Early in the summer I wrote how Southwest’s ‘cattle car’ boarding is great for business travelers. Flying American, United, or Delta and booking at the last minute it can be tough to get a decent seat in economy especially if your preference is for an aisle seat as mine is.
However since there are no assigned seats on Southwest Airlines, the aisles aren’t taken up days in advance. If you have elite status even if you buy your tickets a couple of hours before departure you’ve still got a good shot at a decent seat, since the worst case is you’ll board after the ‘A’ group and before B’s and C’s.
The other side of the spectrum is that the ‘open seating’ policy is great for new families, too.
Not only does Southwest offer ‘family boarding’ when you’re traveling with a child under 4 years old — boarding with elites who don’t have A group boarding passes — but if you are traveling with a lap infant and the flight isn’t 100% full you can almost always get an extra seat for your baby without having to buy them one.
All you have to do is spread out across the seats. That’s a strategy many people employ anyway to discourage other passengers from sitting down next to you. Two parents traveling together with a child take an aisle and a window, put stuff in the middle seat.
Your lap infant is still going to have to sit on a lap for take off and landing (unless they have FAA approved restraints for sitting in a seat on their own). However it’s highly likely that no one will attempt to take that middle seat.
- They’ll think it is taken and won’t try
- They don’t want to sit next to a baby anyway
Having a baby is the extreme version of putting crumpled up tissues in the empty seat next to you and just waiting for passengers to pass you by. Odds on traveling with a baby means that on a full flight you will have the empty seat next to you. There’s no need to pay for a seat for a child under two, knowing you’ll probably get that seat free anyway.
This doesn’t work on other airlines because odds on the seat next to you won’t remain empty even if the flight isn’t full. On Southwest it’s a near-certainty that empty seats will be next to parents with babies. Now there may be more babies than empty seats, hence the strategy for making it look like the seat is taken.
Of course if someone asks if it is open, or tries to sit there, you need to let them.