The Basics

Does Southwest Boarding Pass “A1” Really Mean You Get Any Seat?

Written by Charlie

If you get the valuable Southwest boarding pass A1, does that really mean you get to pick any seat you want on the plane? Maybe and maybe not!

Last month, I flew Southwest a few times (and I am a big fan of Southwest overall so loved it!). On one of the trips, I got a Southwest boarding pass I never had before – A1.

Does Southwest Boarding Pass “A1” Really Mean You Get Any Seat?

What Is Southwest Boarding Pass A1 and How Do You Get It?

If you are a Southwest Business Select customer (which means you bought an expensive ticket), you will automatically get boarding pass A1 – A15. That means you will pretty much get the seat of your choice on the plane.

Another way to get an A1 – A15 boarding pass is by purchasing it at the counter. It costs $40 ($50 for some routes) for a flight and it will give you a random assignment in that very first boarding group. On a recent trip, I checked in exactly at 24 hours before and got C3. That was terrible, especially when the flight was delayed late enough that I might have not been able to get my rental car before they closed. Getting C03 would have meant that I was going to be in a middle seat or way in the back – neither one good if I am trying to get off the plane quickly.

How I Ended Up with Boarding Pass A1

Because I could not afford to miss the rental car pickup time and I had to get on the road for a morning meeting, I went ahead and paid the $40 to get a A1 – A15 boarding pass. To my surprise, I got the special A1 boarding pass! That meant I would be at the front of the line and should have my pick of seats.

Not the First Boarder…

Now, they do pre-boarding of those customers who need more time (elderly, wheelchairs, etc) and those people must have special boarding passes assigned to them at check-in. That means they won’t be sitting in exit rows so that leaves those empty for you.

On this particular flight, they loaded 4 people first. Even though it was a 3 hour flight, I didn’t care about  getting an exit row seat. Since I needed to get off quick, I wanted row 1 in either seat C or D for aisle access.

The Plane May Not Be Empty!

When I got on the plane, I was surprised to find about 14 or more people already on the plane. Then I remembered how Southwest does routes and realized these were passengers from the last stop that were continuing on to where I was headed.

The problem with this was that they all had moved around the plane while it was on the ground and they were already in the prime seats all over the plane. Fortunately, seat 1D was still available (the only seat in row 1 that was available) so I took that. But, had I wanted an exit row, I would have been pretty miffed that I paid that money for early access only to find other people already onboard and in those seats.

So, having boarding pass A1 does not necessarily mean you will get the exact seat you want. I would suggest that if you are buying up at the airport that you ask at the counter how many people will still be on the plane from the previous airport. That will give you an idea of whether or not you can get a prime spot with your purchase. In any case, my seat was still way better than whatever I would have had with C03!

Have you ever had Southwest boarding pass A1? Did you get the exact seat you wanted?

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About the author


Charlie has been an avid traveler and runner for many years. He has run in marathons around the world for less than it would cost to travel to the next town - all as a result of collecting and using miles and points. Over the years, he has flown hundreds of thousands of miles and collected millions of miles and points.
Now he uses this experience and knowledge to help others through Running with Miles.


  • Southwest priority boarding is a game. A few times I had to tell the agent to board me early because I needed extra time and I got on first. That the way to do it. They don’t check to see if you are eligible to do it. I would never pay SWA to board early, especially when you can do it for free.