Pre-Board Abuse

Anyone here who flies frequently notice an increase in the number of passengers who are taking advantage the pre-board option? Especially on Southwest?
I use wheelchair full time and always need to preboarder and use a aisle chair. If I am flying Southwest I can transfer directly from my chair to a seat in the front rows but only if they are not already occupied. The gate agents are always really good about getting me on first but there is always a line of at least ten other “disabled” people jockeying for position behind me and giving me dirty looks because I get to board first. What’s amazing is that the majority of them are all ambulatory and walk down the jetway without any assistance at all and when we get to our destination pop right up and sprint out the plane.
Am I wrong in being totally annoyed with this or is it just my imagination that this seems to be happening more and more. I also fly other airlines that have assigned seats and I never see the number of pre-boarders that I do when I fly Southwest. I understand that there are a lot of peoples who need assistance to get through the terminals to the gates because of the distances involved but to then get preferential seating for no real reason seems wrong to me.


I am in the same position as you - full time wheelchair user who can get to seat myself if it is right in the front. So far Southwest has been very good for this but I do agree with everything you said re the often many pre boarders some of whom seem quite capable of walking a way down the aisle.

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I completely agree about the abuse of pre board being over the top. I am ambulatory just barely, use a portable wheelchair to travel and need to pre board to get seated. I also need the bulkhead for front row as I travel with my service dog. I have literally had people PUSH past me on the jetway trying to get to that front row. I have to say that the personnel for SW airlines are amazing and request that the pushers move so my service dog and I am access and sit in that front row. Don’t even get me started on the abuse of disabled parking spots. I hear “I am on RUNNING right in for a minute”. Gee wish I could RUN IN for a minute.


I dont know if southwest is doing it but some other airlines are now letting people pay to preboard frontier airlines does it

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I agree this is totally wrong. I’m newly in a wheelchair and I’m curious how people handle airlines where you pick your seat online. The front seats are almost always taken. Do you just fly Southwest? Or do you take whatever you can get and board early but accept you might have to move if someone needs to get over you to get to their seat? My anxiety is off the charts over this stuff and haven’t traveled because of the unknown.


Yes, yes, yes, you are absolutely correct as it relates to Southwest Airlines. I too use a wheelchair full-time and need full transfer, and aisle chair to get into my seat at Southwest Airlines. Typically that’s the first row because it’s the easiest.

Surprisingly, it seems like at least a year or two ago all of a sudden the pre-board line for a flight at Southwest, as you point out, has 10 or so people waiting for pre-boarding privileges. Now I realize you can’t tell visually perhaps a persons disability, but you are so spot on, they get to the door, they walk effortlessly to their seat. The flight arrives, they literally run off the flight, get to baggage claim, and they’re on their way ,

Clearly, they have learned how to game the system!

A Southwest gate agent told me that he looks at the wheelchairs, and obviously can tell when a person brings their own wheelchair that they are in need of special assistance and special seating, in contrast to what he described, as many people who simply want to take it vantage of pre-boarding . He said it really irritates the gate agents but there’s nothing they can do.

So it’s just like handicap parking, my favorite gripe at Costco, people fill up the handicap parking, walk all through Costco without any aids or wheelchairs, and walk right back out and get into their cars in handicap parking. How shameful.

I do approach the gate agent once I see that they have logged in and seem to have a moment, and I politely asked them for an aisle chair, and if I could please pre-board because I’ll need extra assistance. Never have I been refused such courtesy and accommodation by Southwest, or actually any other airline.

I don’t let it bother me anymore because I don’t want it to affect my enjoyment of traveling …

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Southwest bough me a new $40000 PWC when they dumped mine on the Tarmac from 6’ high


Hi Joyce,

I do fly other airlines which do have assigned seats and let you chose your seat ahead of time. The reason those seats are always shown as taken is that the airlines hold those seats for people like us. Unfortunately to book those seats you need to call and talk to a live person and they should be able to accommodate your request. I always book a window seat for for a few reasons, mostly because I won’t have to worry about having someone having to climb over me to get to the aisle and since we do pre board on those flights too you can easily transfer to the aisle seat and scoot over.

The other lesson I learned is to let the airline know at every step of the process about your needs and what assistance you will need. Start when you book (if you do it online look for the options to request “special assistance”) If you do it by phone let the agent know what your needs are.
When you get to the airport let them know at the check in counter that you will need to pre board and what assistance you will need. Same thing when you get to the gate area. Let the agent at the service desk know you need to preboard and also let the gate agent themselves know. Trust me, there have been times when I skipped one of those steps and ended up having a problem. If you are going to need assist down the jetway and onto the plane itself or need an aisle chair make sure airline personnel contact the people who provide that assistance. Almost every airport contracts with a company to provide mobility assistance and it is not airline personnel who will be helping you (with the exception of Southwest who will pitch in and help if no one else is available)
I would not let this get in the way of traveling… it can work with proper planning and communication.


I feel for most of you who have these issues, but do keep in mind that disabilities are not always visible. I can walk through the metal detectors and down a plane aisle with difficulties, but hanging onto seats. I cannot, however ambulate in between flights and need a wheelchair. I do have a disability placard on my car. Many people are old and infirm. We all need to be respectful of each other and not sit in judgement of who is more disabled/differently abled then another. The fact that we need a wheelchair should have no bearing on the type of people who are using them.


