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Southwest Boarding Etiquette Question

Charleston, South...
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Southwest Boarding Etiquette Question

I recently flew Southwest for the first time and enjoyed their boarding process. I am not a fan of the scrum involved in boarding the other airlines and found SW's lineup process a welcome respite from this. On the way home, though, I noticed something and wanted to ask the experts.

My husband and I were boarding position A30 and A31, so we were first on the terminal side of the boarding queue. As we waited for the folks A1-29 to board (the window side), we noticed that a person who had A38 on his boarding pass was boarding with the earlier group. I will call him A38. He was clearly with the people he was boarding with, and those people had A-twentysomething. My initial thought was that A38 was line jumping.

On the other hand, I have a credit card from a major airline which grants me the right to board in Group B, right after the first class folks. I book flights when I can on this card for the early boarding benefits. But when I book for hubby and me, only my boarding pass has Group B. The hubby is still in Group C. Gate attendants have universally told me that the hubby can board with me in Group B (and have announced the same over the loudspeaker). In other words, a person in a later boarding group can board with his/her party if the others in the party have an earlier boarding group.

Does Southwest work the same way? Is it totally legit that A38 (later boarding group) boarded with his party in the earlier boarding group? Or is the same policy not true at Southwest due to their unique boarding system - and I witnessed a line-jumper?

I didn't mind and certainly wasn't going to complain. I ask because I want to do things correctly. I purchased Early Bird Check in for both me and my husband so that we'd have a good boarding spot. It seems to me if "board with the earliest boarder in your party" is the rule, then only one person would ever purchase EBCI and expect their entire party to board with them.

I expect that Southwest does not adhere to the "board with the earliest in your party" rule for this reason, but I wanted to ask. Thanks for any input!

Cape May, New Jersey
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31. Re: Southwest Boarding Etiquette Question

Good for you, ninepays! Glad you had the guts to speak up.

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32. Re: Southwest Boarding Etiquette Question

I'm about to book a flight from Chicago to Nashville on Southwest Airlines in sept. it's called Wanna get away ticket. After reading the posts here my question which I would like clarified is do you get a seat allocation or is it just wait in the queue till your area is called out. Here in Australia we get our seat allocation when we checkin at desk with baggage, please help, many thanks

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33. Re: Southwest Boarding Etiquette Question

There are no assigned seats on Southwest. You get a boarding number and the seats are first come, first serve. That is why the OP wrote about someone who WAS a line jumper. I am also under the impression that you can NOT save seats--defeats the whole purpose, as someone said of paying for Early boarding. I too will not tolerate if seats are being saved and will speak up if it is a seat I want.

Mount Dora, Florida
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34. Re: Southwest Boarding Etiquette Question

It is clear that the etiquette regarding "saving seats" is not clearly resolved, as posters to this thread have suggested saving seats as an alternative to line jumping. I avoid Southwest like the plague, but on those occasions when I cannot find another airline I am particularly careful about their flight attendants. There have been way too many stories about flight attendants removing passengers for all kinds of ridiculous reasons including clothing they felt was too revealing, babies who were crying and passengers who were argumentative. I seriously doubt that I would have the nerve to ask a flight attendant to weigh in on the issue of a saved seat.

I think the system itself is barbaric, and it simply invites people to behave like animals as they rush to obtain overhead storage and aisle seats and view every other passenger as competition for those goals. As I said: Southwest and the concept of etiquette is an oxymoron.

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35. Re: Southwest Boarding Etiquette Question

^^^^Speaking of ridiculous. You make it sound like a rodeo. You and most others know that is simply not true.

Southwest or any other airline does not remove passengers for "ridiculous reasons" Southwest is not the only airline to remove people. -as the above would lead you to believe.

TripUSA.....The boarding process is very simple and easy. It almost always goes very smoothly. Southwest ranks high in the USA.


Edited: 29 April 2014, 12:02
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36. Re: Southwest Boarding Etiquette Question

The system is fine. Now if passengers could only practice using manners. And really...does it matter if you can't sit with your friends? I mean it's not like you have to spend your vacation with your seatmate. Maybe you'll meet someone nice. (Ooops....sorry. ...Just remembered we are talking about SW passengers and etiquette. "Oxymoron")

Mount Dora, Florida
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37. Re: Southwest Boarding Etiquette Question

The system does not work because it is dependent upon people behaving in a polite and reasonable fashion, which people do not do. Absent an assigned seat everyone on the plane makes a mad dash for front aisle seats, and then aisle seats moving to the rear of the plane. Parents are separated from children, husbands from wives, many passengers are not near their traveling companions, and in minutes an orderly boarding process has deteriorated into chaos. I have been on Southwest flights that made sales on $100 TV sets at Best Buy on the morning after Thanksgiving look like sedate religious services. Passengers are unhappy and angry before the clever flight attendant even has time to distract them with her mockery of the safety presentation.

