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Living near BWI Airport (Southwest hub) and having the Southwest Companion pass for the past 4 years, I fly Southwest a LOT. The flight attendants are very friendly, there is no charge for checking two bags, tons of nonstop flights from BWI, and there are no change or cancellation fees. One thing I don't like about Southwest is their open seating policy. Let me explain.
How it works
Southwest's open seating policy is unique to the airline industry - I can't think of another airline that does it. Seats are not assigned. When you check in for your flight, you are assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and a number in the group (1-60).
When it's time to board, usually 30 minutes prior to departure, this is the following boarding order:
- Preboarders - passengers with disabilities or needing assistance
- A1 thru A15 - passengers who purchase the most expensive Business Select Fares
- A15 thru A60
- Active Military & Family Boarding - immediate family members traveling with children 6 and under
- B1 thru B60
- C1 thru C60
Getting a better boarding position
There are a few ways to get a better boarding position if you are not disabled or traveling with children 6 and under:
- Most Expensive - purchase a Business Select fare to receive A1-A15
- Least Expensive - purchase early bird check-In for $15 dollars - Southwest will automatically check-in for you 36 hours before departure. While not guaranteed an A boarding group, your chances are very good.
- Free - check in exactly at the 24 hour before departure mark
While the early bird check-in cost is not totally outrageous, it can add up if you are a family of 4. $15 x 4 = $60 each way, or $120 for a roundtrip flight.
I usually check in at the 24 hour mark and have always received either between a late A boarding (A45-A60) thru a late B boarding number depending on the flight and time of year. I have always been able to get an aisle or window seat even during the busiest travel times of the year (Christmas, Thanksgiving, & Spring Break). I have never received a C boarding number and have never been stuck in a middle seat.
The Travel Hack
Since checking in exactly at the 24 hour mark is key to getting the best boarding position without any extra cost, I'm going to show you how to install a script (small program written by someone) on your web browser that will check you in automatically.
You won't have to be sitting at your computer at the 24 hour prior to departure mark waiting to check in. The script will even have your boarding pass sent by text to your mobile phone.
There are a few steps involved in setting this up. First we are going to install a script manager, Tampermonkey - a browser extension to run the script. Tampermonkey is a free browser extension to mange scripts. Tampermonkey is available for Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, and a some Android browers (UC Browser & Dolphin Browser).
Then I'll show you how to run the script. In my example below, I show you how to install using Google Chrome. Steps should be very similar with other web browsers.
Step 1 - Go to Chrome Extensions store and search for Tampermonkey: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/search/tampermonkey
Step 2 - Click on '+ Add to Chrome' button
Step 3 - Look for the rectangular with two circles icon in the toolbar and click on it, then click to 'Enable' Tampermonkey
Step 4 - You will know it is enabled when there is a green checkmark and not a red x
Step 5 - Click on 'Create a new script...'
Step 6 - Delete the 15 lines of example code
Step 7 - Go to Chrome's Extensions, click the settings icon -> more tools -> extensions
Step 8 - Scroll down until you get to Tampermonkey and check the 'Allow in incognito' box.
Step 9 - Head over to https://gist.github.com/trevormcclellan/59b78544f416edf65f2c to get the script
Step 10 - Copy all lines of code from 1 all the way down to 457 at the bottom
Step 11 - Go back to the Tampermonkey tab from Step 6 and paste all 457 lines of code into the new script
Step 12 - Hit the save button. The script is now should be running.
Using the Script
Step 1 - Head over to Southwest.com and click on the 'Check In' tab
Step 2 - You will get an error message that you can't check in yet because the your flight is more than 24 hours from departure. If you see the 'Set Check In Date and Time' fields as shown below, this is the script running and was installed correctly.
Step 3 - Enter your check in date & time (24 hours prior to departure).
Step 4 - Enter the phone number you would like the boarding pass texted to.
Step 5 - Click the 'Auto Check In' button. If you see the time remaining start and countdown, the script is working properly.
Step 6 - Sit back and let the script do it's work, if everything worked properly, you will see this screen and get a text with your boarding pass at check in time.
Words of caution
- Depending on your computer, you may have to keep the hard drive from falling asleep so the script can run, on my Mac, I make this adjustment under System Preferences -> Energy Saver -> uncheck appropriate boxes.
- If you don't want to mess with system preferences to keep your computer awake, I found a small simple free program called Caffeine (for Macs).
- When using the script Step 3 - don't forget to make any adjustments for different time zones (i.e. you are setting this for your flight from San Diego to Baltimore but your computer is in Baltimore, don't forget there is a 3 hour time difference for the departure time
- Check/update your computer's clock to make sure it is accurate. I also add a few seconds to the check in time to ensure it works properly in case my computer's clock is slightly different than Southwest's clock (i.e. your flight is at 8:00 AM, I'll set the check in time to 8:00:02 (2 seconds after 8:00am)
- Open separate incognito windows and repeat the 'using the script' steps if you have multiple flights or multiple passengers to check in for. I'll just minimize the windows once they are set and running.
- I don't believe this will work for international southwest flights since there are additional screens for emergency contact info and passports.
Did you know Southwest doesn't have any change fees? If the price of your flight drops you can simply rebook to the lower fare and save $$$. Read this post on how to get a text when prices drop.
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