Daring Passenger Sets World Record, Claims 13 Seats On Southwest Flight: Genius Loophole Or Etiquette Breach?

A woman on Southwest Airlines may have set a record by occupying 13 seats prior to departure. She boarded early and saved seats for 12 other passengers – four rows of seats seats apiece.

  • Southwest doesn’t have assigned seats. It’s first-come, first served. You get a boarding number and then line up in order. But Southwest has no rule against saving seats.

  • This woman used hats on seats to indicate they were reserved, and then aggressively defended them until the other 12 passengers with group C boarding came on board.

    Flew a 4hr domestic flight on Saturday. I boarded with family group. A few rows back from the exit row seats, I stepped into an empty row and noticed 2 hats were on them…She’s the only one of 13 currently on the plane.

    I explain how embarrassing, cheap, and rude her behavior is, she has nothing to say but sorry. Flight attendant 2 rows up stay out of it as expected. We sit In the row across From her.

    Somehow her seat saving works for the full flight, no one else tried to take any of her 3×4 seating arrangement as far as I can tell.

  • She even specifically told other passengers they couldn’t take the seats because the people occupying them were in the lavatory when they weren’t yet on the plane. She was also apparently saving seats just to keep some open, not realizing it was a full flight. She defended those until the end, when she had no choice but to let the last passengers into them.

A woman once used a bag of donuts to save a whole row of seats on Southwest. But saving three entire rows is truly brazen.

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. 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:

  1. 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).

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    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.

  4. 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.

    @mikewdavis

    How to keep seats open next to you on a flight 😂

    ♬ original sound – mikewdavis

    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?

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.

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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Comments

  1. If I actually wanted the seat, I would just take it and move the hat, bag, donut, whatever.

    Or maybe eat the donut if they complained.

    Then just keep your cool as the seat hogger loses it so that there is no reason for the FA to kick you off the flight.

  2. Reminding me why it’s been years since I flew Southwest. I dislike situations that reward being a jerk in public.

    And 11 people in the lav?

  3. Southwest may not be able to do anything about abuse of wheelchair passengers, but they certainly can control seat saving. People who pay extra for early boarding are being ripped off by those who get on early and save seats.

  4. Exact opposite approach I learned years ago

    Board near the end intentionally then you chose who you sit with. I like aisle seats this almost guarantee sit on the end. Usually only two seats in a row.

  5. If the crew isn’t going to get involved with people saving seats, then they shouldn’t get involved when I sit there anyway.

    I have a couple of old hospital bracelets that were loose enough I was able to slip them off when I got home. I travel with them and have on occasion when I’m on WN slipped them on. (Unless I’m in the exit row… in that case, I’m absolutely okay if someone wants to nab the middle because of all the middles its probably the most desirable for legroom reasons).

  6. gary edited out the best comedy value….

    copypasta direct from reddit:

    “A few rows back from the exit row seats, I stepped into an empty row and noticed 2 hats were on them (both Jesus related hats”

    “The last few boarders arrive, and a larger woman of color asks the ringleader if the open window next to her is available. She said yes, that person is in the bathroom currently. This isn’t true, because the skinny person behind her (the very last person to need a seat) asks and she lets him in.”

  7. Boarding early on a full WN flight is counterproductive, especially if traveling solo. You cannot control who ends up sitting next to you and it is always a huge guy coming in at C20.

    Board in the middle around B10 and sit next to a smaller woman.

  8. Reminds me of the bus in high school. Standing in line by numbered priority to get a better seat is an insult. I refuse to fly this airline.

