Dad Hacks Southwest Airlines Boarding Process, Saves $200 And Secures The Best Seats

Southwest Airlines seating is first-come, first-served. The earlier you board, the better your seat selection. The earlier you check in, the earlier you’re allowed to board. But some passengers get to jump the queue.

  • Those who buy the most expensive tickets
  • The airline’s frequent flyers
  • Anyone in a wheelchair
  • Families with young children
  • People who pay extra

One man checked in for his family of six 23 hours prior to departure (check-in opens 24 hours in advance), figuring that would get him the best possible boarding number, and help his family get the best seats. He was disappointed. A group boards first, B group second, C group third. He wound up in C group. But he had a plan:

There was still availability to spend extra money for an earlier boarding position. With few having paid up, he had an offer of $40 and took it and got “A3” meaning he’d be the third person to board as long as he lined up before the doors opened. The second part of his plan? He was going to “lay across 6 seats and get into it with anyone that challenges my 6 seat sprawl.”

He didn’t have any bags of donuts to spread across the seats so it was going to be tough for one person to save six seats. Fortunately his wife stepped up to do her part:

Update. Made it all together. I was sprawlin’ but Melissa got on with the family boarding just confidently walked on like a boss.

At Southwest Airlines, “up to two adults traveling with a child six years old or younger may board …after the “A” group has boarded” and before group B. But boarding is a busy time and agents rarely stop to question the people that are taking advantage of this. Just get on “confidently” and walk “on like a boss.” And if you have one child that’s actually under six, bring on extra passengers with them? Anchor babies!

While Southwest has raised the cost to upgrade your boarding position to as much as $149 per passenger this dad got an offer of $40. Instead of paying $40 x 6 or $240 extra one-way ($480 roundtrip!) he just paid it once. He guarded seats. And his wife marched on “like a boss” skipping the queue, without paying extra or even requesting a wheelchair.

At Southwest Airlines, the price of early boarding is really up to you.

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, 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. It is people like them that make it more difficult for others & why they are raising the cost of it. Just like people with fake mobility issues take up the wheelchairs from people who really need them. People who like to cheat the system like this & has the audacity to brag about are lower than scum.

  2. I have flown SWA for many years.
    This dad hack is easily defeated.
    If any passenger wants a seat then they have a right to that seat. Flight attendant will tell dad to move. Most SWA flyers will understand saving s seat or maybe 2, but no more

    Generally the SWA boarding process is fine and people in B group will usually get windowcor aisle.
    SWA has great ticketing refund policy that no other airline can match.
    I prefer SWA over all others.
    If you don’t like their seating policy then please choose another airline.

  3. Prime example of the world we live in. We all know this goes on, but to advertise and promote it is another. This is what is wrong today. Teach your children and others that cheating and scamming is just. You don’t have to have empathy, manners, dignity or just to be a human anymore. Yes, SWA needs to change their boarding, especially when they are the ones causing, creating and continuing to add to this behavior. SAD!

  4. Not the hack he thinks it is.
    A) rude to lay across and reserve 6 seats when it’s first come first serve, and B) you can literally ask for extra time boarding if you can come up with a valid reason (“I have a family of 6 and some of my children are difficult to travel with”), and then you can be the first ones on the plane even before A boarding group.

  5. I must have gotten a gate agent that finally had enough of the people abusing the system. Legitimately disabled, I was pushed by my husband through the humongous terminal, only to arrive at the gate past preboards. The gate agent was insisting I had to move back because a wheelchair didn’t automatically qualify for preboard. There are questions you had to answer when requesting one on the website. I had done that. She finally saw the preboard on my ticket and let us on. I have never had a rude SW employee before. I felt humiliated. So I’m here to tell you, a wheelchair isn’t an automatic early on. And if you see us dragging our sorry asses up the jet bridge, it’s because there are no chairs waiting upon exit.

  6. Everyone is mad at the dad here. None finds anything wrong with airlines that fleece travelers with extra fees, restrictions and delays at every step of one’s travel. Why are airlines reluctant to offer the same simple way of travel we had several years ago? First, Business and economy class tickets with all inclusive prices. Let travelers chose available seats at the time of purchasing tickets and also start boarding from the back of the plane to the front. This get rid of unnecessary delays.

  7. Your vocabulary is a bit off.

    That’s not “beating the system”. That’s just “being an asshole.”

  8. Bottom line is clearly, this guy is an entitled @ss who is proud of himself for thinking he is more important than everyone else. Congrats, Jerkwad! Perfect example of why I hate the general public. Like many others have already said, I would have taken one of the seats just to be an @ss right back to him. And just try to “get into it” with someone like me; that idea is laughable, I would have a little b!tch like you bauling like the baby you are in 5 seconds. Douche bag dickhead.

  9. I am weary of the people always trying to do things cheaply and then further iterating their cheapness by trying to infringe on others by doing things like this. Pay for the class and the seat you want to fly.

