Southwest Airlines is making a lot of good moves lately, including changing their boarding process to assist families with young children. RELATED: VIDEO: A Feel-Good Story Aboard Southwest Airlines When Pilot Surprises Passenger


Five years ago, my wife and I were flying from Nashville to Tampa on Southwest Airlines (SWA). It was our first time flying SWA with our son Jack, who was a toddler. I remember that I found out just a few hours before the flight that Southwest still served peanuts and my son had a nut allergy so I scrambled to try and make alternative plans.

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I wrote in the 2017 blog post: “Since it was so close to departure time, I wasn’t sure what to do. I thought about buying tickets on another airline but Southwest is the only airline that flies non-stop between the two cities. Buying new tickets would not only have been prohibitively expensive but we would have also had to connect, which isn’t ideal with a 13-month-old toddler. I also thought about driving but when I saw it was 700 miles and an 11-hour drive, I nixed that idea.”

We ended up taking Southwest and they were very accommodating – including allowing us to board first to wipe down the seats and they didn’t hand out peanuts on the short flight, just pretzels. Thankfully for those with severe allergies, they now only serve pretzels but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss their honey-roasted peanuts. According to Southwest.com: “We don’t serve peanuts on our flights. Instead, depending on flight length, we offer pretzels and a few other complimentary snacks. However, many of the snacks we serve may be packaged in the same facility as peanuts, so we can’t guarantee that they don’t contain peanut particles or oil.”

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The story above just shows how the airline is willing to get with the times. When we flew to Tampa, I was surprised that Southwest didn’t let families board first. Families did get to board after the A Group but most airlines do allow families with small children to board first.

Here’s Southwest’s current boarding policy for families: “Southwest offers Family Boarding, which occurs after the “A” group has boarded and before the “B” group begins boarding. Up to two adults traveling with a child six years old or younger may board during Family Boarding. If the child and adults are all holding “A” boarding passes, they should board in their assigned boarding position rather than waiting for Family Boarding.”


Well, that might be changing as Southwest Airlines is testing a new boarding process in Atlanta, which would be a positive change for families and I think A-List Preferred (their frequent fliers), those who pay extra to board early or check-in early enough to get the A-group, will be okay with it.

According to the BeatofHawaii blog: “Based on comments by Southwest at their Media Day presentation, the trial, to initially take place in Atlanta, will work like this. Families with a child six or under will be allowed to board before the A-group, regardless of their boarding assignment. However, they will be required to take seats after the first 15 rows. Southwest’s goal is to both please family travelers and to reduce aircraft boarding time, which, on a Hawaii flight, is between 40-50 minutes.”

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According to Travel Weekly who attended the media day (not sure why I wasn’t invited), “The family boarding trial comes as the DOT has begun exerting pressure on airlines to assure that families can sit together at no cost beyond the actual cost of a ticket. In a July notice, the DOT said that failure to do so could lead to regulatory action.”

As you can see this is a win-win for everyone because those traveling with kids definitely need extra time so if they get on the plane first and get settled in seats other than the first 15 rows, it allows the A Group to run to their coveted rows and the plane still boards quickly. On top of that, the airline won’t get fined by the DOT for separating families.

Everyone will be happy so it’s truly a win-win-win so let’s hope the trial in Atlanta goes well. And if you’re in favor of it, please leave a comment so airline executives can see the general public thinks this is a positive change.

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9 Comments On "Southwest Airlines' New Boarding Process Isn't Going to Make Everyone Happy"
  1. J Nelson|

    I am not in agreement to let families board before the traditional “b group “ loads. I know you are blocking the first 15 rows, but that being said your “ a block” is just 60 people so you are still giving aisle, window and desirable seat choices away to those that take the Tim to get up and go” your” procedures! When we fly to markets like Orlando, you usually board more than 60 family members and I’m stuck in the back if u want two seats together. Even seniors desire attention and respect. Thus us compatible to having handicapped services for families with children. I’ve had my children and grandchildren and I survived… even my current families in this profile are capable of visiting us frequently with two under 4. Thus us a growing issue of trying to make everyone feel important!
    Thank you for sharing my voice.

