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The Ultimate Guide To Flying Southwest Airlines With Kids [2024]

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Ashley Onadele
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Ashley Onadele

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Ashley discovered a love for travel in college that’s continued as her family has grown. She loves showing parents how they can take their families on trips using points and has contributed to numerou...
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Chris Dong

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Chris is a freelance writer and editor with a focus on timely travel trends, points and miles, hot new hotels, and all things that go (he’s a proud aviation geek and transit nerd). Formerly full time ...
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Favorable rates and friendly staff are just the beginning of what makes Southwest Airlines a favorite among many travelers. But for families in particular, Southwest offers much-needed flexibility in planning — and a lot of other benefits that families value.

Southwest isn’t without its quirks, but if you know how to work around them, your family may find that the airline is one of the best ways to travel together. Here is the ultimate guide to flying Southwest Airlines with kids.

Where Southwest Flies

Southwest flies to over 120 destinations across the U.S., Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. In the U.S., the list of states that Southwest doesn’t fly to is much shorter than the list it does. Currently, Southwest does not fly to Alaska, Delaware, New Jersey, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, or Wyoming.

Hot Tip:

Even though Southwest doesn’t fly beyond North America, it is a great option when you need to book positioning flights for international travel. A positioning flight gets you from your home airport to an airport with a better route or price to an international destination.

Southwest doesn’t ever have red-eye flights, meaning that you can always expect to fly during the day. Daytime flights are great for the schedules of families traveling with small children and should hopefully help to avoid baby jet lag as much as possible.

What Makes Southwest Different

Thanks to Southwest’s customer-focused approach, the airline often ranks amongst the top airlines for families. But the airline is also well known for its generous baggage and cancellation policies, as well as its unusual seating process.

The first on the list of unique benefits is that each ticketed passenger gets their first 2 checked bags on Southwest for free. This is in addition to the included carry-on and personal items. For parents and families, this means that they can pack everything they need without incurring additional fees.

There are also no change or cancellation fees. Those traveling in a “Wanna Get Away” and “Wanna Get Away+” fare (more on fare classes below) receive flight credits when they cancel a flight and those credits never expire. “Business” and “Anytime” fare travelers receive a full refund. The policy is the same whether you booked your flights with cash or points.

Southwest is an all-economy cabin airline, meaning that none of its planes are equipped for premium cabins or seating. The airlines’ fare types are also different than other airlines and its boarding process is exclusive to Southwest.

But if you need to know one thing about Southwest, it’s that there are no assigned seats.

Fare Types and Boarding Groups

When it comes to flight classes, Southwest is in a category all its own. There are 4 categories of fare classes: Wanna Get Away, Wanna Get Away+, Anytime, and Business Select.

Southwest Fare Tiers
Southwest has 4 fare tiers with varying levels of perks. Image Credit: Southwest Airlines

The most basic fare class, however, still comes with valuable benefits that basic economy fares on other airlines can’t match. Even with its lowest tier, travelers still get 2 free checked bags and no change or cancellation fees.

On the other end of the spectrum, those traveling in the highest category, Business Select, get all of those standard perks, plus priority boarding to choose the best seats — and a premium drink.

Boarding groups aren’t solely determined by your elite status (Southwest has 2 tiers), but rather by which class of ticket you bought and how quickly you check in for your flight. The 3 boarding groups are labeled A, B, or C and have up to 60 positions in each boarding group.

Groups board starting at A1 all the way to C60.

Hot Tip:

Want to guarantee you get to board the plane first (and therefore get the best choice of seats) but don’t want to worry about checking in on time? You can add Upgraded Boarding or EarlyBird Check-In for an additional fee.

Flight Credits and No Change Fees

In the event that you need to cancel or change a flight, Southwest makes it easy to do so. You can make changes to your flight either through the app, online, or on the phone. You can even cancel a flight up to 10 minutes before departure.

If you’ve booked a Business Select or Anytime fare and need to cancel your flight, you’ll get a refund in the form of payment. For Wanna Get Away and Wanna Get Away+ fares, you’ll receive flight credits for the price of your flight to use on a later flight. Flight credits never expire.

When it comes to changing your flight, Southwest doesn’t charge additional fees. The only thing you may pay is a difference in fare if the flight you’re changing to is more than the flight you’re changing.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Program

The Southwest Rapid Rewards program is a simple-to-understand loyalty program with several ways to earn rewards besides flying.

The easiest way to earn Southwest Rapid Rewards points is through earning the welcome bonus offers on several rewards-earning co-branded Southwest credit cards. Of course, there are other ways as well.

Southwest Rapid Rewards Shopping gives bonus points for shopping through its portal and Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining offers bonus points when you eat out. You can also earn points when you book travel with select partners such as hotel accommodations and car rentals booked through Southwest. You can even earn Rapid Rewards by taking surveys.

