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8 Ways to Get Other Passengers to Pass You By on Southwest

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Flying on Southwest can be a great experience, but because of the airline’s open boarding process with no assigned seats, boarding can be both exciting and a tedious task. Today, TPG Associate Editor Emily McNutt takes a tongue-in-cheek look at how you can best get other passengers to not take the seat directly next to you when flying Southwest.

The efficiency and likability of Southwest’s open boarding process is up for debate, but it’s likely to lead to an adventure check time you fly on the low-cost carrier. The idea of not having an assigned seat can be an anxiety-inducing thought for some. Where to sit, if you’re going to get stuck with the dreaded middle seat — or worse yet, if someone takes the seat right next to you on a near-empty flight.

That being said, the Southwest Companion Pass is one of the most lucrative benefits out there, as it allows you to designate a travel companion and bring him or her on all of your Southwest Flights — even award tickets. There are a number of ways to go about getting the benefit, the easiest of which by signing up for both the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Card and the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Business Card, both of which are offering 50,000 points after spending $2,000 in the first three months. The carrier continues to expand its list of international destinations — in December, it announced that it would be adding a flight between Los Angeles and Liberia, Costa Rica, as well as a flight between Houston and Costa Rica — and it remains one of the only carriers with no checked bag and change fees, making it an appealing option.

It's actually pretty easy to rack up Rapid Rewards.
Southwest’s open boarding process can be challenging for all parties involved.

If you’ve flown Southwest, you know the feeling: You’re one of the first passengers to board, you’ve assumed the position at your preferred window or aisle seat and are waiting for everyone else to board before take off, hoping that no one sits next to you. Whereas on other airlines, there’s nothing you can do to prevent someone with an assigned seat from claiming what’s theirs, with Southwest’s boarding process, there’s an added element of exhilaration in discouraging everyone who passes down the aisle to refrain from taking the adjacent middle seat. You might have to become one of the worst types of airline passengers for a short while, but it could all be worth it in the end. It becomes a challenge — how to make the most passengers pass you by without having anyone sit next to you, and here are eight ways to make that happen:

1. The Sick Passenger

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
No vacation-goer is going to risk getting sick on the way to their destination. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Who wants to risk getting sick by voluntarily sitting next to someone who’s visibly ill? No one. Bring out the props and put your acting skills to the test. Perhaps make a stop at a convenience store within the terminal to pick up some cough drops and a box of tissues. Maybe place the box on the middle seat as an extra deterrent from anyone who was debating taking their chances of sitting next to a sniffling, sneezing and coughing neighbor.

2. The Talkative Passenger

Nobody wants to be stuck next to this guy.
Nobody wants to be stuck next to this guy. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Even if you’re not the type who talks loudly on their phone, now’s the time to speak up and let everyone know what time you’re expected to land, where you’ll be eating dinner that night and what happened in the Uber on your way to the airport this morning. I mean, who’s going to sit next to the person who’s blabbering away from the minute they board until everyone is seated? Probably no one — unless they have access to completely soundproof headphones, and in which case it’s still a last resort.

3. The Enlarged Passenger

passenger shaming
At least he looks comfortable… Image courtesy of Passenger Shaming.

This one is easy. Grab your neck pillow — or head sock with a breathing hole as seen above — and make yourself as large as possible and then fall asleep — or “fall asleep.” Try your best to slowly inch toward encroaching on the middle seat, making it known to all passerby that this movement is entirely possible — and probable — during the flight. And as an added bonus for this maneuver, you can avoid the dreaded eye contact with all those passing by. The less eye contact that’s involved, the better.

4. The Working Passenger

The middle tray table looks like an appealing place to spread out all of your work.
The middle tray table looks like an appealing place to spread out all of your work. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

One of the best ways to make the middle seat seem already occupied is to utilize its space yourself. The working passenger strategically folds down the tray table for the middle seat, ignores all warnings from FAs that it must be placed in its upright and locked position before takeoff and starts working before anyone has the chance to sit in the seat. Not only do you have more room to make yourself comfortable while seated, but there’s also added workspace for you to organize everything in two seats instead of fumbling for things on your lap. Win-win scenario here.

5. The Musical Passenger

loud music
No one wants to hear your Taylor Swift album on high volume. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

We’ve all heard the dreaded sound — whether it be on the subway, walking behind someone down the street or from across the office — of music that’s far too loud coming from someone’s headphones. Even if they are the supposed soundproof headphones, a set ear buds or anything of the liking — if the music is too loud, the people around you are going to hear it and most likely not be happy about it. And that is definitely not something a seatmate would want to be subjected to for an entire flight. Better yet, play the music on speaker volume and stage the forgotten headphones scenario. You forgot your headphones at home but were really really looking forward to catching up on the latest episode of Game of Thrones, so you were hoping that your neighboring passenger wouldn’t mind if you played it out loud. Probably an automatic deterrent for a potential seatmate.

6. The Unfriendly Passenger

Let it be known you don't want to spend your flight chatting.
Let it be known you don’t want to spend your flight chatting.

This one takes a bit more planning, as you really and truly have to make yourself look unfriendly for all who are passing by. Throw on a graphic t-shirt that’ll make you look like you don’t want to talk to anyone — we’ve all seen those shirts that explicitly inform others “I don’t want to talk to you” — wear your sunglasses, pull down your window shade and don’t show a sign of friendliness toward those walking past. This is your time to show that you don’t want any part of being seated next to someone. Hopefully they’ll take the hint.

7. The Strategic Passengers

The new Southwest seat, coming soon to the 737 aircraft. Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines.
Southwest’s new 737 seats. Image courtesy of Southwest Airlines.

You and your travel partner are two of the first group of passengers to board — definitely A 1-30, possibly A 31-60 — and take an entire row to yourself. But which two seats do you take? Window and middle, or aisle and middle so you’re next to each other? No! Take the window and aisle seats because you’re immediately discouraging anyone who is coming down the aisle from claiming that dreaded seat for themselves when there is the possibility of a window or aisle seat father back in the cabin. If you’re traveling alone, an alternative to this is to make friends while you’re waiting to board and carry out the plan with a newfound friend — it’ll work best for the both of you.

8. The Argumentative Passengers

Taking a seat in between these two? No thank you. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.
Taking a seat in between these two? No thank you. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

No one wants to sit in the middle of or around an arguing couple. In fact, it almost sounds better to sit next to any of the aforementioned passengers. No level of music or soundproofing of headphones will be able to block out the annoyance and awkwardness of being put in the middle of that situation. Of course, I’m not talking about approaching on the type of argument that would warrant warning from a flight attendant, just a little tiff. Even if you and a friend are traveling together, put on your best act and become those passengers who are in the middle of a feud — it may make you sound a bit looney, but if anything, it’ll deter those coming down the aisle from wanting to sit next to you all flight.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, there’s not much you can do if it’s a full flight and every seat will be occupied, but in the instance where there will be some empty seats, it’s time to put your acting skills to the test to keep other passengers from taking the middle seat. It’s all in the strategies you implement that could make your flight all that much more enjoyable.

When flying Southwest, do you have any strategies for discouraging other passengers from taking the seat next to you? Share them below!

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