Southwest follows JetBlue's move in return to pre-pandemic boarding system
For much of the pandemic, Southwest Airlines had shifted to smaller boarding groups, making it easier for travelers to work in some social distancing as they made their way onto the plane.
Under the previous process, Southwest customers moved from the gate to the plane in groups of 10, rather than clusters of 30. Now, for better or worse, Southwest is once again boarding groups of 30 customers at a time — following a similar move by JetBlue to return to its pre-pandemic process.
A Southwest spokesperson shared the following statement with TPG:
Many Customers are familiar with Southwest’s standard boarding style, and the expectation for the normal boarding process was becoming increasingly important as additional Customers travel with us. Southwest Airlines still maintains distancing reminders in airport areas and encourages social distancing. Additionally, Customers and Employees are required to wear face masks at all times, per the federal mask mandate.
Since Southwest doesn't offer assigned seating, boarding groups are especially important — the sooner you get on the plane, the more seats you'll have to choose from.
Related: Everything you need to know about the best seats on Southwest Airlines
Generally, customers can expect to board in the following order:
- Group A 1–60
- Family boarding, active military and A-List/A-List Preferred
- Group B 1–60
- Group C 1–60
Want more airline-specific news? Sign up for TPG's free new biweekly Aviation newsletter!
The letter groups above are spilt into two sections — A1-A30 boards together, for example, followed by A31-A60. Generally, the first groups are reserved for customers paying for early boarding, either by purchasing a Business Select fare or Upgraded Boarding, though elite status can get you closer to the front of the line, too.
With enforced mask mandates and growing immunity thanks to a more aggressive vaccine rollout, social distancing will become less critical as time goes on. Still, to some, this move may feel a bit premature. At this point, there are definitely travelers who'd much rather be standing near nine other people at a time instead of 30.