The Complete Guide to Flying the Southwest with Kids (2023)

Asoakland airportJust 12 minutes from my front door, my family flies a lot on Southwest Airlines. Southwest is also often the airline of choice for flying families, and for good reason. However, because it has different rules and practices than other airlines, it can sometimes stumble inexperienced passengers, especially those traveling with children. But don't let that worry you—Southwest also has several exclusive benefits that are a great value for family travelers. You just need to know how to take advantage of all the airline's offers!

That's what this post is about. Don't be unprepared for your next Southwest Airlines flight if you're traveling with your kids. Whether you're flying with a toddler on Southwest's lap, toddlers in their own seats, or older tweens and teens, Southwest does things a little differently. Here are all the details you need to know to make the most of Southwest's policies and benefits and make your next Southwest trip with kids a breeze.

The Complete Guide to Flying the Southwest with Kids (2)

What you need to know about flying Southwest Airlines with kids

1) Save a bundle with free checked bags.

You've probably seen the ad: "Bags Fly Free". Southwest is the last US domestic airline still offering free flightscontrolled pockets– 2 bags per person of up to 50 kilos each.

This is a real boon for traveling families, as it's often difficult to easily pack all the gear the little ones need. I find that while Southwest has slightly higher base fares than other airlines on similar routes, when you factor in bag fees, Southwest is often the cheapest option overall.

If you use the free bags, please note that children on laps do not receive a free bag allowance. Also, checked strollers and car seats do not count towards the baggage allowance. These items are always flying freely no matter what!

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2) Family boarding allows you to get family seats.

Southwest, unlike most other domestic airlines, does not have assigned seats. Instead, it assigns boarding group numbers (A, B, and C, each numbered from 1 to 60) to passengers, who can take any available seat on boarding. As you can probably imagine, the good seats are fast as exit rows, then aisles and windows. Passengers boarding later find that there are usually only a few middle seats available.

This can seem like a tricky situation for families who typically want to secure three or more seats together. But fearless! Southwest allows all families with children under age 6 to board between Groups A and B, regardless of assigned boarding number. On my dozens of Southwest flights, I've always managed to secure three or four seats together for my family when we board during family boarding. I was almostseparated from my childrenmuch more common among airlines that supposedly promise assigned seats.

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3) There are other tricks to make sure you sit with older kids too.

If your children are over 6 and you want to make sure they sit together, there are also options for seating together.

(Video) Tips For Flying With TODDLERS // Southwest Airlines // MomVlogs

First, there is always the Fastest Finger option, which is completely free. Southwest boarding group numbers are assigned exactly 24 hours prior to flight departure. As long as you check in at that time (via the Southwest website or app), you have a good chance of getting at least a Group B early boarding pass. In my experience, that's certainly early enough for a family. find places together. But you have to be very fast - every second counts! Now that my youngest is past the family retirement age, as an extra reminder, I set an alarm on my phone for 5 minutes before the 24 hour mark.

Let's face it - busy parents don't always remember to check in exactly 24 hours in advance, even if you've set an alarm. On longer flights, where sitting together is really important, my advice is to consider paying for early check-in. The price ranges from US$15 to US$25 each way, depending on demand. If you pay for this option, you will face the check-in queue. This means you will typically be guaranteed a Group A or Group B boarding pass.

But that's not the only useful shortcut. If you have the Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card or Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Performance Business Credit Card, you are also eligible for 4 priority boarding per year, subject to availability. This is a smart backup to have in trouble if you forgot to check in at midnight and risked it without an early bird. see myGuide to Southwest Credit Cardsfor all the details.

4) Birth certificates are required for ALL infants.

Flying with a child under two years old on your lap? Southwest is the only airline that requires you to show aYour child's birth certificate.

This rule applies regardless of the age of your infant and even on domestic flights. If you flew on another airline with a baby on your lap, chances are you weren't asked for proof of age unless the child appears to be almost 2 years old. Not so with Southwest. Even if you obviously have a newborn who would never be mistaken for a toddler approaching the two-year mark, take that birth certificate!

Related:Tips for Flying on a Toddler Lap

What if you don't have your child's birth certificate yet? Discharge papers or vaccination records from your child's pediatrician are usually sufficient. Call the airline in advance if you find yourself in this situation, as the application varies from airport to airport and agent to agent.

