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Southwest Is Changing Its Boarding Process Again, Starting Tuesday

It may soon be harder and more expensive to get on the plane faster.

Southwest Airlines is known for having a rather unique approach to boarding: Instead of assigning seats like most other airlines, this low-cost carrier allows passengers to pick where they sit on a first-come, first-served basis. But since last year, Southwest has been making changes to this process—from testing the ability to allow families with young children priority boarding to letting passengers digitally upgrade their boarding position. Now, they're planning another switch-up, and it's starting next week. Read on to find out about the latest changes to Southwest boarding.

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Southwest allows customers to pay extra for an earlier boarding position.

southwest airlines gate
V_E / Shutterstock

Southwest's boarding process can be quite competitive. But for years, the airline has offered passengers the opportunity to pay extra to get on the plane faster with EarlyBird Check-In. This option lets customers check-in before the typical 24-hour check-in, which grants "the benefit of an earlier boarding position, a better opportunity to select your preferred available seat, and earlier access to overhead bin storage for your carryon luggage," per Southwest's website.

While the airline used to charge a flat fee of $15 for EarlyBird Check-In, it changed to dynamic pricing in 2018, View from the Wing reported. Since then, customers have had to deal with the price going up to as high as $25, depending on the popularity and length of the flight.

Now, Southwest is making another change to its EarlyBird Check-In that could make it harder and more expensive to board before everyone else.

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The airline is getting rid of EarlyBird Check-In for some flights.

Southwest Airlines website homepage. Southwest Airlines logo visible on the phone screen.

Southwest customers have gotten used to paying more than $15 if it secures them an earlier boarding position. But the airline's newest change means it may no longer be an option at all. As of next week, Southwest Airlines will no longer sell EarlyBird Check-In for all of its trips, View from the Wing reported.

"Beginning August 15, EarlyBird Check-In will be subject to availability on certain flights, routes, or days, and that will mean EarlyBird Check-In is unavailable for some customers looking to purchase it," an internal Southwest memo reads, per View from the Wing.

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Southwest says it's trying to modernize the customer experience.

Passengers boarding a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-800

Southwest does not currently limit the number of passengers allowed to buy EarlyBird Check-In on each flight, and the airline notes on its website that paying for it does not guarantee you a boarding position in the first group. If everyone buys EarlyBird for one specific flight, you could be spending extra and still end up among the last to board—a frustration Southwest may be trying to prevent with its upcoming change, per View from the Wing.

"Many initiatives are underway across the company to modernize the customer experience and win more customers, aligning with our five strategic priorities," Southwest's memo states. "This focus brings an opportunity to evolve our fare and ancillary products, while maintaining the value they bring to our customers."

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You can still get on early, if you're willing to pay even more.

Southwest Airlines passenger watching planes from departure gate window

If EarlyBird Check-In isn't available, you may still have the opportunity to secure the seat you want—but it'll cost you.

According to the memo, customers will still be able to purchase the airline's most expensive fare, Business Select, which guarantees you one of the first 15 boarding spots. But if there are fewer than 15 Business Select passengers on a flight, Southwest also gives customers the option to buy one of the remaining top spots as "upgraded boarding." That upgrade costs $85, however, which is significantly more than EarlyBird Check-In, View from the Wing notes.

Customers have been quick to share their disappointment online.

"The change in the EarlyBird Check-In, where they may not be available on certain flights, isn't giving people smiley faces," one person replied to Southwest's official X account. "A Facebook post by a friend mentioned it and said 'guess it's Delta from now on.' I also won't buy a flight that I can't get EarlyBird."

Another user wrote on X, "@SouthwestAir So disappointed you guys are getting rid of EarlyBird Check-In. You are no longer a low budget carrier so I guess it's time for me to find a new favorite. Southwest use to care about us little people but not anymore."

Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
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