Can Senior Citizens Board Early on Southwest?

Southwest Airlines has a complicated boarding process. Senior citizens may wonder if they can board early for easier access to seating.

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Southwest Airlines has a complicated boarding process. Senior citizens may wonder if they can board early for easier access to seating.

On Southwest, senior citizens are not given access to priority boarding solely based on their age. The airline divides passengers into boarding groups based on several factors, but seniority is not considered. However, I have found a number of tricks that will help seniors access earlier boarding.

Southwest Airlines does not assign flyers to specific seats or even rows. Instead, passengers who board the plane can sit in any seat they choose, on a first-come, first-served basis. This is known as “open boarding” and is a unique approach. For people who have a seat preference or who just like to be among the first to on the plane, this can be frustrating.

Southwest places passengers into three boarding groups: A, B, and C. From there, they assign each customer a number from 1-60 within each group. Passengers board the plane first based on group, then by number. So, boarding group A enters the aircraft first, starting with A1-10, then A11-20, and so on. Then groups B and C board in the same manner. The most important things to know are that if you want early access to the best seating, you need to get in the earliest boarding group possible, with the lowest number available within that group.

I read through all of Southwest’s policies and did extensive web research to find ways for senior citizens to board early. I discovered tips and tricks to help you get on your Southwest flight quickly, so you have earliest access to your choice of seats. These tried-and-true recommendations will help you, as a senior citizen, to board early on your next  Southwest Airlines flight.

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How Can Senior Citizens Board Early on Southwest?

Southwest does prioritize some passengers for early boarding, though age itself is not a factor. Early boarding is more dependent on upgrades, check-in time, and special factors. The main considerations if you want to board early are:

  • Do you want to pay for upgrades?
  • How early can you check in?
  • Do you require any special accommodations? Or do your travel companions?
  • Are you traveling with children?

If you have a little extra money to spend, or if you are flexible with your travel plans, you can get early access to your flight. Although your age alone as a senior citizen will not ensure early boarding, there are lots of options to get you preferred seating. Read on for the best ways senior citizens can get early boarding on Southwest Airlines flights.

Pay for a Business Select Fare

The simplest way to ensure yourself early boarding is to purchase a Business Select fare. This is similar to “first-class” flying. By paying more, you guarantee yourself group A1-15 boarding and first entrance to your flight. This is the only way to know, with certainty, that you will be among the first to board.

Southwest no longer has a “senior fare,” so all passengers are eligible to purchase Business Select seats. It does, of course, come at a cost, which is mostly dependent upon your travel itinerary - where and when you are flying.

Business Select flying has additional perks, including a free premium beverage and access to the Fly By lane, which allows for faster experiences at the ticket counter and security checks. If you are enrolled in Rapid Rewards, you can also earn extra points by flying Business Select. These fares come at an additional cost, but may be worth it to senior citizens who want early boarding and increased seat choices.

Become an A-List Rapid Rewards Member

If you fly frequently, you may want to consider enrolling in Southwest’s Rapid Rewards program. It is free to enroll, but membership alone will not get you early boarding privileges. Early boarding is allowed for A-list members.

Passengers in the program can work to achieve A-list or A-list preferred status, which will then allow for early boarding immediately after Business Select passengers. To become an A-lister, you must fly 25 qualifying flights in a calendar year or earn 35,000 tier-qualifying points. If you do not fly often as a senior, this is likely not the best option.

Check In Early

Southwest assigns boarding groups on a first-come, first-served basis (after those with paid upgrades are assigned). The earlier you check in, the earlier you board the plane. Age is not a consideration.

Typically, for Southwest passengers, remote check-in begins 24 hours before flight time. There are two ways to ensure early check-in.

  • Add EarlyBird Check-in to your reservation. This device completes your check-in for you. It automatically designates a boarding group and number 36 hours before your flight. This allows you to be assigned to boarding groups before those who manually check in. EarlyBird comes at an additional cost of $15-25 per person, per one-way flight. EarlyBird flyers board directly after Business Select and A-list passengers. This is a fairly inexpensive option for early boarding for senior citizens. It is important to note that A-group designation is not guaranteed with EarlyBird check-in.
  • Check in online or on the Southwest app starting 24 hours before your flight, as long as you have a reservation number. If you check in immediately at the 24-hour mark, you will board first after Early Bird members. For example, if your flight leaves at 11:00 am, complete the online check-in on at 11:00 am the day before your flight. This will put you in the earliest boarding group possible for people who are not paying for upgrades. Every minute counts, so check in as early as possible for the best boarding group assignment!

Look Into Same-Day Upgraded Boarding

On the day of travel, Southwest sometimes offers upgraded boarding, if there is room in priority boarding groups. For an additional $30, $40, or $50 at the ticket counter or gate, you can purchase an upgrade to boarding groups A1-15. This depends on availability at time of flight and may not always be an option, but if you’re flexible, this might be a great choice for you to get early boarding as a senior citizen.

As an aside: if you have a Southwest Rapid Rewards Priority Credit Card, you can be reimbursed for upgraded boarding on up to four flights per year. Reimbursement will occur on your card enrollment anniversary. There is an annual fee for the card, so balancing the costs and benefits should be a consideration.

Ask for Disability Assistance

Some seniors require assistance due to disabilities. Preboarding before all designated for boarding groups is available for those who require specific seating or need help with boarding or securing an assistive device. One companion is also allowed to preboard along with the person requiring assistance.

If you have a disability, it is best to ask for accommodations when booking your reservation. Then check in with the gate agent upon arrival to ensure preboatfing. If you or one of your travel companions is disabled, you will be allowed to board before anyone else. It is important to know that those with disabilities may not sit in emergency exit rows.

If you have a disability or move slowly and just require extra time, but no physical assistance, request an “extra time” accommodation at the ticket counter or departure gate. Attendants will ask you a series of “fact-finding questions” to verify your need. Then, you will get a new boarding pass specifically designated for “extra time.” This will allow you to board between groups A and B, fairly early in the boarding process.

Travel with Kids

Two adults traveling with children aged six or younger are allowed to board between groups A and B. If you are traveling with grandchildren or other young travel companions, be sure to bring documentation to verify their age so you can take advantage of early boarding. This can be something as simple as a birth certificate or school record. For those planning travel with young children, this is an easy option for early boarding.

Fly at Slow Travel Times

Finally, given the “open-boarding” model, it makes sense to plan your travel at low-capacity times to improve your chances of more seating options. Fly mid-week, on a Tuesday or Wednesday, for planes that are less full. Consider flights departing before 8:00 am. Avoid flying on weekends and around holidays if possible, as this is when planes are busiest.

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