An empty seat is the best thing you can do to have a better flight. On most airlines it is luck. On Southwest it is strategy.
On most airlines you can reserve an aisle and window if you’re traveling with someone, and hope the flight isn’t full. Traveling solo in back, I recently switched seats the morning of my flight to improve the odds of an empty middle and it worked. I went from an otherwise empty exit row to an aisle seat across the way where the exit row window was already taken.
Southwest doesn’t pre-assign seats, but if you board early and get the one you want and the flight isn’t sold out, you can improve your odds that the seat next to you stays vacant – by making it unappealing for someone to choose to sit down next to you. Always ask if the flight is full when you board!
Here are (4) ways to make sure the middle seat stays open next to you when flying Southwest Airlines:
- Crumpled tissues. Act sick, crumple of tissues and put them in the seat next to you. No one wants to sit next to someone they see is sick (or pick up your used tissues to do so).
- Take a window seat and a aisle seat if you’re traveling with someone, or conspire with the other person who was in your row when you sat down. Act like you’re fighting. No one is going to want to sit in the middle seat if there are any other options available.
- Seat spreader. You want to extend into the seat next to you. If you’re a larger passenger, then they’ll have less room. A middle is bad enough. Not getting the entire middle seat is worse.
You can also spread your stuff into the middle seat, which makes the seat look occupied.
— Tamz Gibson (@1TamzG) May 1, 2023
Another version of seat spreading is seat saving. Some people put their stuff on the open seat beside them, making it “look like” the seat is saved so that (hopefully) no one asks about it.
Pretend someone else is sitting there, tell people who come by that you’re saving the seat. If you have a better boarding position than the person you’re traveling with, or they need to go to the bathroom, you can board first on your own and save a seat for them. There’s no rule for or against this, so you just need to tell other passengers that the seat belongs to someone else – even if it isn’t true.
We regret any disappointment during the boarding process today. As you may know, all Southwest flights are open seating, and we don't have a specific policy for or against saving seats. We apologize for any frustration, and hope for smoother sailing in the future. -Hannah
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 28, 2022
- Too eager seatmate. The trick is to make eye contact and pat the middle seat to welcome them to snuggle up. This approach has to come across as creepy. Nearly any man can pull it off. Fewer women could.
How to keep seats open next to you on a flight 😂
Or, as someone looks like they might sit down beside you, reach out and offer them hard boiled eggs out of a plastic bag. Do it with an impish grin, like you might eat them or at least creep on them. And what if those eggs are.. rotten?
— Craig Muni (@CraigMuni) May 14, 2023
Some people don’t like the way Southwest Airlines seats are divvied out on a first-come, first-served basis but I find it’s great for people who book last minute (good seats may not be available anymore on other airlines) and for those that are strategic. But even if you don’t get an extra seat empty next to you, Southwest offers an inch or two more legroom than other airlines do in their standard seats. So it’s a better coach experience than on other U.S. carriers.