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5) Take extra time to get the children's boarding verification documents on your lap.

To board your Southwest flight with an infant on your lap, you will need a boarding verification document. This document is similar to a boarding pass and confirms verification of the child's age by presenting the birth certificate.

You can only obtain this boarding verification document from the ticket counter (or curbside skycap counters) in airport pre-security. You cannot print or download it in advance like other Southwest boarding passes. So if you're traveling with a child on your lap, allow extra time to check in at the airport counter, even if you're not checking baggage.

6) Food is scarce in the Southwest, so pack plenty of snacks.

There are many things that make your kids cranky about flying, but don't let hunger be one of the causes! Air travel is hectic and I never trust having time to shop at the airport -especially not in 2021 as many airport restaurants are closedor swamped by demand. Packing meals and snacks is simply a must when you have kids.

Related:50 kids snacks to take on the plane

(Video) Why I LUV Southwest Airlines and You Should Too

However, it's even more important if you're flying Southwest, as the airline has a limited menu. Don't expect to buy a sandwich or a hot meal like many other airlines. Southwest only offers pre-packaged snacks.

Snack options in the Southwest have changed quite a bit in recent years, especially since the flight hiatus many travelers had in 2020 and early 2021. If you were used to the old-fashioned pretzels, you won't reliably see them anymore (and if you was planning to eat peanuts, they were discontinued a while ago because ofallergies). Also, the Nabisco snacks that used to be served on longer flights, like shortbread cookies, Oreos, and Ritz cheese crackers, now seem to have disappeared.

In 2021, on most flights, my family mostly got a Southwest brand snack mix (with pretzels, bagel chips, and cheese crackers) and sometimes a crumbly brownie. Flight attendants will usually let you have as many of these prepackaged snacks as you like, but the snacks are just enough for most kids on short-haul flights.

when you are boundHawaii with Southwest Airlines, there are additional food options on these flights. see myReview of a Southwest Flight to Hawaiifor all the details and photos.

7) Southwest has loads of entertainment for kids (but you'll need to download the Southwest app before you fly!)

Keeping the kids entertained on the plane is vital to a stress-free flight for parents. While in my family we try to pack sometechnology-free entertainment options for our kids, electronic devices are also a crucial part of our pastime strategy.

Southwest's inflight Wi-Fi and entertainment options have come a long way in recent years. The airline pioneered $8 WiFi - cheaper than any other airline - and offered live TV channels for many years.

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In 2018, Southwest expanded its entertainment offering. The iMessage and WhatsApp messaging apps are now free, but what will make most families happier are the free in-app movies. However, to access movies on smartphones and tablets, you must have the Southwest app on your device. Make sure you download it before your trip, as you can't do this over the air without paying for WiFi as well.

There's usually a wide range of recently released children's movies mixed in with a few classics, so chances are you'll find something new to keep your kids busy. For example, the September 2021 selections included the new Pixar movie Luca, Despicable Me, Pokémon Detective Pikachu, Raya and the Last Dragon, Shrek, Soul, and more.

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8) If there are extra seats on the plane, you can take them for your child on your lap - free of charge.

Back on the kids' laps for a second. While I often bought seats for my kids as babies and toddlers on other airlines, I didn't do so as often on Southwest. Why? Because of Southwest's unique seating arrangement!

(Video) Southwest Airlines Boarding Process | How does it work?

Because Southwest has spare seats, if there are seats available anywhere on the plane, you can usually pick them up for your child without paying the fare. Very few people will choose to sit next to you when you have a baby in sight.

You can increase your chances of getting a seat by choosing seats at the very back of the plane. Alternatively, you can claim the seat by bringing your car seat onboard to take up the extra space. Of course, check with gate agents to make sure there are enough free seats for you to board first. They give the green light to flights that aren't sold out.

9) Southwest's Unaccompanied Minors program is one of the best (and cheapest).

Speaking of money-saving tricks, Southwest has one more that families with older kids need to know about. If your child is ready to fly as an unaccompanied minor, Southwest's policies are among the best.

Southwest only charges $50 one way, while many other airlines charge triple! And Southwest only charges for kids ages 5-11. Children aged 12 and over can travel for free without the service. Other airlines continue to require children until they turn 15, even if they don't have to.

