Southwest boarding issue

My husband and I have traveled for years using points from Southwest.  It’s really nice to be compensated from an airline for all the loyalty I give 10-21-14-2traveling for business.  Now that we have the companion pass it has made it even more attractive to stay loyal to Southwest.  It’s hard to beat not having to use money or points to have the Home Warrior fly with me places.  When checking in for Southwest flights my husband and I will usually end up with different boarding groups.  I typically will end up with the better boarding group between the two of us.   No big deal though.  We just stand in line together and when they check our boarding passes I tell the agent we’re married and along we go boarding together.  On a recent flight to Las Vegas we had different boarding groups as usual.  I explained to the agent we were married, and had no problems. Coming back though it was a different story. 

When we checked in to leave Vegas I ended up in boarding group C, and the Home Warrior was in group B.  When we tried to board together in the B group the agent told me we would have to wait till group C is called if we want to board together.  I told the agent we were married and she wouldn’t budge.  I told the Home Warrior to go ahead and board.  We were able to sit together but the Home Warrior had to turn a number of people away from the seat while waiting for me.  Frustrated with the situation I decided to tweet my experience.

“Husband got better @Southwestair boarding pass but gate agent didn’t let us board together. Never happened before!  #customerservicefail”

Within a few minutes Southwest replied back

“@RoadWarriorette  Sorry for your frustration. If you want to board together, he’ll have to board with you.  ^SW”

Because we’ve never had a problem boarding together in the past, including on the way to Vegas, I tweeted this back to them…

“@SouthwestAir is that a new policy? when I’ve flown w/ people in different boarding groups we’ve been able to board with earlier group.”

They replied back

“@RoadWarriorette  No, only Passengers 4 and under can board with companions with a higher boarding position. Sorry for any confusion.  ^SW”

I’ve voiced my opposition in the past in allowing large groups of friends and family to board together in the earlier group when they have a mix of group positions. When large groups board earlier than they should it defeats the purpose of boarding order, and it’s not fair to the fliers that are waiting their turn.  With that being said, when it’s one person, and that one person is your husband or wife, I feel like it’s a different situation. I understand that it can be a little hypocritical to say large groups shouldn’t board together but one spouse, significant other, or other loved one should be allowed.  However, why should a couple that has two different boarding groups have to move to the lesser of the two groups in order to board together?  By having a policy that makes couples decide either to board separately, or board later they essentially are making it as hard as they possibly can for a couple to sit together. That’s not a flying experience I support.

On other airlines there has never been an issue with my traveling companion boarding in the earlier group with me in the Platinum group. But on Southwest it’s apparently a problem. Of course,  what will happen is the early boarder will end up saving a seat for their person and it ends up the way it would if they boarded together with the earlier group. This can be a bit stressful for those who don’t travel often and aren’t familiar with boarding processes. And then there is the whole question of why two tickets on the same reservation don’t get sequential boarding passes in the first place!

It would be nice if there were some consistency.  For years we’ve never had a problem boarding in the earlier of the two groups, but now it’s all the sudden a strictly enforced rule.    If you have a rule, and it’s going to be enforced, it needs to be enforced across the board.  I’m hoping this flight was a one off and in the future we can board in the earlier group together.  We’ll see.

ETA: Well alrighty! People have some very intense feelings on this, which I totally get. I do want to be clear that until this event I never realized I was circumventing the policy. I thought I was adhering to it! Thank you all for sharing your thoughts! I’m now clear that I have been very lucky in the past to have had Home Warrior able to board with me. Moving forward we will not assume that to be the case. While I do still think there is a difference with one person vs. a group of ten, it makes sense that it can add up and be frustrating for those later on.

Maybe if the gate agent hadn’t been so rude about it I wouldn’t have been as mad? Although to be fair she is in Vegas so who knows what kind of crap she has to put up with on a daily basis.

Readers, do you think couples should have to wait for the later group if they want to board together on Southwest flights? 

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  1. Exactly why I am extremely hesitant to fly SW. I’ll pay a couple of extra $’s and have a “sane” boarding procedure.

