Southwest To End "Family First" Boarding Policy

Southwest currently lets families board first, but they’re axing that policy in an effort to save time. Rather than board with the A group, families will now board after A but before B and C. If all members are in the A group, they will board with A.

The change reflects Southwest’s new focus on attracting more business travelers. Some analysts expect that Southwest will soon begin charging extra for A passes or some variation. No word yet.

Southwest to end family-first boarding policy[Houston Chronicle]


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  1. DashTheHand says:

    Which group includes the mini-skirt wearing and other ‘inappropriately’ dressed women?

  2. Buran says:

    About time. If you want to sit with a group of people, board with them all at once and pick a bunch of adjacent seats. More time is lost boarding kids than doing nearly anything else.

    Now if airlines that DO assign seats would stop boarding the front of the plane first … it’s annoying to have to shove your way past occupied seats in a narrow aisle.

  3. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    For those who thought posters here at Consumerist were bad:
    “THEY realize we have a choice when flying, and actually thank us for choosing SW.”
    “I am also glad they had not let some young women fly who are wearing clothing that is inappropriate.”

  4. Buran says:

    @doctor_cos: And yet, that woman’s outfit didn’t look half as bad as what people wear in public to the mall …

    I bet those people didn’t even look at a pic of the outfits in question.

  5. FLConsumer says:

    How ’bout we start letting parents shove their little brats in the overhead bins? The kids will love it and so will the rest of the passengers.

  6. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    @Buran: Exactly… those were from comments posted on the Houston Chronicle site.
    And all airlines need to start enforcing the carry-on ‘regulations’ they love to selectivtly enforce now.
    One carry-on and a personal item does not mean a “carry-on” that looks like a soft-sided steamer trunk with wheels and a handle, and a backpack bigger than the Navy Seals train with filled with a laptop PC, an xBox, an iPod, digital camera, GameBoy, several weeks worth of USA Today, the last three years of “Game Informer” . . . .or a purse bigger than my car’s trunk.
    A carry-on is supposed to fit underneath the seat in front of you (but then where do you put your feet?).

  7. Dont Know Me? You Are Me. says:

    @Buran: I just flew SW last month with my two kids, 1 and 3. How much time do you really think SW will save? Everyone has to board at some point! All this means is that families with small children have to drag themselves and their gear farther down the aisle. Also, this will spread the little kids all over the plane versus keeping them together at the front. When I fly alone on SW, it’s nice to know that I can pretty much count on no screaming kids past row 6.

    In fact, the seniors in wheelchairs (there were 4 chairs on one of our flights) took way more time to board than the 8 or 9 families (also a lot) with little kids on that same flight. I think this is clearly a move to make money off selling group A slots; some people will pay to board first and get settled before the rest of the herd, and be able to deplane earlier. They should just call it what it is.

  8. RandomHookup says:

    Families are so 20th century.

  9. Dont Know Me? You Are Me. says:

    Oh, one more thing. If Southwest wants more business travelers, they need to figure out a way to accommodate all of the employees of companies that are forced to use their in-house or contracted travel agency. Those agencies refuse to book Southwest or Jetblue. Fortunately, I work at a small shop where I have to arrange my own travel. I avoid United/Delta/American/Northwest/US Airways like the plague.

    I seriously doubt that business travelers avoid Southwest because of their little-kids-first boarding policy.

  10. doormat says:


    Yup, pretty much. Especially given WN’s new “enhanced boarding” that is going to start in November. Not only do you get A,B,C but you get a number within that group and then there are 12 pods for the groups of five (1-5, 6-10, etc) and you line up in the pod and then get on the plane. The upside is that you dont have to stand in line for an hour before the plane takes off to get a seat near the front of the plane. WN can also sell A1-A25 or so for an extra $20/flight – or an extra $600M in revenue per year (3300 flights/day).

  11. B says:

    I don’t get why boarding first is considered a privilege. I’d rather spend less time on the plane, and not have to worry about getting up to let other passengers to their seats.

  12. JMH says:

    @doctor_cos: I guess if you put your carry-on under the seat in front of you, you have to put your feet in the overhead bin.

  13. BelBivDevolkswagen says:

    Seems like that new “enhanced boarding” policy is just one more step towards assigned seating. I like Southwest, if only because they’ve always been on-time and reliable whenever I’ve flown with them, but I absolutely despise the stampede that occurs to get a seat.

  14. faust1200 says:

    “Rather than board with the A group, families will now board after A but before B and C. If all members are in the A group, they will board with A.” Faust comfused (scratches head)

  15. ab3i says:

    @B, Boarding first is considered a privilege because you can actually get overhead bin space for your carry on luggage, and also in an airline like SW which doesn’t assign seats, you get to pick a ‘good’ seat. For more information on good seats, visit

    I have never flown SW, but then i am primarily a corporate traveler and mostly fly United or AA. I have however heard that SW has relatively better service on-board than AA and United.