My daughter flew her only time as an unaccompanied minor in the southwest. She was 10 and went to Southern California for the weekend with her uncle. The boarding agents and flight attendants took excellent care of them and I was happy that the service didn't cost an arm and a leg for such a short trip. Now that she's 12, I'm also happy that I don't have to pay to use the service anymore when I see that she's ready to travel on her own. Since we fly so much and she is independent and talented, I would be perfectly fine with letting her fly a similar flight from the Bay Area to SoCal unassisted.

10) Southwest's Rapid Rewards frequent flyer program is the most flexible and usable program for family travelers.

Have you ever racked up airline miles for years only to find it's almost impossible to redeem them at a reasonable price when you really want to use them? Or have you struggled to find enough award tickets for a family of four or more on a single flight?

With Southwest, you won't have these problems. Why? If seats are available for cash purchase, you can redeem your Southwest Rapid Rewards points for them. This 24/7 availability makes Southwest's frequent flyer program the most convenient and user-friendly for traveling families in my experience.

so definitelyEnroll yourself and your children in Rapid Rewards accountsthe first time you plan to fly southwest. It takes seconds. You earn miles you can actually use! Points in the southwest also never expire, so it's not another date to track.

And be sure to do what you can to earn points towards your family's next trip. Chase has partnered with Southwest to offer three different personal credit cards with great sign-up bonuses that can help you top up your Rapid Rewards balance.

Be sure to read my guide on how to do this.Which Southwest Credit Card Is Right For Youfor full details on these offers and the specific card options. There are also two business card options if you're entitled to a business card (and it's possible to have a Southwest personal and business credit card, like me!).

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(Video) Traveling With TWO Kids ✈️ // Southwest Airlines // MomVlogs // #roadto100subs

11) Southwest's rate policy allows flexibility for families.

For families, flexibility when traveling is a big advantage. Something always comes up with kids - from illnesses to school and extracurricular conflicts.

For a long time, Southwest was the only US domestic airline that didn't charge a change fee if you had to cancel or change a booked trip. Other airlines have added this benefit in 2020 and 2021, but Southwest's policy is still much more generous than its competitors. (Related:Comparing airlines' no-change fee policies: which is best?)

How does this work? If you need to cancel a trip, Southwest will hold the full amount of your ticket as a credit for one full year from the time of booking. There are no additional penalties or fees for this privilege.

If you need to transfer to another flight, the same principles apply. If the newly booked flight costs less, you'll receive the difference as a credit for one year. Of course, you will only have to pay the additional price difference if the new flight is more expensive. But there are no additional fees here either.

12) Southwest can even save your family money when fares go down.

Finally, my favorite and most used feature when traveling with Southwest is. With Southwest, not only can you rebook for free, Southwest will also give you a credit back if the price of a previously booked flight drops. For families buying 3, 4 or more tickets, even a small savings per ticket can really add up.

This doesn't happen automatically - you'll have to call yourself or rebook your flight online at a cheaper rate. But if you're carefulSelling tickets in the Southwest, you can often save your family money on future trips. Note that these credits must be used within one year of the original flight booking date, so don't miss expiration dates.

If you used Rapid Rewards points to book your flight, your miles will be fully refunded to your account, with taxes and fees fully refunded to your credit card. For trips you're not sure you're going to take, or flights you think will drop in price, it's often better to book with points for exactly that reason, since you don't have a 1-year balance and you have to worry.

Be sure to check out the southwestTraveling with Children section of their websitefor the latest information. And please share your tips for flying the family to the Southwest in the comments!

disclosure: I was a paid brand ambassador for Southwest Airlines #SouthwestStorytellers in 2018. I originally published this post in 2014, before I had any relationship with the airline. As always, all opinions are mine.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article referred to discounted children's rates. Southwest dropped these fees on June 1, 2021.


What do kids need to fly with Southwest? ›

Employees may ask for age verification at any point, so please travel with a copy or original form of any government-issued ID, such as a birth certificate or passport for your child. A medical release for travel is required for any infant under 14 days old.

How does Southwest boarding work with children? ›

Up to two adults traveling with a child six years old or younger may board during Family Boarding. If the child and adults are all holding “A” boarding passes, they should board in their assigned boarding position rather than waiting for Family Boarding.

