“Catfishing” Is The New Way Southwest Airlines Passengers Are Getting The Best Seats

Southwest Airlines boarding gets a lot of criticism, because instead of having assigned seats their passengers line up based on their ‘boarding number’ and it’s first board, first pick. Some people cheat and board before it’s their turn. Others fake a disability to get on early. And then those who want a free seat next to them try to be as unpleasant a potential seatmate as possible so nobody sits down next to them. My personal favorite technique is placing crumpled up tissues down on the seat next to you.

Underappreciated, though, is the way that passengers boarding later in the process are strategizing whom to sit next to – not just whom to avoid.

  • If I’m going to be stuck sitting next to someone for sure, I’d like it to be the smallest person possible.

  • Some people are just looking for a passenger they find cute.

If two people sit together on a plane and hit it off, and they wind up together in the end, then it’s an adorable story – like the couple who met on a Southwest Airlines flight, had the pastor from their row officiate at their wedding, and made it all airline-themed.

Credit: Southwest Airlines

Usually, though, it’s just a little bit creepy. But women, knowing men are on the hunt for a more attractive seatmate, are using this knowledge to their advantage in the hunt for seats at the end of boarding.

Got catfished during boarding yesterday

I was in 4D (aisle) with another passenger already in 4F (window) during boarding for what I knew was going to be a pretty full flight – i.e. I expected the middle seat to be taken so I hadn’t put my seatbelt on yet.

A petite woman (5′, 100 lbs or so) asks whether someone was sitting in the middle seat and I said “no – you’re welcome to join us” and I start getting up. She then turns around to her boyfriend/companion (6’2″, 220#) and says “sit here, I’ll go back to this one.”

Sold a total bill of goods on that one.

The seat is open, anyone can sit there, but an attractive woman frequently makes those open seats more available. The crumpled tissues magically disappear. And when it turns out she’s doing the asking for someone else? What are you going to say!

Here’s another one where the Southwest seating preferences seem suspect. A man chose to sit next to a young mother, when the entire row behind her was completely empty?

i noticed that they were in row 7, mom+baby in carrier in aisle seat and grandma in the window. there had to have been at least half the plane empty behind them. full rows, seats at ur heart’s desire! FA’s were encouraging people to space out since the flight was pretty empty. then the man in front of me stops at the row with the 2 women and the baby and asks for their middle seat. the mom holding the baby kinda looked at him like “really?” and the people sitting in the rows around had the same expressions. but he insisted and she ended up asking if he’d be “okay” with the aisle seat so she could at least be next to her mother. HE had the audacity to be like “yeah fine” over an aisle seat in a row he really didn’t need to sit in.

i’d understand if it was a full flight and he wanted to be close to the front but the row behind them was completely empty. it was so strange and i felt bad for the 2 women; the “younger” mom clearly had been stressed and overwhelmed with flying w a newborn and finally seemed settled in their seats until he came along. plus this whole ordeal held up the rest of the boarding.

I’ve had young women that I’ve worked with tell me that when they fly, they often see the men sitting next to them take off their wedding bands. Who they were sitting next to is just happenstance. On almost any airline, you don’t know in advance who will be next to you. But on Southwest Airlines, you actually choose it.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I would have simply got up and move to the row behind and told him, “you can have this row to yourself”.

  2. I only fly Southwest. If they don’t go there, then either I drive or I don’t go there. And I take my service dog, and I always buy an extra seat to be fair to the other passengers. They let me pre-board first so I can get a bulkhead with her and no other airline has been that accommodating.

  3. Airline should only allow handicap passenger and just one family member to board after first class passengers board first and not the other way around or have handicap passengers pay a $25.00 dollar fee for boarding first service

  4. I am disabled & have my own wheelchair that I take on trips with me. My Southwest account has my information for my chair & that I need assistance. I can walk short distances, with difficulty.
    But I have noticed since start ng back flying after the Pandemic there are those that are using airport wheelchairs to get on the plane, but when we arrive at the Destination. They get off without wheelchair service.
    This makes me mad, just like people who use handicapped parking & are not handicapped.
    I even carry a letter from my Doctor with my Diagnosis & disability information.

  5. I don’t care who I sit next to or who sits next to me. I’m gonna put on head phones and sleep. Enjoy.

  6. So tired of overweight people not buying a second seat. The last flight was overflowing with body fat over the arm rests onto my seat space and body! It is not enforced.

  7. There are unusually many passengers on wheelchairs at Southwest Airlines. Some of them look quite healthy! They board first.

    Once, I saw a woman on a wheelchair. Next thing, I saw her walking capably at the rest room!

  8. I don’t fly southwest for this reason and many more…. If you don’t want to worry about what seat you are going to sit in fly an airline that gives you an assigned seat. It may cost more but at least you know your seat prior to boarding and can assume there won’t be and ghetto ass people on the flight too.

