How to Choose a Seat on a Southwest Flight

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You walk down the jetway to the aircraft door. As you step onboard, a flight attendant looks at your boarding card and directs you to your pre-assigned seat -- but not if you're flying with Southwest Airlines. A Southwest flight attendant will welcome you on board one of their Boeings, but where you sit is up to you -- you can choose any empty seat. This means the first people to board the flight have the best choice of seats, including those with extra legroom.

Advance Choices

  • Study Southwest Airlines' seating plans on the Internet. Type "airline seating plans" into a search engine to receive a list of relevant websites. Airlines are listed alphabetically on these sites. Go down to "S" and click on Southwest. Southwest operates three versions of the Boeing 737 -- the 737-300, 737-500 and 737-700.

  • Establish the location of seats that meet your requirements on each model of the 737. Some seating-chart websites use a color code to identify different seat features, such as extra legroom. They also use codes to identify seats travelers review as "bad" seats. If you want to be as far as possible from the restrooms or galley, identify their positions on the seating plan and identify row numbers that are some distance from them.

  • Make a note of seat numbers that match your requirements but bear in mind there are restrictions on who can sit in seats beside emergency exits. Passengers occupying these seats must be able-bodied and capable of opening the exits if the captain calls for an immediate evacuation of the aircraft.

First to Board

  • Pay an extra $10 for "earlybird check-in." This means Southwest Airlines assigns your boarding position 12 hours before general boarding positions become available. On its website the airline emphasizes this does not guarantee a position in Boarding Group A (the first passengers to enter the aircraft) but it does guarantee an early boarding position.

    However, if the airport at which you board is a stopover during a flight originating at another airport, even an early boarding privilege might not provide the best seats because those already on board might be occupying them.

  • Check in online and print your boarding pass for the flight 24 hours before the scheduled time of departure if you have not purchased Earlybird Check-in. Your boarding pass tells you which boarding group you are in -- A, B or C -- and your position within the group, such as No. 10 or No. 25.

  • Read the description of Southwest Airline's boarding procedure on the company's website. This explains how you will be told when to board the aircraft and where you should stand while waiting to proceed down the jetway. If you are familiar with the procedure in advance, you will avoid confusion that prevents you from boarding the aircraft as early as your boarding group and position within the group allows.

On the Aircraft

  • Scan the cabin as soon as you step on board. If you want extra legroom and a seat is available in row one, take it. If not and you can see a free seat beside the overwing exits, head straight along the aisle and occupy it. On a Southwest Boeing 737-300 this is row 11, on a Southwest 737-500 it's row 10 and on a Boeing 737-700 it's row 11. However, once again you must remember there are restrictions on who can occupy these seats. If you are not able bodied or do not want the responsibility of opening an exit in an emergency, you must sit elsewhere.

  • Choose an aisle seat close to the front of the aircraft if no extra legroom seats are available. You will be able to stretch your legs into the aisle, albeit at an angle, and the fact you are sitting close to the front with just one or two rows ahead of you will give you a feeling of space.

  • Occupy the first free window seat you find if you want to look out the window during the flight. Try not to go as far back as the wings to avoid your view being restricted.

Tips & Warnings

  • If you end up in a late boarding group and you're travelling alone, look for a row with just one other person in it. If this person is in the aisle seat, take the window, or vice versa. If the flight is not full, the middle seat might remain unoccupied, providing you and the other passenger in the row with some extra space.
  • If you are a member of Southwest's "Business Select" or "Rapid Rewards A List," your boarding position will be reserved in advance. This means you will be among the first to get on to the aircraft.
  • Check out the seating plans carefully. There are advantages and disadvantages to a number of seats on these aircraft. For example, you could choose to sit in an extra legroom seat but find it is slightly narrower than other seats on the plane.

References

  • Photo Credit Bruce Bennett/Getty Images News/Getty Images
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