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The Best Seats When Flying on Southwest Airlines [2024]

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Katie Seemann
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Katie Seemann

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Katie has been in the points and miles game since 2015 and started her own blog in 2016. She’s been freelance writing since then and her work has been featured in publications like Travel + Leisure, F...
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Having the right seat on your flight can sometimes make or break your day (or trip). Unlike other airlines, Southwest has an open seating policy. That means you can choose any open seat on the plane once it’s your turn to board.

But if you aren’t a frequent flyer, how do you know which seat will be right for you? Here are some tips about choosing the best seat on Southwest Airlines so you’ll have the most comfortable flight possible.

Why Fly Southwest Airlines?

Why would you even want to fly on Southwest Airlines anyway? There are a lot of reasons — here are just a few:

Southwest Airlines Boarding Process

Since the Southwest Airlines boarding process is a bit different than other airlines, let’s take a quick look at the basics.

You’ll board your Southwest flight based on a boarding group (A, B, or C) and boarding number (1 to 60). Once you’re on the plane, you can choose any open seat.

Southwest boarding area at CMH
Southwest boarding is based on the group and number you’re assigned at check-in. Image Credit: Katie Seemann

Your boarding position is based on a few factors:

  • Check-in Time: Check-in begins 24 hours before your flight is due to depart; the earlier you check-in, the better your boarding position.
  • Type of Ticket: Business Select tickets are automatically assigned an A1 to A15 boarding position.
  • Elite Status: If you have A-List or A-List Preferred status, you’ll be able to board before the B group regardless of your boarding position.
  • EarlyBird Check-In: If you purchase EarlyBird Check-In, you will be automatically checked in up to 36 hours ahead of time for a better boarding position. Free EarlyBird Check-In comes as a perk with select Southwest credit cards.
  • Upgraded Boarding: You can purchase Upgraded Boarding beginning 24 hours before departure, if available, which will get you an A1 to A15 boarding pass. Select Southwest credit cards come with free Upgraded Boarding passes.
  • Preboarding: Travelers with disabilities, active-duty military members, and families traveling with children ages 6 and under can board between groups A and B if they do not receive an A boarding pass.

Hot Tip: While you might be inclined to always purchase EarlyBird Check-In, you won’t need it if you’re traveling with a child 6 years old or younger, have A-List or A-List Preferred status, have a Business Select or Anytime ticket, are active-duty military, have a disability, or are planning to purchase Upgraded Boarding.

Southwest Airlines Seat Configurations

Southwest Airlines flies only Boeing 737 planes. Currently, Southwest uses 3 types of 737: Boeing 737-700, Boeing 737-800, and Boeing 737 MAX 8. A fourth type of plane, the Boeing 737 MAX 7, will be coming in the next couple of years to replace some of the older 737-700 planes.

Boeing 737-700

The Boeing 737-700 has 143 seats, and it accounts for 60% of Southwest Airlines’ fleet. Each seat has a width of 17 inches and a pitch of 31 inches.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 700 new
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 seat map. Image Credit: SeatGuru

Boeing 737-800

The slightly larger Boeing 737-800 has 175 seats, each with a width of 17 inches and a pitch of 32 to 33 inches.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 800 new
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-800 seat map. Image Credit: SeatGuru

Boeing 737 MAX 8

The Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes are the newest addition to the Southwest fleet. Each plane has 175 seats with a width of 17.8 inches and a pitch of 32 to 33 inches.

Southwest Boeing 737 MAX 8 seat map
Southwest Boeing 737 MAX 8 seat map. Image Credit: SeatGuru

The Best Seats on Southwest Airlines

These tips have been collected from countless flights on Southwest Airlines. Keep in mind that since Southwest Airlines has open seating, a specific seat is never guaranteed — not even if you have an A1 boarding position. The flight could have passengers that are staying on the aircraft from the previous flight!

The Best Seats if You’re Flying With Young Kids

Flying with kids can be interesting. Even the most seasoned young travelers are prone to meltdowns and tantrums occasionally. If you’re flying with kids on Southwest, head to the back of the plane. You’ll want to do this for a few reasons.