I understand that not all Southwest flights are like this, but the majority of the flights I have been on have been exactly like this.

Many years ago when Southwest started to appear near the top of the list of the most admired companies in American we did some extensive research on the corporate culture. At the time I found it unique, and I can easily understand why Southwest has loyal employees who are not hesitant to take matters into their own hands.

Unlike most CEO's, Herbert Kelleher put not his paying passengers first in order of importance, but his employees. His philosophy was that a happy employee will work to insure that all his passengers are happy. He created a unique culture known for a relaxed attitude, few rules and lots of personal autonomy to create a workforce that was the envy of many larger corporations both in and out of the transportation field.

While I have always admired much about Kelleher's philosophy, I feared that as the company grew the amount of autonomy and the belief that the employee had even more rights than the paying passenger could easily morph into a situation where the employees maintained those elements of the culture, but neglected to pass them down to the passengers.

Alas, I fear that this has come to pass. I read of flight attendants who order passengers to remove T-shirts they find offensive, based on their own personal values. I read of flight attendants who remove passengers who are not dressed "appropriately" with the definition for "appropriate" being left to the individual flight attendant. I read stories of flight attendants removing passengers because a baby cries, or a woman coughs or another woman, en route to her father's funeral is not able to stop crying. There is no written standard for what circumstances must exist before a flight attendant can order a passenger off of the plane.

I also see that service deteriorates in many other areas from resolving unique passenger problems to managing a weather crisis. I am not alone. This is an interesting article discussing the decline of the corporate culture at Southwest. …wordpress.com/2011/…

When Herb knew every employee by his first name it was cool that the only "rule" for employees was the Golden Rule. Now that Southwest is one of the largest carriers in the country, and Herb is not around to give daily pep talks, older employees have lost sight of the vision, and younger employees are not able to even comprehend the culture let alone implement it.

Southwest is the darling of business schools all over the US. Would that we all could work in an environment that it is always fun, for a supervisor who has always got your back regardless of what rather stupid thing you might have done and for a company that all other airline employees envy. Except that Herb's culture cannot sustain itself over the huge number of employees who now make up the Southwest family.

When I fly Southwest, the relaxed and casual attitude of the flight attendants is still evident. I am sure many of them work for hours on their clever little stand-up comedy routines. Unfortunately for me, this casual atmosphere simply highlights what I perceive as a serious lack of professionalism among the employees of Southwest.

In the early years I loved Southwest. I always felt like I was one of the gang. These days I feel as if I am an inconvenience that employees must endure in order to earn a paycheck, and I hate feeling so completely ignored and neglected.

I am perhaps too old for the cultural changes I see in Southwest. I much prefer the knowledge of my seat location when I make my reservation. I do not like to pay extra in order to be near the front of the mad dash for seats any more than I enjoyed sitting by the telephone waiting to hit the 23 hour 59 second mark so I could register and get a group boarding assignment. For an airline that does not emphasize the concept of class segregation I really do not like special boarding opportunities for frequent flyers. I like a professional flight attendant who will do whatever she can to help me swiftly to my seat. I like a flight attendant who takes safety seriously. I like a flight attendant who has basic rules that he/she must follow. I never worry when I am on Delta that I may cough ten times before we take off and offend a flight attendant and end up back in the airport.

If you like the sloppy way that Southwest organizes it's flights...the random quality of obtaining a seat...the very real possibility that you may not be able to sit near any of the people with whom you are traveling, including your two year old child. the casual treatment of safety issues and the general chaos of the boarding process Southwest is obviously your airline. I remain appreciative that other airlines resisted the temptation to reject the corporate culture of Southwest. I would truly hate to fly if every flight on every airline were like my experiences on Southwest.

I think the Golden Rule, as a corporate philosophy works only when all employees and all passengers (and probably all airport personnel and TSA agents and catering staffs) have also bought into this some belief. The have not. The world does not operate on the Golden Rule. Very few of us put the welfare of others where we put our on welfare, and the best evidence of that is what happens when two passengers reach a desired seat at the same time. I have never seen a passenger appear to stop and reflect that he will give that seat to the other person because he treats others as he would like to be treated. Frankly I see little of this happening among Southwest employees either. I have seen a single businessman hold onto an aisle seat while a toddler sat next to him in the center seat and the mother sat back ten rows in another center seat.

If our world attempted to function using Herb's philosophy we would not survive 30 days. Rules and procedures exist to create harmony when adults cannot agree about appropriate behavior.

London, United...
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38. Re: Southwest Boarding Etiquette Question

Hmmm, I'm not totally with you here busy retired. Yes, I am one of those people who have studied south west as a part of leadership training and yes, I understand their model and their rise. I'm not saying I agree with it but there is no disputing the facts, and yes, we study the negatives also. It's not all good. That's not what we look at. That's not how it works.