  2. I’m a frequent Southwest traveler as well, and was aware of their policy that if any group traveling together wants to Board together, they have to wait for the later group. I understand what you’re saying, but I have to say I agree with Southwest. What if I’m a single flyer at A45 but 15 people in front of me are married and want to board with their spouse first? That pushes me into the B group and it’s not fair. I have to side with Southwest on this one.

  3. My wife and I travel on SWA at least once a month. I get early bird and board early and she usually is at least one group behind. Never had a problem saving a seat and didn’t think of having her jump the line to board with me.

  4. And honestly, it’s a little arrogant to think of it as a customer service fail. They were enforcing their standard policy which is fair to all customers. Saying “but we’re married” and being upset they didn’t make an exception for you comes across as if you’d said “don’t you know who I am”? I realize you didn’t intend it that way and were just frustrated that the policy hadn’t been enforced before. But it’s really not a new policy. I fly Southwest out of BNA very frequently, and the policy is announced 9 times out of 10 when I’m boarding in the A group.

  5. @Jill I think we have had very different experiences, though. I didn’t realize this was a policy because it has literally never been an issue. So to me it did in fact seem like a customer service fail, and a gate agent on a power trip. Once SW responded and said that their policy is in fact your experience vs. mine, well, now we know and can plan for that in the future.

  6. To me this is completely legit. Otherwise, every couple would buy one Earlybird pass and the other would jump up with them. I think everyone should have to pay extra (yes, even those under 4 unless they are lap children) or else board with the lowest priority person.

  7. I understand what you’re saying here, but think about it from the perspective of people with a boarding group before the later member of your married couple. they checked in earlier, or paid for better placement, or have status that grants them that spot. why should they have to board after someone’s husband/wife/etc. when they’re rightfully granted the earlier space?

    basically Southwest is saying it’s fine for you (the earlier position) to board then, if you’d like, but if you want/need/decide to board with your companion then you can do so at the later spot. the reason for this is that you two are then boarding before anyone granted a later board time (sorry if this is confusing!), therefore affecting no other passengers negatively. if you allow the later person to board with the earlier one, you’re “hurting” anyone that has the boarding rights in between you both.

    all that being said, I totally get where you’re coming from. I just personally feel if you want the luxury of sitting with your partner on a Southwest flight, then you can’t also expect both of you to board w the “earlier” position and get top-tier seats. in the past I’m guessing gate agents allowed it because they’re nice and understand in the end it’s easier for everyone since you’re both up there already.

    does that make sense? Jill said it well above – I know you’re saying on person isn’t much (vs a group), but you can’t make exceptions like that. if I pay for an early spot and every single person who paid brings 1 or 2 or 10 people ahead with them, that’s absolutely unfair. I’d say continue doing what you’re doing and likely you will both be able to board together most of the time.

  8. I really like your blog, and I don’t mean to be rude or harsh. And I understand the desire to early board, esp. without a seat assignment. But this time, I think you are wrong, and moreso for publicly shaming SW for something that was not their fault.

    I get that you are elite on SW, and you have had nice gate agents, but the policy should be lowest, not highest. Perhaps you both should check-in together, early next time or buy up to Early Bird.

    It is surprising to me that you see it as a problem when other people do it, but don’t think its a big deal when you do it (does group size really determine if “cutting the line” is right or wrong? Is married status somehow entitle you to better treatment that business colleagues, friends, or siblings?)

    I imagine the policy is likely to try and stop what @Dave does by reducing EB revenue, and to be fair to everyone else who did check in 24 hours or bought up.

    You are cheating the system and complaining that it didn’t work out for you this time even though it has every other time. Its not a customer service fail, its an entitled customer fail

  9. I completely agree with Laura! Road Warriorette has been doing it all wrong and has been getting away with it. I would never expect to board in an earlier group with my wife if I ended up in a lower boarding group.

  10. Seems crazy to me that you even THOUGHT it would be okay to board with the earlier group. If anything, I’m very disappointed that Southwest let you get away with that behavior previously.

  11. I have to agree with those who are saying you should have waited to board in the later boarding group.

    We also have the companion pass but neither of us have status. Still, we will often be a few numbers off in boarding passes (in the time it takes to print out the boarding passes, 5-10 numbers often go by). When that happens, we’ll wait and board with the later boarding number.

