United Airlines Seating Assignments On Southwest

How can I check in for my United Airlines (UA) flight?

You may check-in for your United Airlines (UA) flight with the following options:

  • Online check-in (Web check-in)
  • Mobile check-in
  • Voice check-in
  • Auto check-in
  • Curbside check-in at the airport
  • Self-service kiosk check-in at the airport
  • Ticket counter check-in at the airport

Does United Airlines (UA) have online web check-in?

Yes, you may check-in for your United Airlines (UA) flight online starting 24 hours and ending 60 minutes before the scheduled departure time (depending on your departure city and destination) to receive a mobile boarding pass on your mobile device or a printable boarding pass. You may use this option if:

  • you have an electronic ticket and the first flight is on United Airlines (UA)
  • you may access your reservation with your confirmation code, e-ticket number, or frequent flyer account
  • you are not a special needs passenger (for example an unaccompanied minor or traveling with a pet)

Can I check bags with the United Airlines (UA) online web check-in?: Yes, you may check bags but you must drop them at the airport baggage drop before the check-in deadline for your flight.

Can I pay bag fees with the United Airlines (UA) online web check-in?: Yes

Can I select or change my seat with the United Airlines (UA) online web check-in?: Yes

Does United Airlines (UA) offer mobile check-in?

Yes, you may check-in for your United Airlines (UA) flight with your mobile device starting 24 hours and ending 60 minutes before the scheduled departure time (depending on your departure city and destination) to receive a mo-bile boarding pass on your mobile device. You may use this option if:

  • you have an electronic ticket and the first flight is on United Airlines (UA)
  • you may access your reservation with your confirmation code, e-ticket number, or frequent flyer account
  • you are not a special needs passenger (for example, an unaccompanied minor)
  • you are departing from an airport which accepts mobile boarding passes (if not, then you may check-in and print a boarding pass at the self-service kiosk or ticket counter)

Does United Airlines (UA) offer curbside check-in? (US Carriers only)

Yes, you may check-in for your United Airlines (UA) flight curbside at most U S airport locations from 30 minutes to 4 hours before the scheduled departure time (depending on your departure city and destination). You will need your photo ID and also your flight reservation code, flight number destination, or electronic ticket number to check-in. Please check United Airlines (UA) website for an exact list of participating airports and minimum check-in times.

Does United Airlines (UA) offer self-service kiosk check-in?

Yes, you may check-in for your United Airlines (UA) flight at the airport self-service kiosk from 30 minutes to 3 hours before the scheduled departure time (depending on your departure city and destination) and receive a printed boarding pass.

Can I check bags with the United Airlines (UA) self-service kiosk check-in?: Yes

Can I pay bag fees with the United Airlines (UA) self-service kiosk check-in?: Yes

Can I select or change my seat with the United Airlines (UA) self-service kiosk check-in?: Yes

Does United Airlines (UA) offer ticket counter check-in?

Yes, you may check-in for your United Airlines (UA) flight at the airport ticket counter from 30 minutes to 3 hours before the scheduled departure time (depending on your departure city and destination) and receive a printed boarding pass.

Can I check bags at the United Airlines (UA) ticket counter check-in?: Yes

Can I pay bag fees at the United Airlines (UA) ticket counter check-in?: Yes

Can I select or change my seat at the United Airlines (UA) ticket counter check-in?: Yes

What is United Airlines (UA) Voice Check-in?

Voice Check-in allows quick and easy check in for your United flight over the phone if you do not have access to the Internet or a mobile device. Customers traveling within the U.S. or Canada with less than 10 people in their party are eligible for voice check-in.

With Voice Check-in, you may tell the number of bags you want to check, hear your baggage service charges and arrange either for your boarding documents to be delivered by email or to pick them up at an airport kiosk.

To use this option you will need to call 1-800-864-8331 and say "check in" during the automated menu.

What is Auto Check-in?

When you check in for the first segment of your flight, if your itinerary is eligible, then you will be given the option to select Auto Check-in for the remaining segment or a return flight. When your remaining segment or return flight departure is within the 24-hour window, Auto Check-in will take the necessary steps to check you in for the flight. When you select this feature, you'll choose how you prefer to receive your boarding pass, such as by email or mobile device (where applicable), or print at an airport kiosk.

Does United Airlines (UA) charge a fee for a seat assignment?

United Airlines (UA) does not charge a fee for selecting a standard seat assignment.

When do I need to check-in for my United Airlines (UA) flight?

The minimum time to check-in for a United Airlines (UA) flight is:

  • 30 minutes before scheduled departure time for US domestic flights
  • 60 minutes before scheduled departure time for international flights to/from the US

When do I need to arrive at the airport for my United Airlines (UA) flight?

