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Southwest Passengers Demand Airline Put an End to Early Boarding "Scam"

People are complaining about fellow travelers allegedly abusing wheelchair assistance.

It's not a stretch to say that getting on board a plane can be one of the most stressful parts of the air travel experience. Some airlines have even tinkered with their boarding process to save time and cut down on frustration. But now, Southwest passengers are demanding that the airline put an end to an early boarding "scam" that travelers are allegedly pulling. Read on to see why some flyers are so angry and what the carrier is doing about the problem.

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Angry Southwest passengers are complaining about an early boarding "scam."

Passengers boarding a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-800

Southwest stands out among airlines for its unique boarding process that does away with seating assignments, instead inviting travelers to board when their assigned group is called so they can then choose whichever spaces are available. Travelers can also purchase a spot in the coveted "A" group to help ensure they get their first pick of seats onboard.

While the process might seem chaotic, many appreciate the system—and there's even some data that suggests it's likely faster than more traditional row-by-row boarding. But lately, some Southwest passengers have become frustrated with what they see as an early boarding "scam" being used by travelers looking to get the best seats.

In a post on X (formerly known as Twitter) on Dec. 2, one traveler publically called out the airline while attaching a picture of a long line of passengers with Southwest wheelchairs lining up for preboarding on a flight from Orlando to Puerto Rico, per A View from the Wing.

"You need to control this," the user wrote. "[People] using wheelchairs to skip to front of line and using it as a baggage truck."

Other travelers have pointed out similar incidents where passengers appear to be abusing the policy.

Shot of queue of passengers waiting at boarding gate at airport. Group of people standing in queue to board airplane.

Unfortunately, this isn't the only noted incident involving travelers calling out others who appear to be abusing the preboarding system. In a post to X on Feb. 19, another user attached images of similarly long lines sent to them by a friend saying that "55 'handicapped' during preboarding, including 25 wheelchairs." They added that on the person's return flight, 15 passengers requested wheelchairs to board—while only one used it to deplane.

Another Southwest traveler posted an image of queueing passengers to X on June 24. "Preboarding scam @SouthwestAir, 20 passengers boarding using a wheelchair and probably only 3 need one to deplane," they wrote.

The posts struck a nerve, with the June 24 message generating hundreds of replies from passengers with similar stories. "I stopped flying @SouthwestAir after a man who was running from his car to the terminal in front of me, used this to get a great seat on a packed flight," one person alleged.

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Other travelers pushed back on the assumption that the passengers didn't need the wheelchairs and extra time.

Passengers in wheelchairs waiting to board a Southwest Airlines flight
iStock / John M. Chase

But while some passengers continued to fume about the potential "scam," others assured them that someone requiring special assistance might not be something you can easily see from afar.

"Due all respect, how do you know it's a scam?" one X user replied to the June 23 message. "Cannot judge by its look. Many are hidden with extreme pain like me."

Another X user asked for a little more understanding for people needing help. "Please remember that some of us have legitimate reasons to board early," they posted. "My companion is legally blind and I've had 3 foot surgeries. We both walk on and off but need the extra time. Not all disabilities are visible."

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The airline responded that it was following the law with its policy.

A Southwest Airlines airliner taking off with an air control tower in the background
Bradley Caslin/Shutterstock

Even as passengers voiced their frustration, Southwest replied to a few messages to explain their stance and apologize for the frustration.

"We work hard to maintain the integrity of the boarding process while providing appropriate accommodations for all who fly," the airline replied to the June 23 post. "Since many disabilities aren't visible, we're unable to question the validity of preboarding requests."

In a subsequent response to another user's reply, the carrier also pointed out that their preboarding policy complies with the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA). The legislation "prohibits discrimination in air travel," including barring airlines from refusing to transport people on the basis of disability and prohibiting the requirement of advance notice. Carriers must also "provide assistance with boarding, deplaning, and making connections" to passengers who request it.

Best Life has reached out to Southwest Airlines for official comment and will update this article with its response.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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