Last week I flew Southwest for the first time in years. My company bought the ticket for me, but I knew I had to check in 24 hours in advance to get a good boarding pass. I checked in at exactly 24 hours, but still got “B” boarding pass! Did I do something wrong?
Sigh. No, unfortunately you did nothing wrong. There are so many good things about Southwest, but unless you’re in a specific group the boarding process is not one of them. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Southwest doesn’t assign seats. Instead, based on several factors including check in time you are assigned to a boarding group: A, B, and C. Inside the boarding group you are assigned a number between 1-60. This determines the boarding order inside the group. So boarding pass A1 would go first and C60 would go very last. Make sense?
A regular passenger without status can check in 24 hours ahead of time. However, there are groups of boarding passes reserved for certain groups of passengers, and some people get to check in early. Here’s the breakdown.
Business Select. Business Select is the most expensive type of ticket Southwest offers, and includes priority boarding and a beverage. Boarding spots A1-15 are reserved for this group.
A-List. A-List is a type of status with Southwest. A-List passengers are checked in automatically 36 hours before a flight, and are assigned a boarding pass based on when they purchased their ticket. So if I am A list and I bought my ticket a week in advance, I would get a boarding spot before someone who bought a ticket the day before. It is highly likely (but not guaranteed) we would both get A boarding passes.
Editor’s note: Turns out it’s not totally known what order A-list ticket holders are given their boarding passes. See Stephen’s comment below.
Early Bird. When purchasing your ticket, you can purchase Early Bird check in for $12.50 each way. This will automatically check you in 36 hours in advance, after the A-List group.
Connecting passengers. Connecting passengers get boarding passes for all of the flights in their itinerary, even if it’s prior to 24 hours for some. For example, if I am flying from San Francisco to Nashville, changing planes in Dallas, I would check in 24 hours before my SFO-DAL flight. However, I would still get a boarding pass for my DAL-BNA flight, even though it’s more than 24 hours in advance of that flight.
Family boarding. On Southwest, families with children four and under can board in between the A and B groups. While they don’t get a special boarding pass, it’s still a group that gets a type of priority.
Since all of these groups get their boarding assignments before the 24 hour time period, people who aren’t able to check in until then often get in the B group, and sometimes pretty low in the B group. For business travelers, if you are going to fly Southwest frequently it would certainly be worth it to go for A-List status. Unless your employer will pay for Business Select or Early Bird (or you are) there’s no way to guarantee yourself an A boarding pass.
Readers, what are your thoughts on Southwest for business travel?
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