Southwest Seat Hog Called Out: Don’t Be That Guy……or Gal!

by Shelli Stein

Just so we’re all on the same page before I start this rant, I need to make sure you’re all in the know about how Southwest Airlines assigns seats. They don’t assign seats at all! It’s an open seating policy. First come, first served.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Upon checking in for flights, passengers are assigned a boarding group, A, B, or C, and a boarding position, 1-60.

The boarding group and position determine when you board the plane, and thus how many seats you will be able to choose from.

I haven’t had the occasion to take a Southwest flight in a very long time. Recently, though I decided, since I had so many Southwest points and travel funds in my stash due to flights being rescheduled during the no-travel pandemic years, to give Southwest my business.

I do recall that one of the irritating things that used to happen on Southwest flights was the saving of seats, especially in the front of the plane.

And here we go again! (Below this week’s current example of a saving-seats NO NO, which I’m about to share with you, is an example from the time before my recent trip, so keep reading.)

On a flight this past week, I was sitting towards the front of the plane. Across the aisle, and one row ahead of me, was a husband and wife seated in the middle and aisle seats. An older woman traveling alone wanted the window seat. They wouldn’t let her take it.

Yes, really.

Finally, after a bit of a scuffle and words back and forth, the flight attendant came over and said to the couple, “If she wants the window seat you have to let her sit there.”

Geez people, since when do you get to control who sits next to you, even when you fly an airline that assigns seats? Do people choose to fly Southwest Airlines thinking they can control seating assignments?

It’s really awful to see these scenes unfold. I was glad, though, that the flight attendant intervened. Sometimes they look the other way. The flight was already two hours late and I was in no mood for more of a delay.

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Here’s another kind of behavior that’s just not cool!

One of the options if you want to board early is to pay for an early boarding position. This can be done at the gate. It assures you a boarding number in the A group, number 1-15. This is the first group that boards the flight. Southwest saves those boarding group numbers hoping that people will pay for them.

My flight was packed and I had scored a C group boarding position when I checked in. So did the friends I was traveling with. When we got to the gate we decided to splurge and buy early boarding in the A 1-15 group.

There I was happily seated towards the front of the plane when I noticed something interesting. The woman in the seat in front of me started behaving…….how shall I put this……..territorial! She was in the window seat, her backpack was on the aisle seat, and her legs were sprawled across all three seats. I lost count of how many people asked to sit there, and I watched her tell passenger after passenger the seats were taken.

I could jump to conclusions here and suggest that she paid for the A5 boarding number and her two family members did not, so she saved them seats. But regardless of how she ended up boarding 15 -20 minutes ahead of her family, the point is she was saving seats and the whole scene bothered me.

It’s just not cool.

The flight attendants made several announcements about how the flight was full so please just take the first open seat you find. These were open seats and people were just trying to get seated. Plus, who doesn’t want to sit towards the front of the plane in row 5, right?

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How Did The Southwest Crew Respond To The Seat Hog?

In speaking with the Southwest crew, they told me they, the crew, won’t say anything to a passenger who is saving seats but if anyone wanted to sit there they could have. Easy enough for the crew to take this approach.

Sure, it may not be Southwest’s policy to have their crew handle seat-saving. Seems a bit of a cop-out, though, when they are watching someone save seats and lying to other passengers about the seats being occupied. I kept hoping someone would challenge her and just take the seats, but no one did.

Okay, frequent Southwest travelers reading this rant, do you see this on every flight? Was I just witnessing a one-off seat hog testing her mettle and hoping no one would challenge her?

Let’s face it, Southwest’s open seating policy is daunting and for many passengers, confusing enough without having to negotiate with a fellow passenger who looks you straight in the eye and in effect tells you to keep moving along, these seats are taken!

Just don’t be that guy, or in this case that gal. Give your seat-saving games a rest, and just play seat mate roulette on Southwest

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ColoradoTraveller April 16, 2022 - 12:49 pm

It happens all of the time.

I had A group boarding and the aisle seat on the first row was open.

I started to sit down and the man in the window seat said, “my wife is sitting there, she’s just in the bathroom”.

I knew that was a lie because I could see that the lav door was partially open, so I replied, “you must be getting tired of people thinking that this seat is open, so I’ll sit here until she comes out”.

Of course, about 45 passengers later, she finally comes onto the plane and starts squawking about how I’m in “her” seat,

I said that I wasn’t going to reward liars and stayed put, but she spent the — thankfully — short flight in the middle seat harrumphing, “well, I never!” Well, my dear, you have now!