Do kids sit with parents on Southwest? ›

Yes. Families of up to two adults traveling with a child age 6 or under are eligible for family boarding, which allows the family to board before the “B” boarding group, as described above.

What does a 10 year old need to fly Southwest? ›

Proof of age in the form of a birth certificate or other form of valid identification for the child is required upon check-in at the ticket counter in order to travel as an Unaccompanied Minor.

What documents are required for a child to fly? ›

Airline Requirements (Optional)

Copy of the following: Minor's Passport & Birth Certificate. Passport or ID of the minor's parents and/or authorized guardian in the Philippines.

Does my child need a car seat to fly Southwest? ›

A car seat is not required, but is recommended by Southwest Here's some info from "Southwest Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly recommend that infants and small children who weigh 40 pounds or less be secured in an appropriate CRS when traveling by air."

Does Southwest load children first? ›

Southwest's current family boarding policy allows adults traveling with children ages six and younger to board after group A and before group B, regardless of what position they hold. (Of course, if they hold positions in group A, they should board then for earlier and better access to seats.)

Does Southwest check age for family boarding? ›

Be aware that if the gate agent does want to verify your child's age, you will not be allowed on the plane during family boarding and you'll need to board in your assigned position.

Can family board together on Southwest? ›

Bottom Line: If you're traveling with a child who is 6 years old or younger, you'll be able to board during family boarding. This takes place between the A and B groups which will ensure you can find seats together.

What documents do I need to fly Southwest? ›

Travel Documents

For domestic travel, all passengers 18 and older will need a current, government-issued, photo identification (ID) for the security screening process. Children under the age of 18 do not require an ID. If traveling internationally, a passport and other documentation may be required.

Does a lap child get a checked bag Southwest? ›

A baby flying on a parent's lap does not get their own free checked baggage allowance on Southwest Airlines. Southwest's 2 Free Checked Bags policy only applies to ticketed passenger - because your baby is flying on your lap without their own ticket, this allowance does not apply.

Do kids fly cheaper on Southwest? ›

Infants held on lap travel free of charge, but taxes and fees apply for international flights. In addition, Southwest Airlines offers two special fares for children: Infant Fare and Child Fare.

Does southwest require masks for kids? ›

No, federal law no longer requires that masks be worn in the airport or on the plane, but certain cities or states may still be requiring them at their airports.

How much is chaperone fee on Southwest? ›

Southwest charges a $50 fee per direction of travel per child. Children ages 5 to 11 traveling without an accompanying passenger age 12 or older are considered unaccompanied minors.

What ID proof is required for air travel for kids? ›

Children should carry their school identification cards or any other photo identification proof, Valid birth certificates of infants, For travel under Concessionary fare types valid relevant IDs.

Do you need proof of identity for kids to fly? ›

Typically, minors under the age of 18 do not have to present identification for domestic U.S. travel. Airlines will accept identification from the responsible adult on behalf of the minor(s). For international travel, minors under the age of 18 must present the same travel documents as the adult.

Can a child travel in flight without ID proof? ›

There shall not be any requirement of identity proof in respect of Infant/Minor accompanied by their parents/guardian who is a bonafide passenger having a valid identity proof as listed above. However, an unaccompanied minor shall be required to produce a valid identity proof as listed above. Was this helpful?

Does diaper bag count as carry on Southwest? ›

Re: Lap child baggage

The child itself won't count towards anything and does not get an official baggage allowance. In general if you can put a bag under the seat and a bag overhead you're fine. Often, an additional bag overhead won't cause problems.

What does a 7 year old need to fly Southwest? ›

Will minors need an ID to fly domestically? Neither Southwest Airlines nor the TSA require children under 18 to provide identification when traveling within the United States.

Do airlines automatically seat children with parents? ›

To make sitting together easier when flying within the United States, the Department has issued a Notice encouraging U.S. airlines to do everything that they can to ensure the ability of a young child (age 13 or younger) to be seated next to an accompanying adult (over age 13) without charging fees for adjacent seating ...

Does Southwest charge full price for kids? ›

While we do not offer child fares, a little one under two years old may be carried free of charge (taxes apply outside U.S.) when traveling with an adult (12 years of age or older) as a lap baby.