  12. I disagree with you, and I agree with Southwest’s policy. If you want to board together, you should pay for early bird check-in. Otherwise you should wait in line with the lesser boarding group, otherwise you are budging everyone else in line that checked in earlier than you did.

  13. I have to side with SW. I have been in the same scenario. what do i do? board in the later boarding group if i want to walk on the plane together. Or just send one in ahead and hope for the best. It is the SW boarding policy, why would you intentionally circumvent it and shift bad positioning to those behind you. You may have gotten away with it before from lax gate agents but that does not make it right.

  14. I also don’t like what some commenters have said about saving seats. That’s just as bad.

    My wife and I were on a flight a few weeks ago and were early enough that we could get 2 seats together. First open seats were “saved” by a guy with a bag in an open seat. I didn’t get into it with him but it annoyed me. If you want to sit together than board together (At the later seat position), or move to the back of the plane

  15. Have to agree with southwest. Other airlines have assigned seats. SW doesn’t so you are cutting in line. This is like one person buying early bird check in and them allowing their family to board with them. I was A list for many years and my wife always boarded in her group.

    I’m sure you are also aware of SW policy against saving seats and it is first come first serve. Of course it’s much better to fly for free and then be arrogant enough to think you have the right to board and sit together. If that is what you wanted then buy two tickets are a real airline instead of complaining about your free flight!

  16. I agree with only one of your observations. When boarding passes are issued, if there are 2 or more on the reservation, they should be issued sequentially. That said, stop your whining. You could use the Early Bird option. In years of using SWA EB, our boarding has always been sequential and only once not been an “A” group. If you insist on boarding together, use the inferior position number. That still won’t assure that you’ll sit together. Using the better boarding position for two is akin to cutting in line. As far as saving a seat goes; that is no different than cutting in line. First come first served has been the boarding process since inception for this airline. There are a few ways to voice your displeasure. You used one already in your tweet. Kudos to SWA. Anoter is to use another airline. I for one would appreciate 2 less folks in line.

  17. I agree with you 100% and we have never had a problem with boarding everyone as a family. However WN is making millions from selling EBCI so they are cracking down now on these informal customer-friendly exceptions to the official policy.

    Not to worry, you can simply have the early boarder save a seat for you as that is fully compliant with WN policy. Too bad for those who don’t like it – but that’s the rule and we can all play the game.

  18. I agree with SW. If you want to board together, use the later boarding group or both of you purchase the early bird.

  19. I always laugh a bit when I read something like this about SWA’s “great” customer service. After college I flew them religiously from 1999-2005. Had a companion pass last 4 years. Then I had to fly to a destination where they had no service at the time. I realized how by being a lower level elite, AA Gold, I was actually treated a lot better. In 2006 I moved all my flights to AA and never looked back. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

  20. I had a similar situation but I travel with my young son. We used to always board together until about a year and a half ago. I had an A boarding pass. Late in the line, like maybe 49 ish. My son had B2. He was 8. They refused to let him board with me. Had to wait and move back with him. The rep was rude about it. Since that had never happened in 4 years I wasn’t sure what the deal.

    I also did research and sure enough, this was the policy. So we now honor the Southwest policy. We always get split up it seems so I go back and board with him.

    Last time I flew there was a family of 5 in front of me. One person had a B group and the rest had C boarding passes. I figured they would stop them but they let ALL of the family board together.

    So it really depends on who is at the counter letting people on. I just wish there was a standard policy that was enforced.

  21. Kelly – I don’t know how old the kids were in that family of 5, but if there was a child 4 or younger, then the policy is that everyone in the family can board between the A and B group

  22. I’ve had boarding numbers that were way off from my husband’s, and mine are typically higher (earlier to board). I usually go with him, even if it means boarding later. It never occurred to me to try to get him to board earlier, because that’s not fair to everyone else. It also bothers me when the people who board early try to keep others from sitting next to them in hopes that they will have an empty seat. I’ve noticed a lot of people sitting in the aisle seat, putting their tray table down and trying to appear like they’re busily working so no one will ask if that middle seat is free. I can’t even remember the last time I’ve been on a flight that wasn’t overbooked. Southwest’s rules work when everyone abides by them and doesn’t expect preferential treatment.

