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southwest-airlines-seatingThe Road Warriorette had an interesting post recently talking about a negative experience she had with the Southwest boarding process.

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.

Southwest Boarding Process

If you’re not familiar with Southwest Airlines seating, you don’t get an assigned seat, but instead a boarding order.  A1-A60 boarding passes board first, then families, then B1-B60, then the rest of the plane with C boarding passes.

Most of the commenters (myself included) agreed with Southwest that what she was trying to do was not appropriate.  If 2 people want to board together, they need to board with the person with the worst boarding pass.  Families traveling with children under 4 get to board between the A and B sections.

(READ: Family boarding on Southwest Airlines – tips and tricks on how to get to sit with each other)

Saving seats on Southwest – the “official” policy

The “official” policy appears to be that there is no policy.  I could find nothing on southwest.com, and the only thing semi-official that I could found came from a Southwest customer service rep email that was posted on FlyerTalk.

“Dear X,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate the opportunity to address your concerns.

As you probably know, all flights on Southwest are “open-seating,” and Customers are free to take any available seat onboard the aircraft. In light of this, it is not uncommon for a Customer to want to reserve a seat (or seats) for a friend, family member, or associate who will be boarding behind them.

Truthfully, we don’t have a policy either way–for or against–saving seats. In fact, we share our perspective on this issue on southwest.com as follows: “because Southwest Airlines maintains an open-seating policy, general-boarding Customers may sit in any open or unclaimed seat.” With this in mind, as long as there is no Safety concern, it would be acceptable for a Customer to “claim” a seat for his/her family member or traveling companion who may be in a later boarding group. We are aware that the saving of seats is a by-product of our policy, and as long as the boarding process is not delayed and other Customers aren’t inconvenienced, it usually isn’t a significant issue.

Again, we appreciate your contacting us. We look forward to welcoming you onboard a Southwest flight soon.

Sincerely,

Marco, Southwest Airlines”

So I guess their policy is “uhhhhh do whatever you want”.

Saving seats with Southwest Airlines seating – my take

My take is simple: Don’t do it.  If you are going to do it, do it at the back of the plane.  I think that most people would not mind saving one middle seat in the back of the plane.  But if you’re going to do that, you might as well just board together (at the “worse” boarding position!)

southwest-airlines-seating

On a recent Southwest flight, my wife and I were in the early B boarding group.  We were a few numbers apart but boarded with the higher (worse) number.  In my experience, this is definitely early enough to get 2 seats together.  We boarded the plane and found an aisle / middle seat about 10 rows back.  The man sitting by the window had a coat or something on the middle seat, and when we went to go sit there, he said it was “saved”.  It was annoying but we just continued moving and found 2 seats together a few rows back.

I think the only one I’d feel sympathy for would be someone traveling with a young child (but older than 4 and thus not eligible for family boarding).  On the other hand, you do have the Early Bird Check-in, which lets you board in the A1-15 section – $12.50 per seat.

While I understand wanting to sit with your traveling companion(s), let’s not forget, with the possible of exception of younger children, the world is not going to end if you sit apart for 2-3 hours.  If it’s very important to you, either a) pay for Early Bird check-in, b) make sure to check in as close to 24 hours before your flight as possible or c) FLY ANOTHER AIRLINE THAT LETS YOU PICK YOUR SEATS!

What do you think?  Have you ever saved seats on Southwest or tried to sit in a seat that someone else saved?

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