Suggested arrival time:

  • 1 hour before scheduled departure time for US domestic flights
  • 2 hours before scheduled departure time for international flights to/from the US*

Minimum required check-in time with carry-on baggage baggage:

  • 30 minutes before scheduled departure time for US domestic flights*
  • 60 minutes before scheduled departure time for international flights to/from the US*

Minimum required check-in time with checked baggage:

  • 30 minutes before scheduled departure time for US domestic flights*
  • 60 minutes before scheduled departure time for international flights to/from the US*

*Several heavy travel U S domestic cities have minimum check-in time of 45 minutes and some non-U S cities have minimum check-in times of 75 to 90 minutes. Check united.com for exact details.

When do I need to be at the boarding gate?

Boarding closes at the following times for United Airlines (UA) flights:

  • 15 minutes before scheduled departure time for US domestic flights
  • 30 minutes before scheduled departure time for most international flights to/from the US. Some non-US airports close boarding 60 minutes before scheduled departure time. Check united.com for exact details.

I flew Southwest to Havana last week, which is the first time in five years that I flew Southwest.

The reason I don’t fly them has to do with me valuing traditional loyalty programs and a global route network, rather than any issue I have with the airline as such. Southwest is (for the most part) extremely well run, and really the most full service airline in the U.S., as they don’t charge for checked bags and allow free ticket changes. Furthermore, their flight attendants know how to hustle, and could teach the crews at some other carriers a trick or two.

But the part of the Southwest experience I found the most interesting was the boarding process. People have long teased Southwest for their “cattle call” boarding, and this was the first time I’ve flown Southwest and paid attention to the process… and I liked it a lot more than I was expecting… in some ways.

How is boarding order determined on Southwest?

On Southwest passengers are broken up into three groups — A, B, and C — and each passenger is given a number in that range, typically from 1 to 60.

The plane is boarded in order of your priority, meaning that A1 boards first, and C60 boards last (assuming there are passengers with those numbers). So while other airlines have zones, Southwest literally has an exact order in which people board.

So first Southwest lines up the people with “A” boarding passes, and you stand in groups of five.

30 people from each zone stand on the left, and 30 on the right, and then the monitors change when they are ready to board the next group.

While many people care about boarding priority in general to ensure they can get their bags in the overhead bins, it’s especially important on Southwest, given that they have open seating, so it also determines where you sit.

How can you secure early boarding on Southwest?

Assuming you don’t want to pay extra for priority boarding, your best bet is to check-in online exactly 24 hours out. If you do so, you’ll almost always get an “A” boarding pass, which means you’ll be among the first third (or so) of people to board. That should be more than enough to secure you a decent seat.

However, there are options to get even better boarding positions than that:

  • If you purchase a BusinessSelect Fare, you’ll be guaranteed a seat in the A1-A15 range
  • A-List members automatically get a boarding position right behind BusinessSelect customers
  • You can pay for EarlyBird Check-In, where Southwest will automatically check you in 36 hours before departure, meaning you’ll typically have a great boarding priority; however, this doesn’t guarantee a specific boarding number, and the priority still comes behind A-List members
  • While not a paid option, families get to board after the A group and before the B group

How chaotic was Southwest boarding?

As I said above, Southwest has historically been known for their “cattle call” boarding. But I’m not sure that’s totally fair, given that this is what the gate looks like for most American flights I take nowadays:

So I was shocked to find how orderly the Southwest boarding process was. Admittedly this is a small sample size, but only about a third of the plane got up when boarding was initially called (those in the A group), everyone seemed to know what was going on, etc.

The process was extremely civilized. People lined up in their “areas,” and could quite easily tell who belonged where. At most people seemed to ask one or two other people about their position — “I’m A32, what are you?”

I thought it was significantly more civilized than the pushing and shoving and crowding I’m used to on other airlines. So I actually love the process Southwest has for letting people on the plane.

What I don’t love, however, is the Southwest policy of not assigning seats. I get the idea, but in practice I found it to be chaos on both of my flights. Admittedly these were flights to and from Havana which is probably a different experience than usual, but it was chaos in both directions.

People were reserving entire rows, the crew specifically announced that people couldn’t reserve seats, but of course that didn’t stop people from taking it upon themselves to do so. Then towards the end of boarding everyone would walk to the back of the plane thinking they’d get an aisle or window there, only to end up coming back to the front of the plane and getting a middle seat.

Bottom line

Perhaps this flight was an exception but I found the process of boarding my Southwest flight to be significantly more civilized than what I’m used to on other airlines. I’m just not a fan of the open seating policy, as it encourages people to reserve seats, spread out in ways they wouldn’t otherwise in hopes of getting an empty middle, etc. But that’s just me.

What do you make of Southwest’s boarding process? Was my experience typical for Southwest?

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