I agree that there are many hidden disabilities that may influence a person’s ability to get to their aircraft seat… as I said I am a frequent flier of many different domestic and international airlines and none of the other airlines has the same problem as Southwest and I believe it is because of their open seating policy and people wanting to score prime seats by claiming to need the pre boarding option. Airlines that assign seats do not have the same problem because your seat is your seat and it does not matter when you board the plane, your seat will be there. With open seating there is an incentive to board as early as possible to get your preferred seat and overhead bin space and a seat in the front so you can get off sooner at your destination. That is not fair

As a power wheelchair user I board first, as I need a aisle chair to my seat. I agree there are a lot of miracle passengers( Need wheelchair to board and miraculously walk off). With Southwest if it is a continuous flight, after all offloading passengers are done, people left can move to a different seat. Some want the front. The airlines are not supposed to charge for bulkhead seats for a handicapped passenger.

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I am one of those who has an invisible disability. I fly on Southwest all the time and do utilize the preboard. I have torn ligaments in my ankles, knees and hips. I also have a degenerative spine. I have a genetic condition that is degenerative and I will get worse. Except for the time when I had a knee brace that was fixed and I couldn’t bend my knee, I always pass on the first row. I know there are people who are full time wheelchair users that require those seats.
I know that shortly I will require the use of a wheelchair as well. It is currently being built. But if I am able, I will always pass on the first row to someone who needs it.

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TY for the valuable feedback!

It’s not just airline abuse but it is happening other places as well. Quite a few years ago I and my chair treated my daughter, SIL and 3 grands to Disney World for 5 days. The staff folks were awesome to me and my family. At each ride they would ask me how many in my party abd wiuld taje extra care to get me seated and to put my family right with me. At some tides ttet took ys in tte vack way because it was a shorter distance. If ride began at point A and ended at point B they made sure my chair was at B. They had ramps for things such as the monorail, the bus safari ride, railroad, etc. They made it all accessible and often we were taken right in. Then about 2 years after that I was told by a friend, who was in an electric scooter and wearing oxygen 24/7 due to emphysema, that too many people started faking disabilities so they had to quit giving priority entrance and seating, etc., because people were complaining. People were actually renting wheelchairs so they could go ahead of others. They were able bodied and walking into the parks without any type of aid. Then they would ho to the rental kiosk abd reht a scooter or wheelchair thereby preventing soneone who really needed it from having one available. You cannot reserve them and it is first come, first serve. When they are all gone they are gone. Thatcis why I would never depend upon renting one at any of the parks. Even before I owned one I always used a medical supply rental company. I have never flown Southwest because it did not fly out of the 2 airports I routinely used. I still fo not understand their open seating. I prefer choosing my seat when I make my reservation. My son recently flew R/T Charleston, SC to/from Denver, CO. Early flight to Denver and he said no problem and in fact had an entire row to himself. Return fiight 4 weeks later not so. Again early flight but by the time his group got onboard onky middle seats left. He is the epitomy of a born and raised southern gentleman and allowed ladies first so he had 1 middle seat left by the time he goes to a seat. Guy by window was already dozing abd he pokiteky asjed tte man in tte aisle seat to please let him into the middle seat. Guy was a jerk and didn’t want to get up to allow him to get into the row. He mouthed off and my son looked at him and told him if he looked around that middle seat was the only one available on the plane. Guy still didn’t want to get up so my son said he finally told him we can do this one of 2 ways: you can get up and let me slide in and get seated, or, I can sit in your lap. When jerk realized he meant business he stood up and let him get to his seat. It really doesn’t make sense and don’t know what he thought he was going to prove. Some folks just like to be jerks. Nothing makes me any madder than someone faking a disability so they can take advantage of a situation such as you described.

I can walk physically, but it makes me ill, so I use a mobility scooter. Before I got the scooter, I used the airport wheelchair assistance. Now I drive my scooterto the plane and somebody stores it for me once I’ve collapsed it. When we arrive, I move to the front row and wait for my scooter to be brought from the hold. I’m a person who looks completely healthy, but I have a hidden disability. I could have been one of those people you think are cheating. Before the scooter I also walked into a park and hired a scooter there. That was because I needed one. I can’t walk more than a short distance before dizziness hits me. Also, walking makes me ill.

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We have finally broken down and bought into the higher class seats as my mobility has gotten worse. It means we travel less but it is way more enjoyable. I have heard some horror stories about broken chairs and such but so far I have had no problems. I take my chair to the door of the plane and they store it. I always have a long wait when deboarding to wait to get it brought to me. Patience is not a virtue I have much of.

We go to Nascar races and see healthy people in the wheelchair seating areas all the time.
Empathy seems to be in short supply everywhere today.

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We flew this past long weekend. I have to say I didn’t see Preboarding abuse this time but it doesn’t surprise me one bit whenever it happens. People these days seem to become selfish and “all about me” with little regard for anyone around them. The last time we flew by air the mobile chair was broken…and the repairs paid for. This time went very. very smooth with all in one piece… I also noticed if you ordered an airport wheelchair you had to show them your boarding pass. that way no one can have a “sudden need” for one and make you wait.

Speaking to airport staff recently I was told I would be surprised at the number of people who feign injury or disability to get priority boarding. But on demarkation they are suddenly fully abled to get off first.

Thanks for the advice. We haven’t flew with a wheelchair before so need these tips

You can relax somewhat. It will almost always work out well. The only time I’ve ever had real trouble was when they left my chair on the tarmac. But that’s one of probably 100 flights. Problems are very unusual, especially if you are choosing seats ahead of time. Do be clear about your needs and abilities, even with other passengers. Every airline has an accessibility department or something similar. You definitely want to call them. Southwest is very good about putting me on the bulkhead if I tell the gate attendant. They’d certainly rather do that than have to deal with an aisle chair. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but sometimes, on a plane that has first class, you’ll get bumped up into first class from coach. That’s always a wonderful surprise!