  16. foghat81 says:

    FWIW, whenever we fly (me, wife, & 18 month old son) we always can get on the plane and in our row (and thus out of everybody’s way) MUCH faster than the elderly folks. Why not do away with their separate boarding as well?

    I’ve always been able to get into Group A so I suppose it really isn’t such a huge deal. However, some gate agents will re-print your boarding pass into B or C if you have to check-in with a lap-baby. So those of us with kids under 2 will probably be prevented from getting into Group A going forward.

    Overall, this gets a “meh”. I understand the move, but I’m not a huge fan. Overall, I can deal. If it’s the worst thing that happens to me today or on a day I fly, then I’ll still be happy

  17. silver-spork says:

    I agree with AB3I. I like to board first so that my carry-on doesn’t get gate-checked or even worse, put with the checked luggage. Since I fly US Air out of PHL most of the time, I will do anything to avoid having a bag checked.

  18. BelBivDevolkswagen says:

    USAIR out of PHL? That’s an gold-laced invitation to airline hell!

  19. nucleotide says:

    @knave77: “I seriously doubt that business travelers avoid Southwest because of their little-kids-first boarding policy.”

    Um… I sure as hell avoid SW for exactly that reason. Also to avoid their parents too. Uncouth kids means likewise parents.

    Any real business traveler will choose an airline, with the appropriate routes, and stick with it for the mileage program. If you fly enough you sit in the front and board first without having to camp at the gate for 3 fricking hours.

    FYI.. Just flew to Germany. Bought an economy ticket, upgraded to business, arrived at the airport less than 2 hours early with no problems, no stress, no kids. That’s the way to travel.

  20. ab3i says:

    Try flying AA and connecting through DFW, in the last 4 weeks, I have had to spend nights in Dallas three times thanks to ‘Delays’ and ‘Cancellations’, and the fourth took the cake: they canceled my flight to Denver and gave me a standby ticket on a flight that wasn’t scheduled to leave for 9 hours! I called my corporate travel agency and they booked me on a United flight before it got sold out. Of course, the United flight attendants ‘thanked AA for the business in various remarks during the flight’. Annoying! If only the stupid client site had a direct flight from Denver it would be great!

  21. Buran says:

    @doormat: Except for the fact that people who took the time to check in early and who are standing there patiently at the gate have to stand around and wait for a large gaggle of children to board — and nearly invariably when I get on the plane they’ve placed themselves at the front and then complain when people try to squeeze past them.

    “Also, this will spread the little kids all over the plane versus keeping them together at the front.”

    Yes, exactly! Why should we have to deal with squeezing past occupied seats with hands and feet sticking into the aisle, etc.? Preboarders should be at the BACK so that they don’t interfere with everyone else.

    “I think this is clearly a move to make money off selling group A slots”

    Or you could just not wait til the last minute to check in. I’ve always gotten Group A by checking in in a timely fashion.

    Wheelchairs should be put on last, with space saved at the front of the plane if the staff know that wheelchair users will be flying on that flight. That way, everyone else is already seated and ready instead of impatient and frustrated in a terminal line.

  22. bedofnails says:

    My favorite boarding group out of San Diego and LAX on Thursday night is the “Las Vegas dancer group”, group DD.

  23. sudrin says:


    Did you sit next to me the last time I flew Southwest? That’s exactly what my backpack had! (Well except the xbox.) If you wanted to read an issue of Game Informer why didn’t you just say so! ;)

  24. SadSam says:

    I fly SW often both for biz and for fun. The problem with SW cattle call boarding is that people pick the aisle and the window seat and leave the middle seat open and as the plane fills up (post A group) you have a bunch of middle seats open and seats in the back. So I guess this will force famlies to the back of the plane which seems like a good idea (I’m sure SW has been studying seating patterns and has a good handle on this). But, I also think that boarding famlies after the A group is going to require, in many instances, that SW is going to have move folks around to make sure famlies can sit together – we don’t really want to make kids sit away from mom and dad do we?

  25. silver-spork says:

    @BelBivDevolkswagen: Yes, it is. I’m still praying that my company shifts its “preferred” airline to United, but with US Air’s stranglehold on PHL, I doubt it will ever happen.

  26. hollerhither says:

    Some companies don’t have “preferred” airlines but require you to take the lowest fare if possible. So I have flown Southwest, and just about every domestic airline (and a few international), for business. Families boarding first never particularly bothered me, at least on Southwest I could spot and possibly avoid sitting near fussy babies or tiny seat-kickers if I boarded after them. But either way it’s not a big deal, I guess.

  27. theblackdog says:

    Eh, I have no kids, so I’ll always be in one of the groups at this point. The trick to getting an A group is to get online the day before and check in online, if you do it as soon as it’s 24 hours before your flight, you will get an A group pass.

  28. axiomatic says:

    …unless you are wearing a mini-skirt.

  29. Buran says:

    @doctor_cos: I carry a carryon for the overhead bin, and a backpack (with some of the stuff mentioned above in it) that fits under the seat in front of me. I haven’t seen too many people with oversize stuff, amazingly.