  23. I agree with the consensus. People should board based on their group. There should be no exceptions for married people, groups etc. I paid for/earned my place in line and everyone else should do the same. There shouldn’t be any cutting the line except for lap children.

  24. It is SW’s standard policy, and I don’t have a problem with it. I do have a problem with age 4 being the cut off for boarding children with parents. I do not want my 5, 6 or 7 year old sitting with a stranger, and I suspect that a stranger does not want to sit with my child either. I also don’t like to be in the position where I need to ask folks to move so I can sit with my child. Because of this, I will no longer try to accumulate SW points – it just makes travel too stressful with my kids.

  25. The last third of your post says that you finally get it, but I don’t buy it. What may be convenient for you may NOT be convenient for another, whose group is a little higher. SW’s policy sounds quite reasonable to me; you’ve just been lucky. Off the pity pot, dear!

  26. No cheating to get ahead in line on Southwest! If you need to cut ahead, pay extra for a Business Select Fare. For a modest fee that fare comes with first class seating, a special meal and access to the Southwest Lounge.

  27. Unfortunately the boarding process with SW is getting out of hand. They are having to be strict with folks because if they are not then they have preboarders on exit rows and saving seats. It is not allowed. You’ve been lucky. Also if someone from say C moves to B that is already a full group then it defeats the purpose of the process. I know one person may not seem to matter but there are always exceptions. It would be different if it was assigned seats.

  28. I have had the companion pass for 3 years now (soon to be 4) since the new boarding process was put in place with the advent of Business select fares we have always understood that you should always board with the last person in your group. I have seen many times where the gate agent has allowed passengers to cheat the system and board earlier. I have to admit as a person that buys my Companion the Early Bird it makes me very mad when I see them break the rules.

  29. SWA: 1, Ignorant elitist blogger: 0.
    The boarding process is so simple. I’m always amazed when people are confused by it. Letters, numbers. Pretty dang basic.

  30. Honestly, I am surprised at your attitude on this. It seems so tone deaf, and you usually are not. But as an aside, this is one of the many reasons I would never fly SW. Not having an assigned seat is like riding a bus. No thanks.

  31. Why should your spouse get to cheat the system and board before me if I have a better boarding position? Gate agents should never had allowed you to do this. You knew about the rule and were mad you didn’t get away with gaming the system.

  32. Writer: “Hey, this thing happened to me! Crazy, right?”

    Internet: “You’re a bad person and I hate you.”

  33. I always pay $12.50 for early boarding for both of us.
    It’s what you’re supposed to do.
    Southwest is both of our Amex Plat’s airline of choice, so it is always reimbursed and is also in the spirit of Amex’s definition of “incidental charges”, unlike airline gift cards.

  34. Sorry, but I have to agree that Southwest was right. You should follow the rules. Also surprised you ever got away with it. My husband and I have never had a problem saving a seat for one another.

  35. Tone deaf. Feeling entitled for something you haven’t earned that comes at a direct cost to someone else.

  36. This whole thing reminds me of American cinemas – where you aren’t given a seat when you book and have to be early in line to get the seat you’d like.

    Crazy stuff to an European.

  37. I have to say, my kids are older than 4, but I still go to the early family boarding on SW because the only times I’ve flown SW is when I’m traveling alone with them. Even at 7 & 9, I don’t want them sitting somewhere else on the plane, separated from me. It’s never been a issue so far, but I’d understand if someone complained (but honestly I’d probably try to play the “mom traveling alone with 2 kids” card). We’ve had trouble on Delta with rearranged seat assignments where they just randomly move the kids away from us – usually if we’re traveling as a family of 4 we split up with 1 parent+1kid. Maybe because our last names don’t all match, but Delta has separated us without notifying us in advance – we only noticed by examining our boarding passes. My husband has the higher status on Delta (used to be Platinum, dropped to Gold I think now that he travels less) and we often board separately – sometimes he will ask if I can board with him, though.