  2. Shannon M Smith|

    I am DEFINITELY NOT HAPPY with a potential move by Southwest Airlines to let families to board BEFORE the A group. Why on earth am I pay EXTRA for an Early Bird Check-in then have to wait while all the slow little kiddies and parents and anyone extra that they bring with their families, are in front of me. THAT IS NOT FAIR. I am a solo traveler and am at the airports quite a bit. On a REGULAR BASIS, I see families bringing extra people with them, such as grandparents, nannies, as well as the kids. THAT, also, is not fair. ADD to that all the people who I have seen fake their ailments to get ahead of everyone–With my A boarding pass, I will be now sitting in the back of the plane!! NO! Absolutely NO. I will start looking for another airline to fly. Written by a dedicated Southwest junkie, flying them for over 20 years.

  3. Charles ODonnell|

    I travel on business a lot on Southwest, usually paying the extra fee to get the A grouping. I have never been on a flight where the families have not been able to sit together unless they arrive late and the B group has already started to board. Since the A Group only has 60 passengers, there is no way a family can not sit together after boarding after the A Group. Even assuming an additional 60 people allowed to pre board, there are still enough seats for a family to sit together. The complaint from families is probably that they wanted to sit in the front but may not be able to get seats together. Southwest has with their new trial boarding, eliminated the first 15 rows anyway for the families to board. I hate to have Southwest having to put their flight attendants in harms way when a family tries to sit in any of the rows before the 15th row. It is bad enough now reading about flight attendants being assaulted already. Now with a family insisting on sitting in the first 15 rows, the airlines will have to call in security to remove the passengers and cause the flight to be delayed. Keep the current system the way it is.

  4. E|

    I am against it. As it is I pay for the early check in and barely make group A. This would be the final straw for me and I would start using a different airline and I have used SW only the last 10 years.

  5. LISA ALLEN|

    The gate attendants NEVER enforce the 2 adults per child rule. Last time we flew SWA there was a family of 6 allowed to board with one child. Now there will be another “rule ” they won’t enforce.

  6. A-List Preferred Air Traveler|

    I have to travel frequently for work for the last 15+ years – I was Executive Platinum on American for several years running, but I gave that up to fly Southwest when American Eagle pulled out of the regional airport close to my home. If this new Family before A-List Preferred sticks, I will be switching back to American ASAP. The reality is that Frequent Business Travelers repersent a significant revenue percentage for all airlines – apparently Southwest doesn’t need the business revenue to grow and sustain their business. I will recommend my collegues also switch to other airlines that treat business travelers better.

  7. John Anderson|

    As a regular business traveler, I pay extra for either a Business Select (Boarding Group A1 – A15) or minimally “Early Bird” check in. The writer is delusional or at best, incredibly naive, when he writes “I think A-List………..those that pay extra to board early……….will be ok with it” I AM NOT!!!!!!! The writer does not mention the names of the other airlines that allow “toddlers,” priority boarding nor if any of those have “Open Seating”.

    Giving toddlers and their parents, seating preference to my paid for boarding position just adds to Southwest’s discrimination against higher paying passengers. On Southwest, “Thru-passengers” can change seats at a stopover without regards to a boarding “Business Select or “A-List” passenger at a connecting city. “Pre-Boarders” and their companions (is there a limit to the number?) also get priority boarding. This could and probably has put “Business Select” boarders behind the 60th seat choice on a plane. Travelling Business select should allow a seat closer to the front exit to reduce our deplaning time if we desire.

    I am a self-employed person that flies 20 – 40 times a year for work. The extra 10 – 20 minutes preferred seating / boarding on planes allows time to relax or catch up on necessary business is worth paying for. A higher priority boarding should also allow a passenger to seat further forward to reduce the time to deplane.

    Thanks for the “Heads up”. Will be sorry to use other airlines to plan travel around this proposed new policy if implemented.

  8. Stephen|

    Complete crap. No way people will be happy with this. More people board early already than I would ever allow, its out of hand. You want to sit with your family, fly another airline with assigned seating.

  9. Sandra|

    I am also against this plan. If I pay to board early sometimes planes making connections already have the plane half full! Add families and what seats will I get for my money? I’ll be checking out other airlines.

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