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Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines confirmed the accuracy of this table on July 24, 2019.  Airline policies are subject to change.  Additional information is available on Southwest’s website here.

Tips for families: How would an adult best ensure he or she is seated next to a family member under the age of 14 when flying your airline?

Southwest Airlines has an open seating policy.  All Southwest aircraft (Boeing 737s) have either 143 or 175 seats.  At the airport, passengers board based on group (A, B, or C) and number (1-60) within each group.  Boarding positions (such as A35 or B16) are assigned at check-in based on factors such as fare class purchased, frequent flyer program status, purchase of “Early Bird check-in,” and time of check-in.  Boarding positions are displayed on the passenger’s boarding pass.  Southwest gate agents make announcements advising passengers when to stand up and take their place in line for boarding.  Numbered posts in each Southwest gate area indicate where to line up.  When a passenger’s boarding group is called, he or she should find the designated place in line and board the aircraft in numerical order with the passenger’s boarding group.  Once a passenger boards the plane, he or she can choose any available seat.

Families may take the following steps to best ensure adults sit with their children under the age of 14.

  • Check-in exactly 24 hours in advance of your flight to improve your seat selection options.
  • At the airport, if you have an “A” boarding group number, that means that at least half of the seats on the plane are typically still open and available.  There should be plenty of available seats for your family to sit together.
  • At the airport, if you have a “B” or “C” boarding group, and you have a young child (age 6 or younger), then you can ask the gate agent for “family boarding.”
    • Family boarding allows up to two adults to board with a young child (age 6 or younger).
    • Family boarding takes place after the “A” boarding group and before the “B” and “C” boarding groups, regardless of their previously assigned boarding group and number.
  • At the airport, if you have a “B” or “C” boarding group, and if you do not qualify for family boarding, then
    • Prior to boarding, the family can speak with the agent at the gate podium.  This will allow the agent to coordinate with the flight crew on finding open seats onboard the aircraft.
    • If a family is unable to speak with the agent at the gate podium prior to boarding (due to a late-connecting flight, arriving late to the gate, etc.), then the family can speak with the Southwest flight attendants onboard, who will ask other passengers to move seats to accommodate the family.
    • Southwest Airlines believes the open seating model promotes passengers’ willingness to move seats.
  • Customers may choose to purchase EarlyBird Check-In to have a better opportunity to select their preferred available seats.  However, Southwest advises that it is not necessary for families with children 13 or under to purchase EarlyBird to get seats together, as you can ask the agent at the gate for assistance prior to boarding.  Or, you can ask a Southwest flight attendant for help during the boarding process, and he/she will ask if another passenger(s) would be willing to move seats.
    • With EarlyBird, Southwest will automatically check you in and assign your boarding position 12 hours before general boarding positions become available. 
    • While EarlyBird does not guarantee boarding with the first general boarding group (the “A” boarding position), it improves your seat selection options (by usually giving you at least a “B” boarding group number).

Seating Policy

Seating Model: Does your airline provide seat assignments or does it use an open seating model?

  • As described above, Southwest Airlines has an open seating model and boarding policy.

Open Seating: Does your airline allow an adult with a family member under the age of 14 to board and locate a seat before other passengers?

  • Yes.  Families of up to two adults traveling with a child age 6 or under are eligible for family boarding, which allows the family to board before the “B” boarding group, as described above.  Families that do not qualify for family boarding, may choose the EarlyBird Seating product to secure an earlier boarding position than the family would receive without choosing the option.

Fee: Must a family pay an additional fee to secure an earlier boarding position?

  • It depends.  Family boarding (for families of up to two adults with a child age 6) is complimentary.  Families that are not eligible for family boarding may choose to purchase EarlyBird seating for $15 to $25 one-way per passenger, but as described in the section above, Southwest does not believe EarlyBird is necessary for families to obtain seats together.


Airline: What disclosures relevant to family seating does your airline provide to consumers during the booking process?

  • Southwest’s boarding and seating policies are explained on its website.
  • Passengers are notified during the booking path that selecting the option of EarlyBird Check-In would improve your seat selection options.

Travel Agent: If your airline allows others to sell tickets on its behalf, do the family seating disclosures provided by these entities differ from the disclosures provided when booking directly with the airline?

  • Southwest sells through travel agents only to a very limited extent.  Travel agents may refer customers to the Southwest website for questions about family seating.

Additional information on family seating.

  • Southwest’s flight attendants have a documented procedure to discuss who needs to be seated together and to proactively take measures to arrange for seats and/or solicit assistance from passengers who may be willing to move.  Southwest believes there are always some passengers who are willing to move to allow a child to sit next to a family member.
  • Should a family be reluctant to ask a flight attendant for assistance, Southwest flight attendants are positioned in the cabin during boarding and can readily identify circumstances in which a family may be having trouble finding seats together.
Updated: Friday, September 13, 2019
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