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7 Tips for Smooth Flights on Southwest Airlines

7 Tips for Smooth Flights on Southwest Airlines

I am a big fan of Southwest airlines because of their pricing, customer service, and loyalty program.  The employees don't take themselves too seriously which offers a breath of fresh air, for example, during the often unorthodox pre-flight safety demonstration.  They make sensible budget cuts, so instead of wearing expensive uniforms, the employees wears khakis and color coordinated polo shirts.  But mostly, they value their customers and reward loyalty which is something many brands and companies no longer recognize.  Here are 7 tips for making the most of your first, or 100th Southwest flight.

#1 Sign up for the newsletter

Southwest constantly offers deals for one-way or round trip flights to make a quick long weekend affordable.  Sign up for email alerts so that you know when new deals are being offered.  TIP: If you don't like to get a bunch of various travel or other newsletters in your email inbox daily, try using Unroll Me to aggregate all the emails of interest to you in one easy-to-scan email each day.

#2 Pay the fee for Early Bird Check In

Southwest has open seating, meaning that you don't pick a seat assignment when you book your ticket, but rather you pick your seat anywhere on the plane in the order that you board which is assigned at check in.  By default, business class tickets board first followed by reward members at the highest tier (called A-list Preferred), then everyone else boards in the order in which you check in for the flight, with a few exceptions.  Everyone is given a letter (A, B, or C) and number (1-60) combo, e.g. A25 or B40 or C16.  If you pay the Early Bird Check in fee ($15 each way) the system will automatically check you in for your flight 24 hours before takeoff, and you will be assigned a boarding number based on the order in which you bought your ticket compared to the other Early Bird people.  Once those spots have all been assigned (in sub-seconds), everyone else who is checking in for the flight starts to get assigned numbers in the order they check in.  So, A1-15 is for business class and A-List Preferred members, then maybe A16-60 will be assigned to everyone who paid for Early Bird (depends on how many people opt in), therefore all those people will get the pick of their seat on the plane (including the exit row) and primary luggage storage.  If you really don't care about sitting in the middle, or without your travel companion, and are checking your bags, this might not be important to you, but for ~$30 roundtrip it makes a big difference in my comfort, especially when I get the exit row.

#3 Download the app to your phone

For anyone under the age of 50, there is no reason you ever need to carry a paper ticket in the airport again.  Each airline has their own app and you can do everything from it - book flights, make flight changes, check in, check status and delays, contact customer service, etc.  For Southwest, you can bring your boarding pass up right in the app, or download the image and save it to Passport on the iPhone to make pulling up the scannable barcode at security and the gate a breeze.


#4 Check your bags for free!

Although I personally try not to check bags for anything less than a 10 day trip, some people prefer not to have to haul luggage through the airport or they are not light packers.  A great perk of Southwest is that bags always travel for free.  You can check up to 2 bags, under 50 lbs (domestic rule, check their site for details on international and long haul flights) at no cost.  One of reasons they do this is because it is proven that loading passengers on planes is most efficient when there is no large luggage involved. So by offering this service in your ticket it eases your burden and helps the plane load faster for an on time takeoff. 

#5 Bring food for long flights

Southwest is known as the peanut airline and unless a passenger makes known a strong allergy, they will always serve peanuts, pretzels, and drinks on their flights.  For longer hauls they offer some snacks like cookies, crackers, and trail mix but they offer no in flight meals so definitely plan to eat something before you board or bring it on the flight with you.  There are no restrictions on bringing food on board and it is encouraged by the airlines.  I found that Chipotle bowls or similar hold up well for the 45 min or so between ordering and getting in my seat where I can relax and eat.  Burgers or wraps are also a good choice, but skip the french fries, tacos, and burritos since they just get soggy.

#6 Choose your seat wisely

After reading tip #3 you should now better understand the order in which you board.  If you are A1-30 there is a very good chance you can get an exit row seat, otherwise sit anywhere you like.  If you are in the Bs you will likely be sitting in the back half of the plane to get a window or an aisle seat.  If you are in the Cs you are likely going to be sitting in a center seat somewhere.  If you have a quick connection, try to sit in the front of the plane.  If you checked bags, might as well find a good seat in the back since you have to wait at baggage claim so no need to rush off when you land.  I use Seat Guru to learn the best/worst seats on the plane, for example exit row is ideal, but just in front of the exit row is bad because the seats do not recline.  If you are travelling with a companion who is boarding after you, you are technically not allowed to save them a seat but if you take up space while getting settled and avoid making eye contact with people passing by, there is a good chance no one will try to take a center seat you are holding for someone.  On the flip side, the key to getting a non-annoying seat companion is to pick someone out who looks normal, clean, and doesn't smell and make eye contact as they approach - people are drawn to a friendly face and you can tractor beam them in with a smile and they won't even realize it.

Use Seat Guru to get a map like this and look up the best/worst seats before the flight


#7 Bring some in flight entertainment

To streamline costs, Southwest has basically two models of airplane that they fly which makes most parts inter-operable and maintenance costs down.  In addition, they do not offer any in flight videos or movies.  For short flights, I like to read a book on my kindle (usually a guidebook for the destination) or catch up on emails with the in flight WiFi.  For longer flights, I bring my iPad and watch movies using Amazon Instant Video, but this also works for any tablet or laptop.  Before you leave home (while you have strong WiFi) go to amazon instant video and rent something to watch for just a few dollars.  Then on your mobile device, download the Amazon Instant Video app and log in to your Amazon account.  Download the movies/shows you just rented via the Library, or if you have a Prime membership you can download anything labeled Prime for no cost.  Since they are downloaded, you watch them offline in the taxi, airport lounge, on the plane, or on a bus ride.  I use this to watch new releases of movies I liked but wasn't willing to pay full price to see in theaters or binge on seasons of TV.  TIP: Bring a headphone splitter so you can share the movie with your travel companion.

Have you tried Southwest?  What do you think of them? Any other tips?

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