  1. You’ll find the most empty seats in the back of the plane, so you’ll likely be able to find seats together. If you’re traveling with kids 6 and under, you’ll be able to utilize family boarding. Family boarding happens after the A group, so there shouldn’t be a need to purchase EarlyBird Check-In to guarantee seats together.
  2. Sitting in one of the very last rows will put you near the bathrooms and flight attendants. This can be crucial if you end up with a kid who’s sick, messy, or just “kind of” potty-trained.
  3. Most people with kids tend to end up near the back of the plane, so you’ll be among passengers who may be understanding if your toddler cries during the entire flight.

The Best Seats for the Most Legroom

Everyone loves extra legroom on a flight and the good news is that Southwest offers more legroom than most other domestic carriers.

However, if you’re really tall, that still might not cut it. Sure, there’s more legroom in the bulkhead and exit rows, but there are 1 or 2 coveted seats on every Southwest flight that you’ll really want to find.

There is a window seat behind the exit row that doesn’t have any seat in front of it, giving you a ridiculous amount of legroom. It’ll be seat 12A on the Boeing 737-700, seats 16A and 16F on the Boeing 737-800, and seats 16A and 16F on the Boeing 737 MAX 8.

You need some luck to get this seat. Your chances are determined by your boarding position and the number of Business Select passengers ahead of you. Business Select passengers tend to be seasoned business travelers who know about this seat.

The Money Seat on Southwest Airlines
My husband, who is 6 foot 6 inches tall, always looks for this coveted seat right behind the exit row door. Image Credit: Katie Seemann

If you don’t have a Business Select ticket, but really want this seat, you may want to consider paying for Upgraded Boarding. Different from EarlyBird Check-In, an Upgraded Boarding position can be purchased at the gate or added at check-in if available. This will get you an A1-15 boarding pass and will give you a good chance at getting your desired seat.

These credit cards come with 4 Upgraded Boarding passes per year:

The Best Seats if You’re a Nervous Flyer

If you’re not a fan of turbulence (and, really, who is) look for seats over the wings. These seats offer the smoothest ride. Additionally, seats toward the front of the plane will shield you from turbulence more than seats at the back of the plane, where you’ll feel any up-and-down bobbing more.

The Best Seats if You’ve Got a Short Connection Time

If you’ve got a short connection time, you’ll want to get off the plane as quickly as possible. The bulkhead seats (first row) will be your best bet. However, these seats tend to go pretty quickly. If you’re really short on time, you may want to consider paying to upgrade your boarding position. As mentioned, some Southwest credit cards come with free Upgraded Boarding passes.

If you choose the bulkhead, remember that you won’t be able to put a carry-on or personal item in front of you, so everything will need to be stored in the overhead bins.

If the bulkhead seats are already full, choose the first aisle seat you see.

Hot Tip: Looking for a great credit card that will earn tons of points? Check out our guide to the best credit cards for Southwest Airlines flyers.

The Best Seats if You Want an Empty Seat Next to You

There’s never a guarantee that you’ll have an empty seat next to you, but you can do your best to be one of the lucky ones if your flight isn’t full. After boarding, head towards the back of the plane, and grab a seat that’s about three-quarters of the way back.

Once the last people have boarded and are looking for an aisle or window seat, they have a tendency to go toward the back of the plane before admitting defeat and taking a middle seat. If you’re just a little way up from the very back, you stand your best chance of missing these people and ending up with an empty seat next to you.

The Best Seats if You Want To Recline

If you’re looking forward to putting your seat back to take a little snooze on your flight, be sure to choose a row that can actually recline.

You’ll want to avoid the exit rows, the row in front of the exit row, plus the last row of seats on the airplane. These seats typically do not recline at all.