  9. @barnett re: People who pay extra for early boarding are being ripped off by those who get on early and save seats

    THIS x1000

    last luv flight i took was 5 years ago

    pay for ebci out of pocket not reimbursed

    A15

    take row 10 aisle

    last 2 seats: next to me, and 1B next to a mastodon in 1C occupying half of 1B

    doors shut

    knock knock

    doors open

    homeless family 2+2 boards, the 4 of them are going in to 2 seats

    families have to sit together!

    stewardess comes to me and say i have to move

    i knew where she wanted me to go – i protested and she said obey or get arrested (kid you not)

    3 hour ride home twisted sideways next to the mastodon

    i was in pain within 15 minutes of takeoff and the crew would not let me stand

    i wrenched my back so bad i went to a chiropractor for the first time in my life

    i had 3 pinched nerves

    fork you southwest and your bullshit non-intervention policy

    you certainly intervened with my health

    commercial travel is combat: everyone v. everyone

  10. Southwest’s policy of non-intervention is genius.

    If I’m in this travel group, I would reconsider my social circle. Do I want to stay friends with somebody who believes it is acceptable to save 13 seats?

  11. I’m also reminded of flying Southwest once with my admin assistant (younger female) who got told an aisle seat (and the whole 3 seats across) were reserved for family. She said (to the middle aged female), “Great, because I’m your husband’s love child!”

  12. @nedskid you made my day

    @highclass you missed the key datapoint validating their right to block 3 rows:

    THEY ARE RIGHT WITH JESUS!

  13. Flying out of RDU recently a guy holding his boarding pass asked me if I knew where seat C 46 was located (full flight). I told him middle seat next to the bathroom and laughed. His first time flying Southwest. But honestly, until people take a stand and start sitting in saved seats and the following ruckus delays planes it’s not going to change. That’s why I only fly them on direct routes and only when I’m flying alone.

  14. This is the same blog that complains about people saving beach chairs. But saving 3 whole rows for people who can’t bother to check in earlier is ok?

  15. Southwest’s boarding process and seating policy are the reason why I barely fly them. Which is a shame, because their FAs are always excellent.

  16. I laugh at those who proudly dis Southwest knowing that they must enjoy paying extra for a seat, their bags and overpriced tickets. The best part is knowing that they don’t and won’t fly Southwest.

  17. @Hagbard Celine
    I would have stuck to my guns and forced them to go against their own policy. I was challenged by a captain on AA at DFW on hour 6 of a tarmac delay (prior to the current rules). They hustled us onto the plane to free the gate knowing we wouldn’t be able to take off. Toilets were full, they ran out of drinks and the plane was hotter than hell. I was apparently the leader of the revolt after one lady wanted to dial 911. The captain came back to me and threatened to go back to the gate if we didn’t sit there and be quiet. Everybody applauded when I told him that’s exactly what we wanted. He stormed back to the cockpit. We finally took off and upon arrival the pilots his in the cockpit and the FAs stayed in the galley. When we came off the jet bridge there were several officers there but said nothing. We were all chanting American sucks as loud as we could.

  18. Swa is an airline for the American proles.
    I refuse to fly on airlines that doesn’t provide me with first or business class and unlike most of you cheapskates I buy those tickets because I don’t want to risk having to sit in the back with the chuds.

  19. Saving 12 seats…? I might try and sit in one just be to annoying. 😉
    Saving exit row seats…? That isn’t going to happen. If I’m on early enough to snag one of those, that’s what I ‘m doing.
    I boarded right behind a “road warrior women” once and we were maybe 8th or 9th on. She heads to the exit row with me right be hind her. Some guy was already there trying to save both the aisle and window. She wasn’t having any of that and proceeded to sit down in the aisle seat. The guy got all bent out of shape and left for other seats. I hopped in the window seat and had a great flgiht!

  20. As I’ve stated before, I’ll use my John Candy (Plane, Trains, Automobiles) traveling salesman loud voice and ask “ Hey, anyone sitting there?” Before they can answer, my butt is in the seat.
    As for the 13 in the toilet, my response would be, “Hey, the Mile High Club is getting an early start?? Shouldn’t you be in there too??”

  21. I know my faults. One of them is that I would want to grab a “reserved” aisle seat even if a nearby one had a thin passanager in the middle seat (yes, read that as cutting off my nose…). I’ll just use an airline that will reserve me a seat. I’ll use SW only if it is the only nonstop and it saves me a lot. Never seems to.

  22. How about someone print up a bunch of flyers saying “reserved” and place a few dozen on the seats if you’re in an early group? Maybe SW will stop the wimpy “we have no policy” line. Oh, “reserved for tri-state motorcycle club.”

