Southwest Airlines lets passengers pick their own seats once they’re on board the aircraft. The earlier you board, the better choice of seats you have.
And Southwest allows passengers with disabilities to preboard, before those paying for business select (“A1 – A15” boarding positions) and elite frequent flyers. This is largely on the honor system, and as we know most people lack honor.
This passenger complains that Southwest Airlines passengers are using wheelchairs to get priority boarding and don’t even seat in them, instead using the wheelchair as a luggage cart to push their carry on bags.
— Milton M. Casiano (@liymil) December 3, 2023
It’s a Puerto Rico flight, and these are notorious for passengers in wheelchairs that do not need them (and yes I know that not all disabilities are visually obvious, but the situation is clear when dozens of passengers walk off the plane but use the wheelchair to board early).
A friend shares a not-uncommon sight from Puerto Rico:
55 "handicapped" during pre-boarding, including 25 wheel chairs
On his return flight, 15 used wheelchairs to board, only 1 to deboard pic.twitter.com/gHgIsnzsq7
— Bachman (@ElonBachman) February 19, 2023
Some unscrupulous people request wheelchair assistance at the airport when they don’t need it, using their ‘injury’ for a whole bunch of benefits:
- Early boarding gets them access to overhead bin space before other passengers, and avoids being forced to gate check bags.
- It also gets around basic economy restrictions at United which are enforced by boarding group, netting a free carry on bag.
- On Southwest they’d have their choice of seats on board.
- Plus help skipping security lines.
The phenomenon of “miracle” or “Jetbridge Jesus” flights – where 50 people in wheelchairs board and not a single one of them needs wheelchair assistance when they arrive, since a miracle occurred and they can all walk fine on arrival – is most common on Southwest Airlines because it doesn’t just mean assistance through the airport, it also means a better seat on board. So when we see a large lineup of wheelchairs, it’s more likely to be for a Southwest Airlines flight than for another carrier.
Since many disabilities aren't visible, we're unable to question the validity of preboarding requests. We're sorry for any frustration caused today. (2/2) -Anthony
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) October 15, 2023
Southwest could solve this by asking those who are able not to take aisle seats, because someone with mobility issues won’t want to have to get up to let people into the window or middle seats, and also not to take the first several rows of the aircraft. In other words, maybe they can board early but not take the best seats?