How do you sit together on a Southwest flight? ›

Southwest Family Boarding: How to sit together

The best way to ensure you sit together and where you want, is to buy a Business Select fare, upgrade your boarding pass or have the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card or the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card.

Why does Southwest not assign seats? ›

Southwest Airlines has long argued that its unassigned seating policy is popular with passengers and facilitates speedier boarding. That means planes spend less time at the gate and more time in the air generating Southwest money. Over the years, the airline has tinkered with the no-system boarding system.

Can you save a seat on Southwest? ›

Southwest Airlines has 'open seating'. You line up to board based on your ticket type (“business select” fares are first), elite status, whether or not you purchased a spot in the queue (early bird) and check-in time. There's no assigned seats.

How do I board first on Southwest? ›

There are a few ways to get a guaranteed “A” boarding position before your flight: 1. Purchase Upgraded Boarding: This option is available starting 24 hours before the flight's local departure time and allows Customers to upgrade their boarding position to A1-A15 depending on availability.

How early should I get to the airport Southwest 2022? ›

The General Guideline for How Early You Should Get to the Airport. Generally speaking, most airlines advise that you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours prior to a domestic flight, and at least 3 hours prior to an international flight.

What not to pack when flying southwest? ›

Prohibited Items on Southwest Carry-on and Personal Items
  • Any beverage with more than 70 percent alcohol (any alcohol container in your carry-on should meet TSA liquid restrictions and contain no more than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters).
  • Firearms and ammunition.
  • Gasoline-powered tools.
  • Internal combustion engines.

Can I have a backpack and a carry on Southwest? ›

You may carry on one bag and one personal item1. The bag should be stowed in the overhead compartment, and your small personal item should be stowed under your seat.

Is toothpaste considered a liquid when flying? ›

Each passenger is limited to one quart-size bag of liquids, gels and aerosols. Common travel items that must comply with the 3-1-1 liquids rule include toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, mouthwash and lotion.

Does a stroller count as a carry-on? ›

Strollers are considered special items or assistive devices, so they typically don't count toward your carry-on baggage allowance and fly for free.

How do you fly with a stroller and car seat? ›

Car seats and strollers can be checked just like any other item (at no charge at most airlines). If you do check items either at the ticket counter or gate, get your luggage tag for them straight away. Even if you're not boarding any time soon, attach your luggage tag to your items as soon as possible.

What baby items can you check for free Southwest? ›

Customers traveling with children can check one stroller and one Child Restraint System (CRS), or car seat per child without charge. This is in addition to the regular free baggage allowance.

What airline is most kid friendly? ›

The 4 Best Airlines for Families in the U.S.
  1. Best Overall Airline for Families – JetBlue. ...
  2. Best Airline for Families Who Need Flexibility – Southwest. ...
  3. Best Cheap Airline for Families – Frontier. ...
  4. Best Legacy Airline for Families – American.

What is the best age to fly with a child? ›

The best time to fly with kids

The best times, most agree, are between three and nine months, when kids aren't yet mobile, and any time after age two or three. The idea here is to bypass the toddler phase, and, more importantly, to avoid flying with young infants. The latter is especially risky says Dr.

How do I book a lap child on Southwest? ›

Once you bring up your reservation at the airport kiosk, and after you've acknowledged the hazardous materials and COVID-19 declarations, you will see the screen below. Check the box to add your lap child. Click Next. Add your child's name, gender, and date of birth.

What happens if my 2 year old refuses to wear a mask on a plane? ›

American Airlines requires a face covering for all passengers except for children under the age of 2. Passengers who refuse to wear a face mask may be denied boarding and future flights.

Does southwest have blankets 2022? ›

2 - Pillows and Blankets: Southwest Airlines is one of the few airlines that still provides complimentary pillows and blankets for our passengers. If you need a pillow and blanket, they are usually located in the middle of the cabin. Please take one of each, so that we have plenty to go around.

Did a child get kicked off a plane for not wearing a mask? ›

The straw that broke the camel's back, according to the woman, who asked to remain unnamed, came when the little girl pulled her mask down to drink from a baby bottle. The airline said the flight staff kicked off the mother-daughter duo because they were violating a federal coronavirus mask mandate for air travelers.