Having a ton of airline points is always a good idea, but Southwest offers a not-so-secret tool that every traveling family should consider: the Southwest Companion Pass.

Southwest Companion Pass

Ellie flying Southwest Airlines
With a Southwest Companion Pass, families can pay for 1 less airline ticket. Image Credit: Katie Seemann

Once earned, the Southwest Companion Pass grants travelers essentially a free ticket — less the taxes and fees — for the duration of the pass’s validity. A Companion Pass is valid for the duration of the year in which it is earned and the following year.

The Companion Pass can be used when redeeming points for award flights as well.

To earn a coveted Southwest Companion Pass, you’ll have to earn 135,000 qualifying points. Points can be earned in the following ways:

  • Credit card points earned from a bonus and everyday spend
  • Credit card referral points
  • Partner hotel stays and partner car rentals
  • Purchased flights

The easiest way to earn the Companion Pass is by meeting the minimum spend requirement on a number of Southwest co-branded credit cards. For families in 2-player mode who travel with 4 or more people at a time, each adult could earn a Southwest Companion Pass, with the ability to use them to save on the cost of 2 tickets.

Bottom Line:

The Southwest Companion Pass can be used to get a ticket for a companion (almost) for free. You must earn 135,000 qualifying points to earn a Companion Pass after which the pass is valid for the rest of the year you earned it and the following year.

Southwest Elite Status

Southwest perks aren’t only reserved for credit card or Companion Pass holders. Flying often with the airline will earn you elite status, too.

There are only 2 elite statuses with Southwest Airlines: A-List and A-List Preferred.

A-List status is earned either by flying 20 one-way flights or earning 35,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year. The benefits of holding this elite status are priority boarding for yourself and everyone on your reservation, a priority lane at the check-in counter at the airport, a dedicated A-list member phone line, and a 25% earning bonus on qualifying flights.

A-Listers also enjoy free same-day changes and same-day standby.

Southwest check in kiosks
Southwest elite status perks begin at the check-in counter. Image Credit: Stephen M. Keller via Southwest

A-List Preferred status holders must either fly 40 one-way qualifying flights or earn 70,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year. The benefits of this elite status are everything that A-List status holders get as well as free in-flight Wi-Fi and an elevated 100% earning bonus on qualifying flights.

Tier qualifying points are earned through booking and flying qualifying flights on Southwest Airlines or by making qualifying purchases with Rapid Rewards partners. Flights must be booked with cash, vouchers, gift cards, or travel funds and cannot be booked with tier qualifying points.

Hot Tip:

Just 1 person in your family or travel party could hold elite status with Southwest Airlines and everyone on your reservation would benefit from priority boarding.

Flying With Kids on Southwest Airlines

There are several reasons why families love flying on Southwest, namely competitive fares, friendly service, and a generous baggage policy. However, there are a few things to know about traveling with Southwest that families should be aware of.

Flying With a Lap Child

Let’s start with the youngest members of the family. Southwest defines a lap child as being between 14 days and 2 years old and sitting on the lap of an accompanying passenger who is at least 12 years old. Many parents take advantage of this sweet spot age to fly for free with their young children.

There are 3 ways to book a lap child on Southwest. The first and most convenient way is by adding the lap child to the passengers when booking online. You’ll follow the usual steps to book, including adding your child’s name, birthdate, and who they’ll be accompanied by in the reservation at checkout.

Southwest Lap Child Screenshot
You can add a lap infant to your reservation online at the time of booking. Image Credit: Southwest Airlines

If you forget to add your lap child at booking, you can call Southwest directly (800-I-FLY-SWA) and add your lap child to a reservation anytime before your flight or even at the check-in counter. To be safe, always travel with a copy of your child’s birth certificate to present to whoever may ask to see it to prove your child’s age.

Hot Tip:

You won’t need a boarding pass for your lap child, but you will need a Boarding Verification Document. You can have this printed at the airport on the day of travel at the ticket counter or kiosk.

Some families traveling with lap children get lucky and end up with an empty seat next to them on the plane. In this case, you can usually take advantage and let your child sit in this seat, usually for no additional fee.

Tips for Boarding

Remember that Southwest does not have assigned seats. Instead, each traveler chooses from whichever seats are left when their boarding group is called. This can be worrisome for families traveling with small children who need to have seats together.

Thankfully, there are a few ways to ensure that your family can always sit together.

Since boarding groups are assigned in order of check-in, it’s crucial to check in exactly 24 hours (to the second) before your flight. If you do, you may get a coveted Boarding Group A placement. Even Boarding Group B is better than boarding in the last group. 

Families traveling with at least 1 child 6 years old and younger can board early during Family Boarding after Boarding Group A. This goes a long way to ensure you get seats together.

Probably the easiest way to make sure that your family gets seats together is to already have priority boarding. This comes as a perk when flying Business Select or Anytime fares as well as for elite status holders.

