09/11/2012 07:07 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2012

Passengers Behaving Badly On Southwest? Ask Airfarewatchdog

Have a question about travel or airfares? We answer as many as we can, either by email to or in our Q&A column

Gaming Disabled Early Boarding?
Q: I fly on a weekly basis with Southwest Airlines. Out of all the big carriers (United, American and Delta), Southwest has figured out how to treat the business passenger well. My only concern with Southwest is their disabled pre-boarding policy. Every time I fly, I am astonished by the increasing number of people claiming to be disabled and taking advantage of the pre-boarding.

Let me be the first to say that I completely support pre-boarding for anyone legitimately battling a physical and/or mental disability. What concerns me is that I have experienced on numerous occasions individuals, who claim eligibility for this policy, "spring out" of their wheel chairs and take off down the Jetway like Fred Astaire without any noticeable challenge. My concern is that people are now abusing a program that was set up for people who honestly need assistance. I am just appalled by this type of self-serving behavior.

Also, last I checked, being over the age of 65 doesn't qualified as disabled and cheat your way in front of families with multiple children and business travelers who paid three times the fare that these scammers did.

A: It seems like everyone is trying to get first dibs at the overhead bins and choice seats these days. I've also seen people taking advantage of "passengers with young children" early boarding. There's one child of an indeterminate age, then the parents, then the grandparents and then the teenaged kids, all getting on board early on the coat tails of a not-so-young-looking "child." I've also seen what you describe, but it's only going to get worse as the population ages.

Follow Up On Another Southwest Issue
Q: I am surprised you have never heard of anyone saving seats on Southwest Airlines (one person pays the $10 early boarding fee and saves seats for friends who avoided the fee). This has been going on for years. A few years ago I boarded a Southwest plane and found someone saving two rows of seats -- a total of six seats!

They said the seats were for their family, but when the "family" finally did board, they were all adults. One might forgive a parent for saving seats for his children and spouse so they could sit together. But saving seats for six people? It seemed outrageous.

I did mention it to a flight attendant, and she agreed that it was not really appropriate, but she also declined to say anything to the passenger about it. Because you have the advantage of being in the media, Southwest may actually pay some attention you print this.

A: Well, people do this in movie theaters and ballparks and on trains and buses all the time, and no one seems to complain. But somehow this is worse, because someone is basically gaming the system. Southwest, if you're reading this, maybe it's time to teach your passengers some basic fairness if not manners.

Don't Fall For The No Seats Thing
Q: I just did advanced check-in on US Airways, 20 hours ahead of departure, from my home computer. I could select seats on the first leg of my trip but not the connecting flight. Only a few "premium seats" at $10 and emergency row seats were available. When I tried to select one of the latter, I got a note that they were only available for "premium" frequent flyers. So I forked over $10, but does this mean I would not have gotten a seat without paying on this flight, for which I made a reservation a month ago? Or would they give me a free seat on check in?

A: Many airlines these days are holding back "choice" seats for their best customers. It doesn't mean that you won't get a seat, unless the flight is oversold and there aren't enough volunteers to take another flight. (That's called involuntary bumping.) You'd get a seat alright, but it's either going to be a middle seat at the back of the plane... or one of those premium seats for which there were no eligible takers. Do airlines do this in part to snooker passengers into paying for a seat they'd get for free anyway? Very possibly.