  38. Southwest makes it very easy to accomplish spouses/families/friends sitting together by offering an Early Boarding option for $12.50 per person. They also offer a $40 option to take an A-lister spot (boarding positions A1-15)at the gate.
    $25 for peace of mind is not going to break the bank, especially if traveling on a Companion Pass…

  39. hilarious. After 2 flights with SW I swore never again. I can’t believe they get any person of moderate intelligence to step on their planes.
    United is terrible . SW is abhorrent.

  40. I think you were absolutely wrong. The only person more wrong was your husband. You should Not be able to “save” seats! The point of boarding order on SWA is to get a better seat. If I am traveling with 50 people should I be able to buy one early bird check in and the “save” 49 other seats? NO! I hope SWA starts enforcing a ‘no save’ rule.

  41. I just had a similar situation, except no one was trying to jump in line. She had B30 (end of one section) and I had B31 (beginning of next). I figured, no problem to board with B30, there’s no line jumping. ‘BIG PROBLEM’ says rude Southwest gate person. He makes me stand in line and wait until every A1-B30 person (including my wife) has gotten on board before I am allowed to go and join her. I talked to a customer service person about it a week later and she couldn’t care less. I can’t believe they’d be so rigid about that and make spouses board separately when they have consecutive boarding pass numbers.

  42. While I see everyone’s point, it’s still extremely frustrating to have to split up from a loved for showing loyalty to the airline. Let’s face it, getting a companion pass takes some work and it’s designed to appreciate loyalty. Getting the 110,000 points requires flying a great deal or spending a good amount of money through SW and their partners. Sure, an A class passenger without a companion pass may have had to spend a chunk of change to get their seat, but the person who achieved a companion pass will have had to spend even more over the course of the year.

    Again my apologies for seeming stubborn, but please look at it from other viewpoints. In the first place, it’s kind of sad to have a system that rewards you by splitting you up from your friend or other half-kind of a backhanded award. Also, on a human level, who really wants to be the person who splits up a couple? Finally, there really shouldn’t be a fear that a bunch of people with companion passes are going to move everyone back several groups because they just don’t hand out these things. My apologies again for those who disagree but imagine working so hard to get a reward that could likely realize you.

  43. Southwest doesn’t penalize you with the companion pass; they still reward you, just not as much as you would like. The CP gives you the right to bring a companion along *FREE*, with the caveat that you might be separated for 30 minutes when you’re boarding. Don’t like that caveat? Don’t take advantage of the reward and buy your companion’s ticket instead. I don’t think you’d like that option as much!

    This is like complaining that AA is penalizing you for being Exec Plat because you only get a 100% mileage bonus instead of 200%.

  44. A friend just vented to me that he had a B boarding position and when he went to sit in two different seats – was told they were being SAVED – when he asked the airline attendant what was going on – She told him, We Don’t Get Involved….Well, why bother paying for the extra early boarding if people can just save seats…I’m just sharing – nothing I’m expecting to be done and I understand the frustration for the airline attendants if they had to get involved on every flight – We just need more people to be courteous and follow the rules…come on people – it’s usually only a couple to a few can survive not sitting with your travel companion for that short of a time. Thanks for your great service always Southwest Airline – Our #1 choice for travel

  45. I understand people’s positions about “cutting in line” when it comes to adults. But, when it comes to kids…COME ON! SO, magically, between age 4 and age 5, children no longer need to be with their parents and can move and operate alone? That is ridiculous and any adult with an ounce of decorum would not separate a child from their parent. And if your cold enough to believe that it is “cutting” to have your child come and walk in with you, shame on you. What the heck is wrong with people? It’s like the schoolyard with people elbowing to keep their place in line. And is it SO OUTRAGEOUS to think a WIFE and a HUSBAND would want to sit together? Who want to be the jerk to keep loved ones apart? I would MOVE if I was alone so that a husband and wife or parent and child could sit together. It is COMMON DECENCY and our world is SEVERELY LACKING in it. Have we become so jaded and callous that loved ones are irrelevant just because we’re on a plane? Whatever. I try my best to get boarding passes at the same time so we’re consecutive so I don’t have to deal with the jerks and the “that’s not fair” whiners. Other people, save your seat and forget the rest!

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