  10. The whole SW checking system is a scam to try to get Peopel who check in 24 hours in advance to upgrade…I checked in exactly 24 hours in advance 2 weeks ago and got B 53. I made small talk with lady in front of me at B51 and she said she just checked in several minutes ago right before she got in line.

  11. Don’t forget who the real problem is I’m this story, the airline. They set customers up for problems like this and with pricing, boarding, and no assigned seats refuse to take a stance on whether seat saving is allowed or not and do not intervene unless it is to have the person or people fighting removed.

  12. This is pure fiction. Southwest doesn’t fly planes with 6 seats across.

  13. And that’s why I no longer fly Southwest. They let jerks abuse abiding fellow passengers and make them feel like chumps for following the rules and being civilized.

  14. Most people that use wheelchairs need to I use them because I walk with a cane and I have a bad back and knee and can’t walk those airports so I need a wheelchair maybe there are some that don’t need them but I haven’t met anyone I like flying SWA I like that they don’t have a signed sits it makes it a lot easier.

  15. I’m not sure if I’m more frustrated with the dad for cheating the process or with the author of this article for parading it around like he did something great.

  16. Aren’t you tired? Don’t you ever get tired of trying to beat the “man”? Is this what you’re life is about? Getting one over on someone else? I could understand the drama if you a single parent were traveling with five children, but that isn’t the case is it? So why the drama?

  17. This isn’t a hack and can get you removed from the plane. His plan to get into it aka start an argument… do people forget airports absolutely have no problem dragging you off a plane? He only got away with this nonsense because no one felt like pressing it . Make it a habit and someone definitely will.

  18. So this guy and his wife are proud to be cheap selfish jackasses? This isn’t a ‘hack’. It’s a violation of SW rules and human decency. For the record, the last few times I flew SW has called out the dickwads like him AND his wife. Hope your kids grow up with better manners than you.

  19. Gary. Yes, SW has 6 seats in a row — 3 on each side of the aisle. Are we to believe that this individual stretched across all six seats, thereby blocking the aisle?

  20. Yeah def not a strong move. Sorry but not sorry I’m making you give up those seats. I fly almost exclusively with SW. I set my alarm for 24hr check in. I’ve had one issue that has risen with something like this happening. The flight attendants help to discourage this type of behavior.

  21. All I can say is follow the rules on any airline you fly with otherwise you are cheating those that do. Don’t like SW boarding procedures, fly the carrier you like!

  22. A lady was allowed to board as one needing “extra time”, right before A-list preferred & military, between group A & B. She scurried down the ramp, boarded and went straight to the exit row, where 2 seats were still open. I asked the flight attendant how this is allowed and she said it was. If a person needs “extra time”, how are they capable of assisting others in an emergency?
    We wouldn’t have been so mad had she boarded with her assigned numbered pass and taken this highly sought after row, fair & square.
    We are over 6 foot and she was closer to 5 foot. What a selfish person that beat the system!

  23. My husband is in a wheel and as we were boarding, a woman said to the gate agent that her husband was a pilot and she just wanted to board early to say ‘hi’. As we were exiting two hours later, I commented to her that her husband did a fine job and she replied that he wasn’t the pilot. Nor was he with her!! And don’t souses fly for free?

  24. @Jeff (2) – That was my idea! Even before I had kids I came up with the idea that planes should have a “family section”! If you’re traveling with kids under a certain age, that’s where you sit. I always said I don’t care where on the plane it is, just make it clear where the “family area” is and then there are no surprises. Families can feel better about sitting where disruptions and “family noise” is expected, and people who choose to sit in that area (or buy the cheapest tickets and board last) know that some level of personal choice gave up their opportunity to avoid sitting in the family noise.

  25. Just an fyi for those thinking he broke the rules. Newsflash: Southwest Airlines DOES NOT have a policy AGAINST saving seats. They do have an open seating policy which is basically if anyone wants to sit in an open seat they can. But people also have the right to try and save those seats. I know that sounds weird but it is what it is. -SWA employee

  26. This is another example of why it is getting more and more difficult for legitimate handicapped people to travel. If we aren’t being accused of faking it to take advantage of preloading, assholes like this are being glorified for finding a way to make every passenger play dangerous games just to save a few minutes’ time and score better seats.
    It won’t be so much fun when the whole flight gets delayed by passengers fighting over stupid stuff like this.
    Makes me want to move to the UK, where they respect the queue.
    I bring my own wheelchair, and I’ve had my chair stolen 3 times so far. Surprisingly, it’s been other passengers that don’t want to wait for an airport chair. We’ve only recovered one chair of mine that was left in front of the baggage carousel.
    Please stop making travel harder for people, don’t be an asshole.

  27. At times I have saved 3 seats though no small feat as it’s difficult to prevent someone from taking the opposite aisle. Saving 5 is definitely pushing your luck!

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