However a leap that safety is not taken seriously due to the way they present is not something I am with you on, and I would say, with all due respect, that possibly, for you personally, it's not an airline that suits your sensitivities, and that's ok, not everyone can wear skinny jeans :-))

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39. Re: Southwest Boarding Etiquette Question

I will admit it has been years since I have flown Southwest, but I would be very sad if Busy's account is what it has truly devolved to.

I didn't leave Southwest because of service (or safety) issues, I left because I moved to the city and am a 10 minute cab from Boston Logan instead of living equi-distant between Logan and Manchester, NH. I will admit though, the last time I did fly Southwest with my Mom, we didn't like how convulated the process had become, who could buy what to get ahead, and just decided we would rather pay a little more and have a seat. I'd still fly Southwest in a pinch, but I will admit I no longer see value in putting myself through that to save a buck.

Maybe Manchester was just a nice place to fly to and from, but we never met rude or abusive passengers during a Southwest Boarding. It used to be orderly, and yes the C's were usually disappointed when they couldn't sit together.

It was documented on the show Airline that Southwest will remove people with inappropriate clothing and outward behavior. That's fine with me!

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40. Re: Southwest Boarding Etiquette Question


I think there's a lot of truth in some of the above..

Yes, the WN of yesterday isn't the same as today.. and I don't think that's a "fault' of anyone per se. I think it's just a natural, and largely unavoidable down-side process of maturation and expansion of the airline.. and long with that comes some of the issues that larger carriers face - labor/management tension, possible layoffs, etc..

Before it WAS a club.. You had an issue with payroll? You called Nancy in Payroll (who answered her own phone) and got it fixed.. but now with 10,000+ employees, One "Nancy" just can't do that with a workforce of that size. So payroll matters that used to be a case of "just call Nancy" are now, "fill in a Payroll adjustment form, co-mail it to payroll process and you'll get a reply in the contractually mandated 5 days or less"

The issue of kicking some one off the plane is something I think that unless you've done that job before, is hard to really "walk a mile" in those shoes.

Carriers don't like it.. So, any cabin crew who does it, does so full well knowing that they're most likely going to face some level of management scrutiny and paperwork requirements.. So, from a purely self-serving basis, kicking someone off, doesn't make a crew member's life "easier" per se - it only makes it harder..

I know when I do it, I'm looking at a minimum of one conference call explaining it, and some paperwork to legal, customer services, etc, documenting it .. I don't ever shy away from doing it when/where necessary, but I also do so full well knowing that it's going to cause some back-end grief later on.

Like a lot of things in life, I also recognize that these decisions - to kick someone off or not - have to be made "in the moment" and often with less-than 100% of all the facts,and in a fluid situation.. The other thing I think also makes this issue hard, or harder, is that as a crew member, you need to make many of these calls, in a preventative or pro-active basis.. that is, you kick someone off now, so that it doesn't become a larger issue once you're in the air.

I've sat in on review boards when an employee is being questioned or even disciplinary boards where an employee is up for comp nay discipline largely because they didn't kick someone off - who later on, caused an in-flight issue..

So, there is kind of a catch-22 in play.. Do it and you're going to get questioned and ask to justify it, by folks who weren't there and can review the matter with the benefit of unlimited time and more facts. Conversely, don't do it and IF something goes bad, you're most likely going to be questioned about it.. did you see something? if so, why didn't you act? Tough call.. and yes, a lot of jobs are like that, so it's not unique to this industry,

Yes, there are some who, IMHO, don't exercise good judgment.. I've dealt with folks like this... Yes, there are some who are, IMHO, on a power-trip, taking out their personal issues or baggage, on someone else? You betcha...But I also think that like life, those folks do represent the very minority and not majority.

As to removing someone for "dress" issues... Me personally, I don't think carriers are or should be involved in a person's dress... That said, just like restaurants that say "coat and tie required" I do also think that it is OK to have some *reasonable* standards of dress, appearance and even hygiene, when you're going to be in a shares-space environment.

Yes, I do full well recognize that anytime you make statements like "reasonable" you're going to have divergent opinions as to what that is or is not.. but despite this reality, I don't think that should mean that carriers can't or shouldn't have some standards in place for dress, conduct, etc, when in a shared-use space.

As to the WN boarding process goes.. I think that WN needs to "strep up" here and say "seat saving" is not permitted.. To do so, to me, only sets things up for unnecessary ugliness.. You can only save or occupy the seat you're in. If someone else in your group has a later/lower boarding group, then s/he will only be able to select seats based on what's unoccupied at that time.... not from something someone in a earlier/higher group has saved for them earlier.

Travel Safe,

Edited: 29 April 2014, 22:53