Need to Know: Flying Southwest Airlines with a baby or toddler

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Will you be flying Southwest Airlines with a baby or toddler soon? Here’s a quick guide to help you find the important details you’ll want to know as you prepare to book your flight on Southwests — and travel with your little one!

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Flying Southwest Airlines with a baby or toddler tips and advice

When and how can your baby fly free on Southwest?

Fees for domestic vs. international flights with lap infants

On domestic flights, infants and toddlers under 2 years can fly free on Southwest as a “lap child.” This means they ride on a parent’s or caregiver’s lap and don’t occupy their own seat.

Lap children on domestic flights will still need to be documented in your reservation (choose “Lap Child” in the booking form), and will receive a Boarding Verification Document (see how to age-verify below).

For international flights with Southwest, infants and toddlers under 2 years can fly on a parent’s lap for the cost of the government taxes and fees applied to the adult’s airfare.

For more information and tips about flying with a lap child, including safety and sanity considerations, see the Flying with a Baby Advice Index.

Can you use an empty seat on the plane for your infant or lap child?

In the “golden olden” days, you might have had an easier time picking up a free empty seat for your lap child. However, most Southwest flights are at capacity if not overbooked these days.

Nevertheless, you can still bring your child’s car seat or CARES safety harness (for kids 1 year+) to the gate (the safest place to check it anyway), cross your fingers, and ask the gate attendants if there will be any empty seats on your flight. (See Seven Easy Ways to Get Your Car Seat Through the AIrport for help.)

If you can get their blessing to snag an empty seat for your child, make sure you’re ready the moment Family Boarding is announced for your flight (unless you’re in A group and can board earlier!). You’ll need to grab seats together that include a window seat if using a car seat. (See How to Travel with a Car Seat (Without Losing Your Mind) for all kinds of help on the topic.)

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Why and How to Present Your Baby’s Proof of Age

Even if you’ve managed to fly your baby as a lap child before, without providing proof of age, don’t expect that to be the case every time. Especially not with Southwest.

When flying Southwest with an infant discount of any type, free or otherwise, you will need to check in at the ticket counter and present valid age-verifying ID for your child. A certified birth certificate, birth record, or passport is recommended – and a photo in your phone will not be accepted.

Your lap child will receive a Boarding Verification Document (BVD) to present with your own boarding pass.

Tip: If you enroll your infant in Rapid Rewards, the Southwest agent will be able to add a “verified age” to your child’s Southwest Rapid Rewards account.

That way, you’ll be able to skip the line at the ticket counter and use Southwest’s online check-in for your whole family using your Rapid Rewards accounts, even when flying with your infant.

What’s that? You don’t have a Rapid Rewards account for your baby? Follow this link to create your child’s account at the Southwest Airlines website.

best travel strollers and gear for travel with babies and toddlers

Southwest Airlines baggage policy for infants and children:

Southwest stroller and car seat policy: Southwest allows strollers and car seats to be checked for free, whether you check them at the ticket counter or gate check your gears.

Checked bags: Remember, the first 2 checked bags up to 50 lbs. each and 62 inches (measured as length + width + height) still fly free on Southwest for each ticketed (paid) passenger. (Boy does that help when you’re flying with 3+ people!) A lap child is not entitled to a free checked suitcase, but any accompanying ticketed passenger may use their baggage allowance toward an extra suitcase or baby gear item you’d like to check.

Baggage for lap-held babies: Lap-held infants flying for free on Southwest are not entitled to a free checked bag. Though as mentioned above, travel strollers and car seats or other child restraint devices can be checked for no fee.

What about diaper bags? The airline does not explicitly allow a diaper bag in addition to ticketed passengers’ carry-on baggage, so plan and pack your cabin bags accordingly. (See tips for packing your child’s Travel Kit, extra liquids like breast milk and formula, and other items for carry on in the Flying with a Baby or Toddler Advice Index.)

For more information, follow this link for details about flying Southwest with a baby or toddler.

Family boarding options on Southwest flights

Six years and younger is the magic age range for family boarding on Southwest flights. Southwest Airlines allows up to two adults to board with a child during family pre-boarding.

However, Southwest family preboarding is offered BETWEEN A group boarding and the B group.

Yes, that means everyone boarding in A group gets on the plane before you and your child(ren) and possibly car seat(s). So make sure you are in position and ready to show your boarding cards at the gate as the last of the A group boards.

If you are in A group for boarding, of course, get on when your ticket allows! 😉 Remember, if you have a car seat, it will need to go in a window seat.

Stress-Buster Southwest Seating Tip: If you’re flying at peak travel times or over holidays, consider paying the EarlyBird extra fee to get moved to the front of the line. You’ll have to pay this for each family member flying in their own seat you want to get priority boarding, but it could be well worth it in some situations.

Have your choice of airlines?

Travels with Baby guidebooks by Shelly Rivoli

Use the Airlines Comparison Chart in Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide… to compare the family-friendly perks, amenities, and available infant/child discounts between more than 40 airlines.

For more help planning air travel with young children, see chapters 15 – 18 in Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide…, and see more online Flying with Babies and Toddlers tips here.

You might also like:

Flying with a Baby or Toddler Advice Index (Start here!)

How to Travel with a Car Seat (Without Losing Your Mind)

Flying American Airlines with a Baby or Toddler

The Best Lightweight Strollers for Travel

Five Things You Should Know Before Flying with a Car Seat

Seven Easy Ways to Get Your Car Seat to the Gate

Ask Shelly: Best car seat for flying when kids are too big for the CARES flight harness?

Flying Alaska Airlines with a Baby or Toddler

When can kids safely fly without car seats on airplanes?

Will your car seat be allowed on the airplane?

What can you do if your child’s car seat doesn’t fit in the airplane seat?

Flying Virgin Atlantic with a Baby or Toddler

Five screen-free favorites to keep kids entertained during long flights

Review of CARES flight harness for children flying in their own seats

The Best Gear for Travel with Babies and Young Children

How to Plan Your Best Vacation with Baby

Worldwide Directory of Baby Gear Rentals

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Bookmark it! More online tips for flying with a baby, toddler, and children can be found on this page at TravelswithBaby.com.

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks

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An earlier version of this post first appeared in March 2018. It has since been updated and revised.

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