Why You Can't Go First-Class on Southwest Airlines Flights

Get the Most Out of a Southwest Airlines Flight

southwest in flight
••• Southwest planes are readily identifiable, thanks to their distinctive color pattern. Dennis Macdonald/Getty.

Planning on flying Southwest airlines? It's a smart idea since Southwest Airlines offers some of the cheapest vacation airfares around. And you'll never have to feel jealous walking past passengers in the Southwest First Class section... because there is none.

What to Know Before Booking a Southwest Flight 

  • Southwest tickets are sold only on Southwest.com (the number one airline website for sales and revenue) and at airport ticket offices. You will not see Southwest flights listed on Expedia, Travelocity, Kayak, Hipmunk or Orbitz.
  • Although Southwest began as a regional airline, it now flies across the USA and internationally to vacation areas in Mexico. See Route Map.
  • There are a variety of ticket classes travelers can choose.  Southwest first class does not exist.
  • The lowest fares are "Wanna Get Away" and promotional fares; the most expensive are Business Select rates. And in the true spirit of a "peoples' airline," the latter is as upscale as it gets. Business Select seats, which measure the same paltry 17" across as economy ones, could never be mistaken for first-class seats. However, Business Select benefits include access to faster security lines, guaranteed early boarding, a free drink, and extra Rapid Rewards point. 
  • Plan your trip in advance, then wait for a fare sale to buy your ticket on Southwest.com. Sales occur fairly often during non-peak travel times, and you can save as much as $200 per ticket if you time things right.
  • To get the early word on sales and deals, sign up for Southwest's Click'n Save newsletter.
  • The Search Lowest Fares by Month function is useful if your travel dates are flexible.
  • There are no seat assignments on Southwest Airlines. If you pay a $15 fee for EarlyBird Check-In online, it improves seat selection options by enabling you to board earlier and makes it easier to find a spot for your carry-ons in the overhead bin. The fee is good for one direction, so if you are traveling roundtrip, you will need to pay it again to receive that benefit. 
  • Southwest prides itself on not charging for the first two checked-in bags, as long as they meet weight requirements. There is no charge for a carry-on bag, either.
  • Don't expect your flight to be very comfortable unless you travel at an unpopular time and find an empty seat next to you. The Southwest Airlines fleet relies on Boeing 737 jets, which have some of the narrowest seats (about 17" across) in the air.
  • Do expect your flight to be no-frills. On a recent five-plus hour flight from New York to Las Vegas, soft drinks and salty snacks were served. So if your flight is longer than a few hours or you don't want to eat junk food, bring your own meal.
  • Onboard entertainment consists of a live TV feed. Wi-fi is available on select flights for a fee.
  • Southwest's Frequent Flyer program is called Rapid Rewards, and travelers can enroll for free. There are no blackout dates, and points do not expire as long as you travel every two years. Business Select Fares earn twice the points per dollar as Wanna Get Away Fares.
  • The maximum size for a carry-on is 10 x 16 x 24 inches (a generous 50 linear inches).
  • Want to travel with your pet? Only small, vaccinated, domestic cats and dogs are permitted onboard and must be kept in a carrier small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. The fee is $95. Pets are not shipped as cargo.

    Tips That Southwest Airlines Insiders Know

    • By using Southwest Vacation Specials, couples can save money on a flight + lodging in Las Vegas, Cancun, Orlando, Los Angeles, Jamaica and other popular destinations. Vacation packages are available from Southwest Airlines departure cities.
    • Families with very young children are permitted to pre-board. Oftentimes, they are seated in the front of the plane. To avoid them, choose a row toward the back of the plane.
    • If the two of you buy an extra seat (which is quite affordable during fare sales), you will not only have your own row to stretch out on (larger across than two first-class seats on other airlines), but you will be entitled to pre-board...and locate yourselves a safe distance from any screaming babies up front.

    Despite Southwest Airlines' commitment to low prices, it manages to have some of the best-humored flight attendants of any airline.

    They appear legitimately happy to be working there and are pleasant to passengers. Many flight attendants have been known to deliver absolutely hilarious but pointed safety demonstrations that get passengers to look up from their screens or papers and actually pay attention to the information that could save a life.