  9. I needed the w/c both directions and did defer in seats to people more in need than I
    Thanks for the service not to be abused! SW reigns supreme.

  10. I use the handicap service out of necessity and not convenience. There are so many people using this service that sometimes you even have to wait for the service to be rendered. I flew last month with another passenger that was using the handicap service. When we got to baggage pick up, she told the person that picked her that she used the service because it made it faster to get around. She and others like her will get this service ruined for those that really need it.

  11. I flew last months with my daughter’s we were able to sit together with no problem, but on our way back I saw a lot of people using wheelchair’s and the whole family boarding first should be only one person for each handicap, when we got to ORD mostly everyone were walking on their own, pretty shameless if you ask me, they are ruined for other people that really need the services.

  12. Yes SWA I too have seen people get on plane sitting in wheelchairs and as soon as they get off plane power walk all the way to baggage claim with family members. It isn’t fair. I believe some people need to use wheelchairs and I feel bad but ithey aren’t the people I’m talking about here. Im talking the ones using the system.

  13. I need a wheelchair and am capable of shortwalks to rerlstroom etc. None of that lady’s business I don’t need an assistant to help. I’m not paralyzed. . Youvseecl8cky to be able to walkbby yourself in airports. So quit complaining and fork over more money.

  14. You don’t know a persons disability so you shouldn’t judge if you see them doing something you don’t think is “disability worthy”. Just because a person can’t walk the full length of the airport (which could be at least half mile or more depending on the airport) and endure long lines at the security gate, doesn’t mean they can’t get up walk to the bathroom if it’s a very short distance from them. This is the case with my fiancé’, who has had to have surgery on his back several times. He can walk. He has legs that work. However, he can not walk long distances or stand for long periods of time, without causing excruciating pain, therefore I always order an “airport wheelchair” at the airport for him and I don’t apologize to anyone who thinks we shouldn’t be able to have that privilege.

  15. What is MOST annoying on southwest is , for ex, swa starts in mia , then to mco then to Seattle , here is the most annoying thing, some creep will move from the back of the plane, as if he is getting off then take a quality front seat ,away from someone who may have paid extra to get a chance at that seat ( business select) , Bob Jordan should chance the policy, more in line like the others

  16. The Southwest pre-boarders are actually prohibited from sitting in certain seats. If you fly “business class”(× < A10), you still have the option of sitting in your desired seat. #IYKYK

  17. Southwest creates these situations with their policy. They are not always cheapest, they are not always the most direct route. Sometimes they get you to a destination in one layover in the shortest amount of time, but not always again!

  18. I”ve flown SW since my early day as a corporate trainer. They used to issue boarding order based on arrival time. Now, if I forget to check in 24 hrs ahead, I get the C group. That’s life.
    At 71, I have needed a wheelchair when the distance to the gate or baggage claim has been farther than I can walk. After a head on collision in 2013 and surgery in 2014, walking, standing or sitting too long is excrutiating. I don’t judge because there are disabilities you cant see.

  19. For you people who try to hold seats for others who have not boarded, dont pull it with me. I shout out to flight attendants “are we holding seats for others now, if so i am holding the entire row”. Needless to say, i get the seat the the person usually sits there in shock. Forgot to mention, 6″3, 225lb here.

  20. Another annoying tactic: one traveler pays to upgrade into group A 1-15, and then saves adjacent seats for 2 or more of their friends or relatives who board in the “C” group. Other passengers who boarded in the meantime and try to sit in those seats are told “uh no, those seats are for my….”

    The flight attendants are useless to fairly enforce the intended seating rules.

    People on SWA who “save seats” are the worst!

  21. All disabilities aren’t visible. I’ve had a disability since 2011. Long walks, standing, and sitting is painful. This past year I started to use wheel chair assist. I keep my documentation on my phone.

  22. I feel they should board the wheelchair people after the A group since most people spend a lot of money to upgrade to either business select or in the A group and most of the wheelchair people just sit in them to get on first and not have to pay for there seats. And then get off first with no wheelchair help.

  23. It’s just my husband and I and our son with severe autism but due to being abandoned early in life, change like having my husband one half of the plane and my son and I in the other can be terrifying for him. The boarding with one person is super traumatic for him. We always save a seat, I don’t care if you think you want the seat next to us or not- unless you want to keep my child from climbing under seats or running through the aisle to find their dad, deal with it and find another seat. You never know a child’s history! We don’t always fly it because it can be so traumatic but sometimes it’s the best option. People using pre board without disabilities is just pitiful.

  24. I had a SW agent assume I didn’t need help when I asked. My pride stopped me from putting it on my boarding pass to begin with. I’m 38 just finished cancer treatment. My makeup was done and my hair was starting to grow back. People assumed because I looked fine that morning I didn’t need assistance. I asked at my layover and got what wrong with you. Rather than going into my health problems I boarded the plane. I was in literal tears when I made it to my destination from pain. Walking it myself took 2 days to recover from even with morphine Pain meds. Don’t judge someone’s disability just from looks. It’s hard enough to ask for help when you are “young” and feel like you should be able to do it. I was leaning on my suitcase like a cane by the last leg. It was horrible.

