When it comes to assigned seats on US carriers, Southwest Airlines is the only major airline to offer an open seating policy. The airline offers a one class cabin, so once you board you can choose any seat. However, they board by Group A, B, and C and then within number for each group.
On one hand it’s great that they have an open seating policy especially if you’re traveling with a large group, no need to try to reserve seats in advance, just choose a group of them next to each other once onboard.
Besides Southwest, all the other carriers offered assigned seats, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you can choose a seat for free at booking or check-in, especially for those who are booked on the cheapest Basic Economy fares, which several carriers including United, Delta, and American have all rolled out.
In these cases, you may be assigned a random seat at the gate or at check-in, which could likely be a middle seat. If you’re traveling with others, there’s no guarantee you’ll even be seated next to each other.
With assigned seats in general, the earlier you book your flight, the better the seat you’ll often get since more seats are available further out. A last-minute business traveler booking a coach seat, could find themselves ending up with a less than desirable middle seat as a result, due to everything else being selected.
Feel free to share your thoughts below on whether you prefer open seating vs. assigned seating on an airplane? What if you’re on a basic economy ticket?