  30. EmmK says:

    So, when my family gets boarded with the C group and the only seats left are scattered center seats, I get to plunk my 4-year-old down between two single travelers and go find another seat for myself elsewhere? Cool! I’ll be taking a much-needed nap 9 rows back!

    Seriously, with Southwest’s open seating, boarding families with small kids first makes more sense than not, because unless you want to be the lucky folks who get to sit with my charming but chatty daughter, parents or flight attendants are going to be asking someone to move so parents and kids can sit together. Does anyone really think that adding an extra shuffle to the normal boarding lunacy makes any sense?

  31. cccdude says:

    It’s about bloody time. As a SWA frequent flyer who dutifully checks in early and prints out his “A” or “B” boarding pass, I’m SICK of families with 15 screaming kids showing up 5 minutes before boarding with “C” tickets walking on the plane first.
    And if you are one of those families w/ the 15 screaming kids, don’t bitch about this – do what the rest of us have to do – plan accordingly, check-in online OR get to the airport early enough to get an “A” or “B” ticket!!!

  32. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    (Now we have cute little buttons for reply,follow,report?
    Families will board after group A but before groups B and C unless all living family members have group A cards, except on Tuesdays in which case this will apply only to family members actually present at the airport. Non-family members will board according to their group cards except when it rains at night, in which case everyone boards at the same time. Group C members may or may not be allowed in the plane depending on available space, and how many passengers of size have previously boarded in this lifetime, except on even-numbered Thursdays when the sun is shining (but the ice is slippery).
    Thank you for flying Fizzbin airlines.

  33. dantsea says:

    Hi, as this is Consumerist I’m going to just post my 2 cents instead of reading the comments which would probably reveal that what I’ve said has been posted half a dozen times already:

    Well, that sucks. Not because I ever traveled with a family and needed this policy but because it was one of the more positive aspects of the Southwest cattle call open seating. With the families with small children loaded in first, it was easy for me to pick a non-screaming-child section of the cabin. Now there’s one more thing to deal with. Feh.

  34. DF says:

    @CCCDUDE: Families should get to the airport three hours early and then sit there with young children? Clearly you don’t have kids ;-)

    But seriously, as someone else said, this isn’t really going to make anything faster; the same number of people still need to get on the plane. This just means that families with kids will be in the middle of the plane instead of the front.

    And what few people seem to realize is that the reason many airlines allow families on first is that it takes longer to get settled in when you’ve got young children — you often have a car seat that needs to be installed, lots of things that need to be removed from bags and organized for the flight to keep your kids entertained (the same people bitter that you got on the plane before them will be the first to complain if your kid makes a peep ;) ), and so on. Given how little room there is on the plane, you’ll often be in the way of other people while all this happens. Putting families on board first lets them take care of all this stuff and get out of everyone’s way before the rest of the passengers board. (In my experience, since United stopped pre-boarding for families, the boarding process actually takes *longer.*)

  35. ribex says:

    Parents, please chime in. I’ve often thought that physically able pre-boarders (which is pretty much families with kids) should go to the back when there are lots of items to stow, children to install into seats, etc. If you can still pre-board (on Southwest, no assigned) would you be willing to go to the back, or are there other factors (like lugging stuff and kids) which make going to the back of the plan a hardship?

    Likewise, on airlines where seating is assigned, divide the plane into say, 6 zones, with zone 6 at the back and zone 1 at the front of the coach section. Board First Class/biz first since that won’t change; those passengers pay too much to “lose the privilege”. Then, board zone 6, then 3, then 5, then 2, then 4, then 1. Back to front. Staggered boarding. The number of zones can be adjusted based on the size of the plane; I’m thinking of a 200 seater. I know this isn’t an original idea but I’m not aware of any airlines using a boarding pattern like this.

    Back to Southwest, I always check in online with plenty of time to get in the A group. Also, I travel alone so I don’t care about sitting with any other particular passenger. I prefer to wait until most of the A group has boarded (and not have to wait in that ridiculous queue that people form) so that I can try to choose a row that already has one person in it, hoping for an empty middle seat between us. If I’m in my own row on a half-full flight, I also try to sit about 1/2 to 2/3 the way back since more people are lazy and don’t want to walk further into the plane. Having more personal space during the flight is more important to me than debarking quickly.

  36. Buran says:

    @silver-spork: You might try rounding up US Air horror stories, then asking the company “and we support this incompetence, why?”

  37. Buran says:

    @ribex: You’re still suggesting loading the forward-most seats first? Your plan needs to be changed.

  38. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:


    Be nice, please.

    Besides, space in those overhead bins is already pretty tight.

  39. ribex says:

    @Buran: No, I am not suggesting loading front to back, save First Class. I mean, I’d have no problem if the Firsties had to wait to board until all of coach did, but that would never stand.

    If you READ my post you will see that I suggested boarding back to front, with a staggered formation.