  25. Another worthless click bait story by a person who needs something to say about nothing.
    Those who fly Southwest on a regular basis prefer to choose their own seat WITHOUT being charged to do so.

  26. No different than other things in life. You can choose a fake disability or be honest. Only you can choose how you are going to respond to other’s dishonesty. Get angry, or let it go….

  27. I use a wheelchair because of nerve damage. I can’t walk for long nor stand in the line while on the plane during regular boarding. I also appreciate those extra inched on the F seat by the window to cover my arm for warmth and cushion the pressure on the armrest and to avoid someone pressing against me. I sometimes walk away from the plane at my destination just to get the numbness out of my body and may have to sit on the way to exit. Please avoid judging as you don’t know one’s disability.

  28. My home airport is Baltimore, so I’m forced to fly SW often. EVERY SINGLE TIME I check a bag with them it’s a disaster. From taking my small hardcase to the large item hold, to frequently displaying the wrong baggage carousel. I NEVER get out of there within an hour of landing if I check a bag. On my most recent flight out of Denver into BWI the flight was maybe 3/4 full. I had a short layover so I was among the last to board. There happened to be row 1 D&E opened so I plopped down. The FA made a rude remark about me needing to stow my bag, of course, then later in the flight I had my earphones in but off and heard the two forward attendants saying they tried to save the seat but “unfortunately” I took it. Later I used the forward head and when I exited apparently it didn’t latch. One of the agents said something, and as I turned around they kicked the door shut from the jump seat. I complained to SW and their response is a $100 voucher. I miss being in ATL where I could avoid SW!

  29. I recommend salem manifest lover spell) @ g m ai l…c o m…………………

    He will fix your relationship problem..


  30. I have advised SWA that they should board all wheelchair requiring persons to seats near the rear of the plane.
    If they truly require wheelchair assistance, then often the destination airport must have them wait for available wheelchair assistance on arrival.
    No reason to have them sit in front of plane delaying everyone’s de boarding process.
    This would also discourage folks who don’t require wheelchair assistance from abusing the use of wheelchair assistance for getting preferred seats.
    Most folks boarding plane using wheelchair assistance get off the plane without that service.
    I have had 2 back surgeries and often have pain with prolonged standing, and certainly when I must rush through a connecting airport to board a plane from far away gate. Yet, I have never fraudulently used wheelchair assistance to get the preferred seats located near front of plane.

  31. Have been flying Southwest for years. When I was a business traveler, I appreciated their ability to get Mr to my destination on time, even if it required a stopover. Now that I’m eighty I appreciate the wheelchair services. It’s a great airline and I hope. It does not adopt the practices of other airlines.

  32. In order to discourage fake disability passengers, perhaps it’s time to board and deplane that group LAST. You know, last on, last off (in accounting terminology).
    To ChrisK>> SWA has been operating in ATL for many years.
    Also, I was witness to the SWA gate agents blocking a large family from boarding early together since they had one 6-yr-old. The agents said,
    “ONLY ONE family member can pre-board with child, the rest of you will board per the group letter and place number printed on your ticket.” Lots of ugly faces were made at that gate agent. The group had the letter ‘C’. Made me chuckle. YAY, SWA!

  33. I’m a loyal SWA customer. I think they have an OUTSTANDING BUSINESS MODEL. It’s ridiculous that you have to pay for luggage , seats, refreshments and humanity on other airlines. Stop the whining!!! The number of ppl needing assistance v. the number not need not be discussed. Whether the disability is mental or physical the conditions exist. It’s the same few minutes on SWA as it is on AA,UA,and Delta. RELAX!! Leave the current WORKING policies in place. Concentrate on the cost of tickets. If your numbers are down it’s because the cost of your tickets is too high. I fly frequently–1-2 x/wk. This year I’ve had to fly 95% via other airlines because SWA was too high. I’m not talking a little bit. I’m talking hundreds $200 v $422, even with $80 in luggage fees, I had to go with the other carriers. And I hate it! Because SWA is my airline of choice. Good ppl. Better pilots…smooth take offs and landings. Same legroom regardless of seat . Same accommodations as other airlines. AA, UA and Delta have outdated planes. SWA has added outlets and wifi. Do whatever you want from your device. Their ppl are usually helpful and pleasant. All of their planes are the same size so overhead space is not an issue. And from what I can see they are adding destinations all the time. Like I said SWA is my PREFERRED AIRLINE AND MY FAVORITE I just hope this nut at the helm is not on the take from the other airlines to destroy SWA. You guys watch him. Every since he’s been in charge, things are not running as smooth. PLEASE DON’T LET HIM AND GREED KILL THIS BEAUTIFUL AIRLINE!!!

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