Will Southwest let me sit with my child? ›

If you have a child in your party who is 6 or under, you can board during Family Boarding after the A group regardless of your boarding pass position. Your young children and up to two adults can board during this time.

Do parents fly for free on Southwest Airlines? ›

Employees have free, unlimited travel privileges for themselves and eligible dependents on Southwest Airlines. Eligible dependents include spouse or committed/registered partner, eligible dependent children under 19 years old (or up to 24 if a full-time student), and parents.

What are the cheapest days to fly Southwest? ›

Use Southwest's Low Fare Calendar

The cheapest flights are during the first nine days of the month. Similarly, flight prices in points are the cheapest during the first nine days of the month. If you have flexible plans and are looking for cheap Southwest flights, get use the Low Fare Calendar so you can save the most.

Can child be seated away from parent on a flight? ›

Young children and infants who are accompanied by adults should ideally be seated in the same seat row as the adult. Where this is not possible, children should be separated by no more than one seat row from accompanying adults.

Do airlines have to sit Parents with children? ›

To make sitting together easier when flying within the United States, the Department has issued a Notice encouraging U.S. airlines to do everything that they can to ensure the ability of a young child (age 13 or younger) to be seated next to an accompanying adult (over age 13) without charging fees for adjacent seating ...

Do airlines try to sit families together? ›

While airlines want to make it seem like families have to select seats in order to sit together, it's rarely this black and white. Most gate agents will work with families — even those without seat assignments — to get everyone seated together, when possible.

What are the airline rules for children? ›

Children above the age of 2 years and under the age of two 12 years, as on the date of travel, can travel as children and must be accompanied by a companion aged 18 (eighteen) years or more, as on the date of travel, or must book under Unaccompanied Minor fare.

How does flying with a child work? ›

The FAA doesn't require a ticket for children under the age of 2 years, but that means your baby will be on your lap. If there is turbulence, or worse, you may not be able to protect your baby in your arms. If you do not buy a ticket for your child, ask if your airline will allow you to use an empty seat.

Where should you sit on a plane with a child? ›

If you're traveling with a toddler or infant that may fuss and kick the seat in front of you, have your three other family members fill those seats to avoid passenger complaints. If that's the case, three seats directly behind and in front of one another is your best bet.

Do parents with children board plane first? ›

Policies vary from airline to airline. Some let families skip in front of everybody while others let the first class and elite passengers onto the plane first, then give families a head start on the rest of the passengers.

How should a family of 4 sit on a plane? ›

2 x 4 x 2 configuration...which seats to choose? When travelling as a family of 4 I choose two rows of 2, opposed to the middle aisle of 4 seats. Having a window is so handy to rest up against and also means no sibling fighting! If the configuration is 3 x 3 I will put 2 of us 2 rows (one aisle and one window)...

How can I select my seat without paying an extra fee? ›

Even if an airline's website makes it appear that you have to pay extra for a seat, you are never required to choose a specific seat and can always opt to decline seat selection in lieu of a FREE seat assignment during check-in.

How do airlines know if child is 2? ›

To prove your child's age to an airline, one of the following documents will suffice: Child's passport (how to get a U.S. passport for an infant and things to know about children's passports) Child's birth certificate. Child's immunization form or other medical records may also work domestically.

Can you refuse to switch seats on a plane? ›

The New York Times expert replied with: “Generally, you are entitled to sit in the seat that you paid for — the one that is printed on your boarding pass. (Let's put aside rules about emergency exit rows and other special circumstances.) You weren't “wrong” to politely refuse a request to move.

Do airlines have chaperones for children? ›

A badged employee will meet your child's arriving flight. If your child's connection time is short, the unaccompanied minor escort will take your child directly to the connecting departure and will escort him or her on board.

How do I add my lap child to my Southwest flight? ›

Parents/guardians traveling domestically with a Lap Child may add the child to their reservation at a Southwest kiosk on the day of travel, by calling a Customer Representative at 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792) prior to travel, or by visiting the full-service ticket counter at the airport.

Do I have to check in for both legs of my Southwest flight? ›

Re: Check In For Connecting Flights

You only have to check in on time for your flight if your conformation number is the same for the next flight.


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