  23. @Rick P… You are probably right! But I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tried it.

  24. @DaveW … +1 . Funny . Another good one might be “reserved for U.S. Marines and their guard dogs” .

  25. This is a good example why SWA hasn’t doesn’t so well in Hawaii. Hawaii is supposed to be about the Aloha spirit (it’s still there, kind of..) Sharing and respect for others….. SWA has been all about dog eat dog and self promotion.
    They came to Hawaii like someone moving here that tried speaking pidgin when they couldn’t even pronounce the street names…..

  26. “I laugh at those who proudly dis Southwest knowing that they must enjoy paying extra for a seat, their bags and overpriced tickets.”

    Is Southwest cheaper?

    It’s admittedly been years since I’ve flown them, but I never found them to be particularly cheap flying out of MSP

    I find Southwest’s boarding process to be incredibly stressful. I have always done the A-15 boarding but every time I flew them there were verbal altercations over the seat saving and inevitably a plea for people to move due to families who board last.

    My noise canceling earphones couldn’t block it all out.

    I’m not too good to fly them. But have no interest in the stress.

  27. Thank You to these ppl. for reminding me to work hard so I can purchase a Bus./First ticket. Thanks to the airlines for the spacious individual suits on board. The less interaction (audio or visual) I have with other pax the better. Always remember mind your own business and nobody want any unsolicited opinions or advices. Thank You!

  28. @davidrmiller re:
    “I laugh at those who proudly dis Southwest knowing that they must enjoy paying extra for a seat, their bags and overpriced tickets. The best part is knowing that they don’t and won’t fly Southwest.”

    you know how we know you’re a prole?

    you have no concept of southwest’s pricing in relation to the legacy 3

    AND

    you discuss willingly surrendering your luggage regardless of cost and the impact on your mobility and agency in the event of an irrop

    ESPECIALLY with this airline which confiscated MILLIONS of bags in one single meltdown

    if i have to ship a 2nd bag, or gear, be it scuba, golf, tools, whatever, it goes fedex or ups ground inside the US

    the ONLY time i would check luggage is to change continents, and then only on a separately ticketed nonstop where i retrieve my luggage and clear immigration in the same facility

    NEVER book your bags onward from your continental arrival

    air travel is war

    plan accordingly

    people who “check bags” shouldn’t be on planes

  29. I would rather not fly than flying Southwest. Greyhound is probably a better option.

  30. Selfish entitled ahols. I flew this isht airline once for attending a funeral and hope never to again. In a time of air travel violence and madness, these selfish travellers are fools.

  31. I’ve never flown Southwest, but if I came across this nutter, I’d sit exactly where I wanted, like it or not. You want to take up 13 seats, show me 13 boarding passes. First come, first served means just that. If I get there first, I am entitled to sit where I choose. Then when your friends show up from Group Z, they can do the same with whatever’s left. I’d never put up with this sh!t in a million years.

    That said, Southwest should stop being such little sissies about it and make this the policy. One person, one boarding pass, one seat. When you are physically on the plane, you get to choose an empty seat. Not before.

  32. @David R. Miller Has it ever occurred to you that Southwest doesn’t fly everywhere? The rest of us don’t live in your little redneck bubble, so you’re right… we won’t be flying Southwest. And I’ve never paid for a bag in my life, nor would I tolerate the trashy conditions you seem to be so happy with. It’s like a flying trailer park.

  33. Ai don’t fly South West there for Mt proclamation means nothing, but you’re not saving ish if I want to sit down. I don’t give a damn what you put on the seat.

    Violence is definitely a foreseeable with said policy. I would see the person with deepest pockets or at least an airplane in court.

  34. Hagbard Celine – FYI, I have flown Southwest for over 35 years with nary a problem. I have saved thousands of dollars and will continue to do so. You on the other hand will continue to be obtuse and will be one of those with more money than sense. —— Hornet – Southwest flies to the destinations I wish to go to. Trailer park?? How funny. Apparently you like feeling like a big shot while not realizing that you pay a hefty price for your big shot “feeling” – I laugh at your moronic “trailer park” comment. “A fool and his money are soon parted” is an apt description for you and others of your ilk.

