the flight attendant to occupy a seat as people board and people will usually pass over that seat.


Can groups board together?

Southwest will allow you to board in groups even if your boarding passes are not directly before or after each other.

The catch is that they want you to board with the member who has the lowest boarding pass.

So for example, let’s say there are three of you and you have the following boarding passes:

  • A25
  • A60
  • B30

Southwest will ask that A25 and A60 board with B30. This is to preserve the “integrity” of the boarding process since it actually doesn’t affect the boarding waiting time of any of the other passengers.


How to print southwest boarding pass?

You can easily print your boarding pass by checking in online.

You can print your boarding pass online at Southwest.com or at the airport using a self-service kiosk on the day of departure.

Southwest also allows you to board with a electronic or mobile boarding passes. You can request a mobile boarding pass at the time of check-in on Southwest.com, the Southwest.com mobile site, or the Southwest mobile app for iPhone or Android.

But note that mobile boarding passes are not currently available to passengers traveling on international flights.


Southwest Tips

If you want to learn more tips about flying for Southwest click here.

Also, if you want to earn more Rapid Rewards, be sure to check out the Southwest Shopping Portal


Final word

Southwest boarding policies are pretty straight forward.

There are a few ways that you can get priority boarding though they all come with different degrees of assurance.

Cover photo by BriYYZ via Flickr.

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One comment

  1. Hey Daniel, do you have any insight on this phenomenon? I was standing in line at A54 and noticed that there were a LOT of empty spots in front of me (A31-A53) in a random array. There were even quite a few sporadic spots in the A16-A30 line next to me. After those A16-A30 people boarded the B1-B30 lined up and there were about 10 people with huge gaps between them. The flight was obviously not full and only had about 75 people flying (lucky me!). It was also an early flight (5am). There’s no way that 60+ people cancelled their trips at the last minute leaving these huge gaps, but it made me wonder how a person could be assigned B2, for example, the next person B8, then B12, etc. with no reasoning to the gap sizes. Again, this is assuming that half of the people on the flight were no shows or late cancellations – highly unlikely, especially because the flight check in lady confirmed that the flight was never fully sold.

    It makes me think that SWA is assigning random line assignments Not in numerical order. With 75 passengers you would expect the bottom half of the A group and the first part of the B group to all be together. I get that they leave a little space for A List Preferred and all of that, but it’s odd that someone was assigned B2 and the next person that checked in was assigned B8 or whatever.

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