Shelli April 16, 2022 - 1:31 pm

Thanks for sharing your “calling out” experience!

Mike March 3, 2024 - 7:52 pm

I had this happen to me. I was in the “A” boarding group, but the flight was a stop from another airport. When I boarded (A-4), there were no seats in front of the wings that didn’t have bags, jackets or people filling them.
I asked the flight attendant “Can I move these bags?” and her quote was “SWA doesn’t get involved in bag wars and seat saving”, and walked away.

Next time, I’m moving them into a pile!

Shelli Stein March 3, 2024 - 9:29 pm

I hear your frustration Mike. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment.

Southwest Seat Hog Called Out: Don’t Be That Guy……or Gal! – Travel Blogs April 16, 2022 - 1:45 pm

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Christian April 16, 2022 - 2:13 pm

I’m completely with you on this. I read in another blog that southwest specifically allows people to act in this reprehensible fashion. That’s a huge turnoff for me.

Shelli April 16, 2022 - 4:36 pm

Thanks for commenting, Christian. I was mystified how to handle the situation. I thought to say something to the hog. Then I wanted to tell people it was okay to take those seats. During the boarding process I called over a crew member and asked him about what was happening. Once he told me he wouldn’t get involved, I was so annoyed I just sat down and wrote about it. Next time I would handle it differently and speak up to both the hog and the passengers, as well.

Greg April 16, 2022 - 2:25 pm

“Gaming” takes many forms in travel. On Southwest with not much to offer you get what you witnessed. One person paying extra for early boarding to save paying it for others in the party.

Shelli April 16, 2022 - 4:37 pm

Thanks for reading Greg. I totally understand gaming, but in this case it required lying to other passengers so that’s what surprised me the most.

aireyeonyou April 16, 2022 - 2:31 pm

While seat saving is one area that drives me nuts on Southwest, believe it or not there a circumstance that very well could be legitimate and does require flight attendant intervention to at least answer a question: Is this person on the stop-over-move-seat option and off the plane? Flight attendants are supposed to know who this applies to and if they are off the aircraft. This happens quite often on cross country 1 stop to destination flights. The re-boarding policy is inconsistent as to when they may return to the aircraft but most of the time they re-board ahead of or with pre-boards which is why you sometimes see “able bodied” pre-boards in that line up.

Shelli April 16, 2022 - 4:40 pm

I had no idea about this, so thanks for pointing it out. This flight was a non-stop to destination flight. I can see why the boarding situation you described would frustrate Southwest passengers.

Jeannie April 16, 2022 - 6:50 pm

It goes on ALL the time. It’s completely irritating and the people doing it become obnoxious if you call them out. Which speaks to their lack of character. It’s so annoying that SWA doesn’t have preventative methods because it makes me wonder why do I bother paying for the upgrade?

Shelli April 17, 2022 - 12:21 am

Thanks for taking the time to comment, Jeannie. As mentioned in another reply, next time I would handle it differently and call them out in real time. I can handle obnoxious, so bring it on 🙂

Steven April 17, 2022 - 6:40 am

The last time I’ve flew Southwest I’ve was sandwiched between two fat guys. They are never on time anymore either. Unfortunately it’s one of the few options if you want to fly direct out of San Diego. I’ve decided to use the legacy carriers even if it means a stopover or take JSX and just pay the extra money. Thanks.

Shelli April 17, 2022 - 11:59 am

JSX is an interesting option, Steven. Good to find workarounds that work!

Slanky April 20, 2022 - 9:56 am

I really never understood why Southwest is so beloved… I would group them with Frontier, Spirit, ValueJet, etc etc. Not only are some of their policies the worst, but they also attract the K-Mart sort of airline customers. Nothing against K-Mart. I am not rich or privileged, but you can bet Southwest is always my last choice.

Shelli April 20, 2022 - 11:44 am

For sure Slanky, Southwest is either loved or rarely, if ever, flown. I know people who have never been on a Southwest flight. Thanks for reading!

amasya gezilecek yerler June 1, 2022 - 3:43 pm

güzek içerik..

Ben LeRoy October 28, 2023 - 10:37 am

While these situations may or may not apply, one situation where you can in fact hold a seat is if you partake in southwests Person of Size program. It allows you to hold a seat at no cost but it involves a second ticket issued to the same person.

Shelli October 28, 2023 - 12:27 pm

Thanks for this information, Ben. It’s helpful to know about different policies.


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