  35. “You’ll have to choose another seat to save because I need an aisle seat” and then SIT DOWN.

  36. As Tizzette said, perhaps it’s time people just ignore the seat hogs and sit where they want.
    Let that become the new norm.
    SWA is not exactly an airline deserving of normal decorum…..

  37. As a somewhat frequent leisure traveler, usually limited to Delta or United at my regional airport, I often heard about how “great” Southwest’s seating procedure is. Having the rare occasion to fly Southwest to Vegas recently, I found it to be a confusing and frustrating system. Why not choose your seats way in advance, and if you can’t get what you want, just select another flight? I honestly don’t understand the appeal, but maybe someone here can enlighten me.

  38. Is this or is this not an April Fools joke. It had me reading it for 20 minutes!

  39. Good god. Reading all these pax putting up with such crap how can anyone feel anything for humanity. Ha.

  40. @david r miller

    i too flew southwest for DECADES

    my first LUV flight took place when the word “SOUTHWEST” was still on the starboard tail

    early in my working career i used to fly dal-hou and return iah-dal

    on fridays those were PARTY flights, especially in the 2 rear-facing sections

    many a hookup was had

    braniff and ti were gone, but american and delta took their place at dfw……

    …. and couldn’t touch the LUV product

    early in my working career i regularly had to deplane at ABQ and ELP on the way to the coast

    i did my time on LUV, just as you have

    herb had my business when my family loyalty was elsewhere

    why? because their motive was true

    i benefited from 5 splits

    i first sold to his shop when they built the first online engine with VISUAL BASIC and C++

    but they lost their way after colleen stepped aside

    i share an allegiance to The 40 with Gary

    but he sold his soul to the street and here we are

    i witnessed the Airline Graveyard Mural…. i know from whence and where LUV originated

    they have lost their way

    postscript: TI invented the “Peanuts Fares” moniker; Herb responded by giving away Peanuts

  41. @H2oman re: @Hagbard Celine
    “I would have stuck to my guns and forced them to go against their own policy”

    And gone on the Interpol no-fly list?

    That’s the possible outcome of any resistance to COMMERCIAL AIR WAR

    That crew was acting totally within their policy – families sit together

    Half of those reading this have no knowledge of the Pre-9/11 paradigm

    Resistance is futile

    Pay for first, stay clean

  42. Thank you to the narcissists who refuse to fly Southwest as you are the main reason I choose them first. Also, all of the people who prefer to pay for an assigned seat, I hope you can someday experience what I did with Delta, when I arrived at the gate to board the plane and was told they had given away the seat I had paid for. No apology, refund, explanation. Just here is your new seat.

    Personally, I will continue to fly Southwest as long as they have open seating. Love Southwest.

  43. I’ve flown Southwest many dozens of times. I’ve also flown AA, United, Delta, Lot, Lufthansa, Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier, and a smattering of others. 100% of the dirty planes, worn out seats, cancelled flights, emergency landings, and boarding issues that I’ve experienced were not on Southwest. They were all United, AA, etc. All my experiences with Southwest have been between fine and great. I absolutely dread when an itinerary requires me to fly United or one of the others– they’ve caused me the most headaches, seats getting sold out from under me, and big delays. I’ll continue choosing Southwest over anything else if it is the option. That said– you are all correct Southwest is terrible and all of you should continue booking with other airlines (more flights and seat deals for me).

  44. @David R. Miller It has nothing to do with a “big shot feeling.” I just don’t want to travel in an atmosphere of chaos, noise, and budding reality show contestants fighting for attention. If you enjoy being in the middle of the “Jerry Springer Show on Black Friday” crowd when traveling, that’s up to you. I don’t need that, and even if Southwest did fly anywhere I want to travel, I would find another way. It’s just not my scene.

  45. Hi Gary, just wanted to comment and mention that I was the author of the Reddit post. I am a daily reader of your blog. Can’t believe you picked it up here!

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