Southwest Airlines Exit Row
The exit row is great if you want extra legroom, but not if you want to recline your seat or are traveling with kids. Image Credit: Katie Seemann

These rows may have limited or no recline on Southwest Airlines:

  • Boeing 737-700: Rows 10, 11, and 24
  • Boeing 737-800: Rows 13, 14, 15, and 30
  • Boeing 737 MAX 8: Rows 13, 14, 15, and 30

The Best Seats if You’re Traveling With a Large Group

If you’re traveling with a large group and you all want to sit together, your best bet will be to head to the back of the plane. It’s probably not necessary to purchase EarlyBird Check-In as long as your whole party can remember to check in exactly 24 hours ahead of time. You’ll most likely end up with boarding positions in the B boarding group, which should be enough to get most of your group together.

The Best Seats if You’re Sick

Flying while you’re sick isn’t fun for anyone. While it’s best to stay home if you can, sometimes you have to get on a plane when you aren’t feeling your best. If this is the case, head for the last row of the plane. This way, you’ll be close to the bathroom and most of the passengers will face away from you, so you can be as discreet as possible.

However, if you have a tendency towards motion sickness, a seat over the wings will be your best bet to avoid as much turbulence as possible.

The Best Seats if You Want Your Drinks First

If you want to be the first to get a drink on your Southwest flight, you’ll want to choose your seat wisely. On a 737-700, choose rows 1, 9, or 17. On a 737-800 or 737 MAX 8, you’ll want to choose rows 1, 9, 16, or 23 for the fastest drink service.

Final Thoughts

Flying on Southwest Airlines can be great — you won’t have to pay to check your bags and you can change your flight with no penalty. Plus, you can choose any seat you want once you’re on the plane. While that might be a little confusing at first, once you know what you’re doing, it’s a great system.

Knowing what type of flyer you are can help guide you to the right seat. Once you know what works best for you, you’ll be boarding your flights like a pro.

Frequently Asked Questions

What rows have the most legroom on Southwest Airlines?

If legroom is what you’re after, you’ll want to look for a seat in the first row (the bulkhead) of the aircraft or the exit rows. If you’re flying on a Boeing 737-700, the absolute most legroom is in seat 12A which is missing the seat in front of it. On a Boeing 737-800 or Boeing 737 MAX 8, the seats with the most legroom are 16A and 16F.

Can families sit together on Southwest?

Yes, if you’re traveling with young children you will be able to sit together. When you are traveling with a child 6 years old or younger, you’ll be able to use family boarding which takes place before the B group. This ensures you’ll be able to find seats together. If you aren’t traveling with young children, head to the back of the plane when you board for your best chances of finding seats together.

How do you get priority boarding on Southwest?

If you’d like a better boarding position on Southwest, there are a few ways to get it.

  • You can purchase a Business Select ticket which will automatically come with an A1 to A15 boarding position.
  • You can purchase EarlyBird Check-In which will automatically check you in up to 36 hours ahead of time (EarlyBird Check-In comes free with Anytime tickets).
  • You can purchase an Upgraded Boarding position beginning 24 hours before departure if there are spaces available. This will give you an A1 to A15 boarding position.

Where should I sit on a Southwest flight?

The best place to sit on a Southwest flight depends on a few factors. If you want extra legroom, look for the bulkhead seats or exit row seats. If you want the best chance of having an empty seat next to you, head to the mid-back of the plane. If you’ve got a tight connection, stick to an aisle seat in the front of the plane.

What row on Southwest gets drinks first?

To get the fastest drink service on a Southwest Airlines flight, choose row 1, 9, or 17 on a 737-700, or choose row 1, 9, 16, or 23 on a 737-800 or 737 MAX 8.

What is the best seat on Southwest Airlines?

While the best seat can be subjective, seats with the most legroom are often the most coveted. These seats include the bulkhead seats (row 1), the exit row seats, and the window seats behind the exit row door (seat 12A on the Boeing 737-700 and seats 16A and 16F on the Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 737 MAX 8).

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About Katie Seemann

Katie has been in the points and miles game since 2015 and started her own blog in 2016. She’s been freelance writing since then and her work has been featured in publications like Travel + Leisure, Forbes Advisor, and Fortune Recommends.

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