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Family Boarding Trial a Big Boon For Southwest Hawaii Flights

Families traveling on Southwest Hawaii flights, and their ability to sit together, have been an issue. Many of you have commented on it since Southwest began service to the islands. Family travel is synonymous with Hawaii travel, and this is a concern for those families and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Southwest to trial very early boarding for families, without regard to a boarding position.

If you’re flying on Hawaiian, Alaska, American, Delta, or United airlines, you have, in most cases, the opportunity to have seats pre-assigned. That ensures that families can travel together.

Southwest does it all differently via boarding groups and positions. On check-in, guests receive both a boarding group and a number. Editor Jeff recently got A59, for example (end of the seating in the first boarding group). Passengers line up by their position once their group has been called. It works better than we once feared, as we weren’t familiar with Southwest before they arrived here in Hawaii.

Currently, families with children six and younger board after the first theoretically 60 guests in group A (and before group B). Generally, that works on a plane with 175 seats, but not always, especially if you have a large family group.

This month Southwest tests families board first – with a caveat.

As we understand it, 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.

DOT says to do it or else.

Recently, the US DOT has said that airlines should allow families to be seated together without additional cost. This summer, the government said they might seek a regulatory alternative if that doesn’t happen.

Okay, Southwest fans, do you favor letting families board before Group A?

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128 thoughts on “Family Boarding Trial a Big Boon For Southwest Hawaii Flights”

  1. I understand the concern of parents traveling with your kids. But will this then cause more people (especially those who pre board with no real apparent need) to opt for the pre board and take up the first 15 rows and leave the A group and those who paid extra to have to be seated behind theses families? Would this possibly be only on flights like the Hawaiian flight ? We have always likes Southwest airlines but sometimes some of the pre boarders get to be a joke. Thanks for sharing this info and hope you can come up with an equitable solution

  2. I flew PHX to OGG round trip in October with SWA. We also paid for early bird for 2 people and both times were given B Boardings. I have an issue with my shoulder and didn’t want to ask for “extra time”, so I thought early bird would help. The families were allowed to board after A. Never again will I buy early bird, as the plane was nearly 1/2 full (not exaggerating!) by the time we boarded. I agree that if they want to sit together, they should either pay for early bird or be required to load from the back of the plane forward and that way they can all be certain to be together.

    1. Just so you’ll know how EB purchases work. I you buy your EB on Nov 1 and I buy my EB on Sep 30, I’m getting a better spot that you. It all has to do with WHEN you buy EB.
      In addition, if there were already people on the plane from a previous leg, (STL-PHX-OGG) they are also going to be “ahead” of you. EB only gets you ahead of the people checking in at the 24hr mark.
      And don’t forget about all the A-List and A-List Plus people will be ahead of you as well.

      1. I am completely aware of how early bird works as I carry the SW card & prior to the pandemic was an A-lister. I bought the early bird when flights were released & I had already booked another trip for 2/23 with EB the same way prior to this, waiting to see how that flight goes. The flight from OGG was empty prior to arrival, so there were no flythrough passengers & that was the worst flight when it came to being preloaded. Flying home from MT in July when the plane came in from Kauai there were a large # of passengers flying through to PHX.

        Family boarding is definitely an issue that SW should address, especially with Hawaiian flights. Honestly I will likely go back to Hawaiian Airlines it’s just a better way to start/end vacation.

        1. Well if you know how it works then you shouldn’t be surprised that you got a B spot. EB isn’t a guarantee for an A slot for all sorts of reasons.

  3. So my A+ List status means nothing to SWA? I can fly every week and because x wants to take her kids to see Pearl Harbor, I lose my A list status? Time to go back to the legacy Airlines.

    1. You do know that currently families board After the A group which equals about 60 or so people. The way they are proposing it now is that families will board first But Can Still Only Sit In Row 16 Or Higher. Do you knw that is 90 seats back?
      So why is that worse?
      Now if the flight attendants don’t enforce that then we have a Big problem. (I am A-list as well)

  4. We’re friends in the 70’s and one of our friend is disable. Wish we could all sit down together without the extra cost. Instead our sits are separated Wish you can prioritize group of 6 or more also.
    Thank you.

  5. I hope the overhead bins in the first 15 rows will also be restricted and not filled by these Earlier Boarding families. Airlines seem not able to control filling of overhead bins in the front of the plane by those who are seated in back, thus leaving no room for passengers boarding later. We shall see…

  6. Ha ha, I’ve done the math and yes you are correct, but as human nature will show, there will be some people who will try to skirt the system and preboard with wife and two kids, but husband ends up in exit row. The FA’s probably won’t want to police this.

    I think it’s a great idea, probably save 10 min, but again, there is no reason why they aren’t sent all the way to the back. Closer to the bathrooms as well. If they want to sit together and closer to the front, pay for Early bird like other people do.

  7. I totally agree with family boarding. I think it should be 10 and under. Maybe a family section if feasible. Trip to Hawaii is all about Ohana. I also think that strollers and car seats should be taken earlier than boarding time. It really takes up additional time and space.

  8. Family boarding, anyone with kids under 9, should board first and be required to sit near the back (close to bathrooms and exits with staff to assist in an emergency). Pre-boarding the the front rows. Then everyone else. Should make boarding and exiting faster. Plus single flyers who want to avoid children on planes know where to avoid.

  9. No, because some of us pay extra money for a better boarding position. They should pay for a better boarding position. Do not make single travelers be discriminated. Loyal Southwest flyer.

  10. I have to admit, the idea of putting all the kids together in a specified area (with their families) has a certain attraction. As long as I can sit somewhere away from them.

  11. I agree that families should board first but feel that they should be in a specific area if possible. Children need easy access to bathrooms and being near a beverage/snack area would be good. Keeping children comfortable on long flights makes flying more comfortable for everyone on the flight.

  12. We are a family of 4 and at the end of this year will no longer be able to take advantage of family boarding since our youngest will be turning 7. For that reason, we paid for Business Select on our flight to Maui in May to ensure we will be able to get seats together. We have Never had an issue finding seats together during regular family boarding after the A group on any flight no matter how full. I do not think it’s fair for families to go first before those who paid for priority boarding.

  13. I guess no has bothered to figure it out yet but families boarding first but having to start at row 16 leaves 90 seats empty “up front” Currently they board after the A group which means 60 seats have been taken.
    The new policy would be Better for others than it is now. Sheesh…

  14. When I fly on Southwest in the mainland I always pay extra to get into the A boarding position. If they went to seating all families first that don’t pay extra it wouldn’t be worth my time or money to fly on a subpar airline. Hawaiian Airlines will always be my number one choice.

  15. The individuals and groups that are slower should be seated to the back of the plane. That would allow the majority of (faster moving) passengers to quickly board and deplane. Another idea is to not allow roll-on luggage. These should be checked in. Why not, it is free! Many passengers with larger baggage take too long finding a place at the front of the plane to store it. Some also cannot manage to lift it into the overhead bins because they stuffed it over capacity, thereby slowing the boarding process.


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