You could elect to buy EarlyBird Check-In or Upgraded Boarding when you purchase your ticket or even at check-in.

Lastly, 2 cards, the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Priority Credit Card and the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Performance Business Credit Card, offer 4 Upgraded Boardings each year to A1 to A15 when available. This could be an especially valuable perk for families traveling with children older than 6 years old.

Bottom Line:

According to the airline, “Southwest will endeavor to seat a child next to one accompanying passenger (14 and older) to the maximum extent practicable and at no additional cost. Families can speak to Gate Agents or Flight Attendants to request assistance.”

Unaccompanied Minors

Southwest’s unaccompanied minors program is for children between 5 and 11 years old. There are a few key things to know.

Southwest unaccompanied minor
Children as young as 5 years old can fly as unaccompanied minors on Southwest. Image Credit: Southwest

The refundable fee for the unaccompanied minors service is $50 each way in addition to the cost of the child’s ticket.

A parent or guardian must be present with a valid ID when dropping off and picking up an unaccompanied minor at the airport. The names of any adults dropping off and picking up the minor must be also provided at the time of booking. The minor can only fly on nonstop or same-plane itineraries and they cannot fly on international flights.

Hot Tip:

Children 12 years and older are considered adults and cannot participate in the unaccompanied minors program, however, those from 12 to 17 years old are considered Young Travelers. Learn more about the terms and conditions for Southwest Young Travelers on the dedicated page.

Snacks and Beverage Service

Southwest might be considered more of a no-frills airline, especially when it comes to the food options on board. You’ll get a Southwest snack mix pack of pretzels, cheese squares, and bagel chips, but there will be no other food options available for purchase. Beverage service includes the usual drinks and premium drinks are available for purchase.

You may want to pack additional snacks that you know your kids will enjoy for the travel day and on the plane just in case they don’t like the snack pack. Plenty of snacks to eat and activities to do on the plane are a must when flying with kids.

Inflight Entertainment

Travelers can enjoy free entertainment in the form of movies and live TV on their own devices through Wi-Fi available on almost all Southwest aircraft. WhatsApp and iMessage texting is also available over inflight Wi-Fi. Service may be disrupted or unavailable on international flights.

Wi-Fi for browsing the internet is available for purchase for $8 per flight.

Southwest Credit Cards

If you plan to fly a lot with Southwest or you’re hoping to earn a Companion Pass in the future, you might want to consider a credit card to maximize your spending.

Southwest Companion Pass and credit cards
The easiest way to earn the Southwest Companion Pass is by meeting spend requirements on Southwest’s co-branded credit cards. Image Credit: Katie Seemann

There are 5 Southwest co-branded credit cards, all offered by Chase. There are 3 personal credit cards and 2 business credit cards to choose from.

You’ll want to consider opening a Southwest credit card (or 2) in order to earn enough points for the Southwest Companion Pass. Keep Chase’s 5/24 rule in mind when considering your credit card strategy.

We have a detailed guide with the best credit cards for Southwest Airlines flyers to compare your options.

Final Thoughts

Southwest Airlines is a family favorite year after year. Standard perks such as 2 free checked bags and free cancellation or changes give families much-needed flexibility that other airlines can’t match. We hope that this guide has prepared you and your family for the next Southwest Airlines flight.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do I need to fly with a lap child on Southwest?

When traveling with a lap child, be sure to add them to your reservation. You’ll also want to bring a copy of their birth certificate or other form of government-issued ID such as a passport. You won’t need a boarding pass for your lap child, but you will need a Boarding Verification Document. You can have this printed at the airport on the day of travel at the ticket counter or kiosk.

Do I need to bring my child's birth certificate when flying Southwest?

An airline employee may ask to see your child’s birth certificate to verify their age. It’s best to travel with a copy of your child’s birth certificate until they have a valid form of ID (for example, a passport).

How do you sit with your kids on Southwest?

You can board early during Family Boarding when traveling with at least 1 child that is 6 years old or younger. If traveling with children that are all older than 6 years old, you can purchase EarlyBird Check-In or Upgraded Boarding at the time you purchase your tickets. Alternatively, you may receive priority boarding when you purchase Business Select or Anytime fares, hold elite status with the airline, or carry select co-branded Southwest credit cards.

Does a stroller count as a carry-on on Southwest?

You cannot carry on your stroller on Southwest unless the stroller folds up and fits in the overhead compartment. Southwest will check your stroller at the gate for no fee.

What baby items can you check for free on Southwest?

Southwest allows travelers to check 1 car seat and 1 stroller for no additional fee. This is in addition to the 2 free checked bags allowed for each ticketed passenger.

Ashley Onadele's image

About Ashley Onadele

Ashley discovered a love for travel in college that’s continued as her family has grown. She loves showing parents how they can take their families on trips using points and has contributed to numerous publications and podcasts.

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