Aerial of Chicago Skyline

Courtesy of two credit card sign-ups, we’ve flown more than 10 Southwest flights this year to date for free. I think it is slightly above average for a US carrier, and I’ll be more than happy to fly it if it’s the cheapest option, or slightly more expensive than competitors, because I have a companion pass, where I can take my designated companion with me for $5.60 (this varies for international itineraries, but is the standard for domestic flights).

Southwest Boarding and Seat Selection:

Southwest Airlines is unique in that you get your choice of seats based on your boarding position. Boarding goes from Group A to Group B to Group C, and your boarding pass will have a number from 1-60. So for instance, if you get A50, you will probably be the 50th person to board the plane, and once you’re aboard, you can choose whichever seat you want.

So, how do these boarding numbers get assigned?

To get group A1 – A15 boarding, you can pay the (significantly) more expensive Business Select fare, which guarantees A1-A15 boarding. If you choose not to pay for the more expensive fare, you can also get their cheapest fare (wanna get-away), and then pay for EarlyBird Check-In, which costs $15 each way. Depending on when you paid for it, your boarding position will reflect when you actually paid for it. So if you are the first person to pay for it, you might get A16.

But if you are a cheapskate like me and like to leave things to chance, your best bet is checking in at exactly 24hrs before your flight departure. Sometimes, this can be a pain, like waking up at 6.50 am to check in for the 6.50 am flight the next day.

The boarding process is as follows: Pre-boarding (for passengers needing more time), A group, family and A-list/A-Plus, B group, and finally, C group.

Based on my personal experience, as long as you get something under B30, you should still have your choice of window or aisle seat. At B30, once we were able to get the two-seater, exit row seat.

Also, when you are booking your flights, you can see if you are on a through-flight, indicated by no plane change. In that case, you will be able to self-upgrade for the second leg of the flight, because you’ll be on the same plane. If you really need your choice of seat, but forgot to do all of the above, often, they also sell priority boarding at the gate, if those are still available. Personally, Southwest flights aren’t too long, so a couple of hours in the middle seat isn’t the end of the world for me.

Southwest Airlines

In-flight Experience:

The Southwest fleet is slightly older, so the leather seats are showing some age. The average legroom is pretty average, and comparable to legacy carriers like Delta and American.

Many of their planes do have free TV, but you do have to bring your own computer/tablet. A lot of their planes are equipped with wifi. You just have to connect with the Southwest wifi, which will allow you to watch select live-TV channels. They also have some other TV programs.

They usually give some pretzels, and some sort of cheesy snack mix. There are also complimentary soft drinks, water, and caffeine. Cocktails are at $5, though they do have several free drink days – St. Patrick’s, Memorial Day (I happened to be flying with them on those days), Southwest’s Birthday, Father’s Day, Fourth of July etc.

One annoyance is, they do not have food for sale. On longer flights, e.g. their Baltimore to Seattle transcon, that would have been appreciated.

Some ways they are more awesome than the competition:

    1. They offer two checked bags for free. I don’t actually check in my bags, but I imagine this will be useful for others. This also affects me, because it means that if I have luggage for the bins, I don’t have to compete with people trying to stuff their kitchen sinks aboard the overhead bins.
    2. No change fees. This is pretty big – this has given me a lot more flexibility in my plans.
    3. Option to reprice flight. If the price of your flight drops, you can reprice it to reflect the lower cost. And the price of flights often drops in response to competition on routes. If you booked it with points, it’s pretty painless for the points to return to your account. If you booked their non-refundable fare, the difference can be used in future flights.

Overall, I do love the cheer and humor of their flight attendants. Other aspects of the in flight experience, e.g. food and drinks aren’t much to write home about, but hey, free flight is free flight and I ain’t one to complain.