The past three weeks my wife and I have flown three different airlines, JetBlue – B6 (for the PointsMatch promotion), Alaska Airlines – AS (for a wedding in Juneau, AK), and Southwest – WN (to visit family).
My Love/Hate Relationship with Southwest
Now my wife and I typically fly Southwest due to the huge amount of savings we get from utilizing our Southwest Companion Pass. I also love that Southwest has no change fees and I can re-book flights as often as I need or want to. It saves me tons of money and miles. They have a pretty good presence at the SeaTac airport with plenty of routes to the places we need/want to go.
However, there is one thing I don’t about Southwest – the boarding process. After experiencing the boarding process for both JetBlue and Alaska, boarding for our Southwest flight felt like a nightmare.
24 Hour Check In
My frustration actually starts with the check in process. You’re allowed to check in exactly 24 hours before. Your boarding number is then assigned in the order you check in. Now of course you can pay $15/person to have yourself automatically check in. You can also pay even more for a “business seat”, which guarantees you one of the first 15 boarding spots and a drink coupon.
Now if you don’t want to pay any extra your best bet is to check in exactly 24 hours before the flight. My wife and I have gotten pretty good at this. We both open up the Southwest app on our phones and click the button as soon as it hits T-24 hours. If it’s not a flight that has a lot of connections we usually get somewhere between A35-A50. It goes all the way up to A60. There’s only been one time that we’ve gotten a B boarding pass, which means you have to board after family boarding which is in between the A and B boarding groups.
Boarding the Plane
Now the boarding process itself is one of the most frustrating. This is due to the fact that it’s basically a free for all. Pick whatever seat you want. Granted we always get A boarding passes so we usually can get a window and middle seat within the first 12 rows. However, the process is rather annoying to me.
The boarding process takes quite a bit of time and I’d much rather know what seat I’ll be sitting in before I even step foot on the plane. People tend to crowd the front of the plane, which slows down the boarding process. You also have people that use techniques to make people think that seats are taken so that they don’t have someone sitting next to them. Obviously this doesn’t work on flights that are completely full, but for semi-full flights you can sometimes have an open middle seat next to you. This is one of the pros of flying Southwest snagging a row with an open middle seat. It gives you more room to stretch out and store your belongings. This has happened to us a couple times during our many flights on Southwest.
Comparing to Other Airlines
JetBlue and Alaska both allow you to select your seats beforehand. This was a breath of fresh air after all our travels on Southwest over the past several months. JetBlue and Alaska allow members with status to board first. They continue the boarding process from the back to front, which makes logistically makes for a more efficient boarding process. I hope that Southwest implements new changes (like seat selection) within the next year or two. I know they are coming out with some new IT systems next year, which might allow them to do this. Fingers crossed. Until then, you’ll find me on my Southwest app 24 hours before my Southwest flight.