Southwest Boarding Procedures

There usually is a lot of questions about Southwest and how they board. I thought I would create this to help out. I hope it does answer questions for those flying southwest for the first time and those who buy early bird check in.

Southwest does not have assigned seats, you board according to your boarding pass number. A1 is the best C60 is last.

How do you get your boarding pass:

Option 1: 24 hours before your flight:
5 minutes before the 24 hour mark, 10 minutes for first timers, go to the website.
Click the button that says check in on the bar.
Have your name and confirmation number prefilled in the boxes
At exactly 24 hours before your flight, use the check in button.
On the next screen check where is says get boarding pass, click this as fast as you can, this will check in all of those under the confirmation number.
You are assigned a boarding pass number.
Now Print it at home, your hotel, or at the airport, of maybe have it sent to your phone.
You have what you need for security and to board your plane.

Option 2: Early Bird Check In
Purchase early bird check in. Best to do this at the time you purchase your tickets, but you can do this at any time before the 24 hour window for boarding passes.
Within the 24 hour window:
Go to the website.
Click the button that says check in on the bar.
Enter your name and confirmation number in the boxes
On the next screen check where is says get boarding pass
Your boarding pass number has been automatically assigned.
Now Print it at home, your hotel, or at the airport, of maybe have it sent to your phone.
You have what you need for security and to board your plane.

More on Early bird check in later.

Boarding the plane:
Pre-boards will enter the plane first, those who need assistance or have other special needs
A1-A15 Business Class then get to board
A16-30, followed by A31-60
At this point family boarding MAY occur, it is up to the gate agents, and this is for families with children 5 and under
B1-B30, followed by B31-B60
C1-30, followed by C31-C60

And your plane is fully boarded.

Early Bird Check In:
The early bird is assigned according to when the passes were purchased. If you bought the day they were released you would be near the front of the line. If you buy them tomorrow you will be ahead of anyone who buys passes after you do. It does not matter how many are in the party, just how many early birds you have and when they were purchased.

From Southwest’s website:
Customers who have purchased Anytime Fares will receive priority over other fare types that are assigned their position based on the time stamp of the EarlyBird Check-In purchase.


Thanks for pulling all this together - maybe it can get pinned to the top of the category.

Also to note, if you’re a frequent flyer with southwest but don’t do business select, you’ll get a better boarding number. DBF and I flew with them last month, we had the same confirmation number, and he checked us in at the 24 hour mark - he got A16 and I got B26. Same thing happened on the way home. He flies with them maybe twice a year, I’ve only flown with them three times. You are allowed to save seats though. I asked the attendant why that happened and she said he flew more often so got a better seat.

Thank you for this post! I am flying Southwest on my next trip for the first time, and was wondering if you can clarify one thing for me. If I already purchased early bird check in, my check in will be done automatically and I don’t need to do anything until I print out my boarding passes, correct? TIA!

Based on my experiences, I would add - other than preboarders with physical needs, Southwest awards priority boarding based on the fare cost paid and elite status.

Business Select fares get A1-15 boarding. A List frequent flyers are guaranteed an A boarding group. People who buy an Anytime fare and Early Bird Check In are assigned a boarding position before the lower Wanna Get Away fares who buy Early Bird Check In.

If you want a guaranteed A boarding position, paying for Business Select or Anytime with EBCI, or being A List, is really the only way to be sure that you’ll get A.

It’s not terribly hard to get A List, fwiw, and you have it for the year in which you qualify and the following year. If you fly SW often, consider getting the SW credit card and registering for things like SW dining rewards (you can pay with your debit card or non-SW credit card, but you get points - about 3x points per $dollar - at certain qualifying restaurants and bars).

You’re not allowed to save seats, though there’s usually little to no enforcement from flight attendants. But other passengers can and do simply sit next to you and ignore your attempt to “save” a seat - I’ve seen it happen.

None of the airlines consistently offer family boarding for all flights, particularly in and out of Orlando. If it is offered by SW, it is for families traveling with young children (the age mentioned is either 4 or 5, and under), and it is after the A group but before the B group. Again, this is not guaranteed to be offered, but it may be.

If you’re anywhere within A1 to maybe B30 boarding position, your family should have no problem getting seats together, especially if you go to the back of the plane. If you’re anywhere within B group, you’re likely to find at least two seats together. On the other hand, if you’re in the C group, you may have a problem getting seats together.

It is highly unlikely that you will have a small child separated from a parent, and you can and should involve a flight attendant if this situation presents. It’s not simply a matter of convenience or preference, it’s a safety issue - a small child must be seated next to someone who will take responsibility if oxygen masks are dropped and who can release his/her seatbelt so he/she can evacuate and does not become an obstacle in the way of someone else evacuating. Older kids, though, don’t present this kind of compelling issue, and you may or may not be accommodated (I’ve heard of this, but never personally seen a minor child separated from a parent).

Checking in at 24 hours usually lands you in the B boarding group on a reasonably full flight (and I haven’t been on a flight that was anything less than fully booked in years).


That is correct. Southwest will automatically check you in and assign a boarding pass. So you can print out your boarding pass.

What should I do if we have magical express taking us back to Orlando airport to head home? The magical express staff gives us our boarding passes? Should we do it ourselves 24 hours before our flight home to get a better position for boarding?

Magical Express will in fact provide you with a boarding pass, or at least you can print them up at the airport.

But, do we have a good chance of getting a “good” position in line for boarding if magical express staff do it for us? We are traveling with two kids, one 7 and one 2, and I want to get checked in as close to the 24 hour window as possible to be able to sit by our kids.

EJoyN88 I am sorry I have reread this and I think I mirs read things. I mixed your post up with anothers post. You will have to log in 24 hours in advance for your boarding pass. I do not think DME will do that for you, they will print a boarding pass, but not get one for you.

So you will need to log in on your phone and follow the procedure of Option 1 from my original post.

The only way in which you do not have to get your boarding pass is if you have early bird check in.

So please check in at 24 hours and get your boarding position. After that DME will print your boarding pass for you.

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Thanks for all the info, @Jedilogray and @manateesmom! This is my first time on SW and the more info, the better. I have DSs 10, 7 and 4 and early bird check in, so hopefully our family can be put together at least in two groups.