Flying Southwest with a baby or toddler? Be sure to read this first!
Sure, its open seating policy has caused many a family to question the “family friendliness” of Southwest (you know, after all of the earlybird check ins and A-list flyers ahead of you have chosen their seats and filled the corresponding overhead bins).
But especially for those flying Southwest Airlines with a baby or toddler, there is still one big reason Southwest Airlines deserves the praise of some family travelers: Southwest is one of the last U.S. airlines offering a significant discount for infants flying in their own seats.
Flying Southwest with a 2 year old or child up to 11 years? In some cases, a child fare may also be available.
We’ll look at that in more detail and address some other considerations for parents flying on Southwest Airlines with babies and toddlers in this post as part of our Need to Know Airlines series.
First, infants under 2 years can fly free on Southwest–but only with proof of age.
As with other U.S.-based airlines, children under 2 years may fly free on domestic flights, but you must be prepared to show proof of your child’s age.
Even if you’ve managed to board with your lap child before without showing ID, you should not expect that to be the case every time. And especially not if you’re flying Southwest Airlines with an infant.
Southwest requires all lap children (lap-held infants) flying for free to have a Boarding Verification Document or BVD to show at check-in. Note: This is not the same as a boarding pass.
Even if the rest of your party has used Southwest’s online check in for your flight, you will need to see an agent at the counter to present your lap child’s proof of age. For that you’ll need a certified birth certificate, birth record, or passport–in exchange for the BVD.
Yes, you CAN still get an infant fare from Southwest.
Many parents I speak with have no idea the discount for children under 2 years still exists. That’s because the infant fare for seated children under 2 years old is not advertised by Southwest, nor is it available for booking on their website or elsewhere on the web.
But if you’d like your baby under 24 months to fly in her own car seat–and use a car seat that conforms to FAA standards or the alternative CARES flight safety harness, here’s how you can get it:
How to get the Southwest Airlines infant fare for your baby’s own seat:
- You must call Southwest Airlines customer service at 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792) to purchase the discounted fare for your flight.
- Your child under 2 years must fly in an FAA-approved car seat (CRS) during your flight (not over 16″ wide is recommended, some recommended car seats for travel here and tips for fitting car seats in airplanes here).
- Car seats or child safety seats must be used in a middle or window seat only.
- You must have valid proof of your child’s age (under 2 years) at check in to prove eligibility for your child. A certified birth certificate, birth record, or passport is recommended.
- You must have (or create) a Rapid Rewards account number for your child in order to use online check-in for his or her reservation (see more in “Why and how to age verify your infant” below).
Why the Southwest Airlines infant fare may not be your best deal:
That said, here’s why the Southwest Airlines infant fare may not be your best deal when booking a seat for your child. These Southwest infant fares have no restrictions and are fully refundable–a good thing in some respects.
But as you might guess, if you’re booking a great bargain on deeply discounted adult fare seats with Southwest (eg. a Click n Save special offer), that fare may actually be cheaper than the infant fare for your flight, in which case you may prefer to book an extra seat for your child at the discounted adult price (and still be sure to bring your child’s FAA-approved car seat for the flight).
Still, it never hurts to ask what the infant fare for your flight would be to be certain.
How to age-verify your infant with Southwest Airlines (and why):
The first time you fly Southwest with an infant discount, you will need to check in at the ticket counter and present valid ID, as mentioned above.
A certified birth certificate, birth record, or passport is recommended. But at this time, the Southwest agent will be able to add a “verified age” to your child’s Southwest Rapid Rewards account.
For future bookings, you’ll be able to do Southwest’s online check-in for your whole family using your Rapid Rewards accounts, even when flying with an infant fare.
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.
So can you really get a child fare with Southwest?
Not bloody likely (or likely to be more than the discount fares). But if you’re looking at full-priced fares for the adults on your trip, it may be worth at least making the call to find out.
Again, just like Southwest’s infant fares, you’ll have to call the airline to see if a discounted fare may be available for children ages 2 years through 11 years: 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792). Age verification will also be required at the airport.
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 (including a gate-checked stroller or car seat).
Checked bags: Remember, first checked bags up to 62 inches (measured as length + width + height) still fly free on Southwest–for ticketed passengers, which certainly helps when you’re flying with 3+ people.
Southwest carry-on baggage: Infants and babies flying on a discounted infant fare are considered ticketed passengers with full rights to the standard baggage allowance, including one carry on bag and one personal item.
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, checked travel strollers and car seats or other child restraint devices do fly free with this airline.
For more information, follow this link for details about flying Southwest with a baby or toddler.
Have your choice of airlines?
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.
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Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks
An earlier version of this post first appeared in March 2018. It has since been updated and revised.