The Southwest Airlines Experience: Flying with Kids in Tow

Kelsey P. Gonzalez October 17, 2010 2 Comments

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SouthWest Airlines Plane

Austin bound on Southwest Airlines

I have to admit when I first learned that the only airline that flew direct from Las Vegas, NV to Austin, TX was Southwest, I was a bit concerned.  After all, in the past the airline’s reputation had been less than stellar.  The reviews from friends and family were mixed; some had literally sworn never to fly with them again while others found them to be perfectly satisfactory.  As our trip to Austin rapidly approached I couldn’t help but wonder which experience we would have.  With two very young children and enough luggage to choke a horse I had my share of worries. 

To make the trip a bit less stressful, we made the almost two-hour drive from Southern Utah into Las Vegas the afternoon before our flight was due to leave.  We stayed the night there (see the article “Las Vegas: A Family Review of the Excalibur Hotel”) and then headed for the McCarran International Airport early the next morning.  While this airport isn’t the biggest I’ve ever been in, it is certainly always busy and we made sure to check in a full two hours before our departure.  Since we had to leave our truck in long-term parking then haul our three suitcases, two car seats, three carry on bags, and two children all the way to the ticket counter, my husband and I had a fair amount of work cut out for us. 

McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas

Our son sitting with most of our luggage at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

It was our first time traveling with both our son and new daughter and while they really did excellent through the entire trip, it seemed that everything took three times longer than before!

Once we reached the ticket counter we found the Southwest staff to be extremely friendly and helpful.  One of our bags turned out to be a whole four pounds over their 50-pound weight limit and they helped us make the small adjustment we needed to avoid the $50 overage fee.  While car seats don’t count towards your checked luggage limit, they do have to be placed in either their own travel bag or in large trash bags before they can be checked in.  We’d come prepared with some very un-glamorous black trash bags but before we could use them, one of the Southwest employees gave us the airline’s car seat bags to use instead; they’re much more durable!  As it was our first time flying with the airline, they explained their family airline pre-boarding procedures to us then directed us to our gate. 

As we prepared to go through security, we were pulled out of line by a helpful TSA agent and ushered into a much shorter queue.  We’ve been fortunate enough to have this experience every time we’ve flown out of Las Vegas and I can’t say how helpful it’s been!  Cutting the squirming time of our three-year old down from a half hour to less than ten minutes is a lifesaver every time; especially now that we also have a three-month old in tow as well!

Once we were through security, our wait at the gate went by very quickly and soon it was time to board.  Southwest has a different method of boarding their planes than other airlines that I’ve flown on.  Instead of assigning each passenger a row and seat, they’re given a boarding group (A, B, or C), and then a number (1-60).  You board the plane depending on the group and number you are given.  For example, A 15 would board before C 60.  Once on the plane, passengers select their own seats.  I wasn’t so sure what I thought about this method as I worried that it would force our family to sit in different rows.  However, since families are allowed to pre-board (family boarding takes place after the ‘A’ group), we had no problem finding seats together.  In the end I actually found I liked the Southwest method since my husband and I could pick the seats we felt would be most convenient for our little family—in the back, behind the wing.  It was also by the bathroom which was a location I used to avoid at all costs but which was perfect for our son; we didn’t have to walk the length of a turbulent plane to reach the restrooms when he had to go!

Southwest Airlines Flight Seats

Myself, my husband, son, and daughter onboard our flight.

Our flight to Austin was smooth and comfortable and most importantly, on time!  Our children did great and our son especially enjoyed getting a snack and drink (the flight attendant put a little lid on his) in the plane.  He spent the eight days in Austin talking excitedly about getting to fly on the plane again when we went home.

Southwest, like many other airlines, allows you to print out your boarding passes up to 24 hours before your departing flight.  The earlier you “check in” the higher your boarding group and number are.  Though we had no problems with pre-boarding on our flight to Austin, we went ahead and printed our boarding passes out the night before we were to return to Las Vegas.  We again got up early and were at the airport two hours before our departing flight.  Unfortunately my husband misread the departure time on our passes (I forgive you honey) and when we went to check in, we found our flight had already left.  We also found that once again, one of our bags was over the weight limit by a whopping four pounds.  The Southwest staff in Austin was every bit as wonderful as they’d been in Vegas.  They not only once more helped us rearrange our luggage to avoid the overage fee, they also put us on the “confirmed” list for a later flight rather than making us fly standby as was usual for a missed flight.  This saved us considerable trouble since standby would have forced us to wait for who knows how long with our two little children. 

Southwest Airlines Pre-boarding Section

The Southwest pre-boarding section in Austin, TX.

Our rather lengthened wait at the airport went by quickly thanks in part to a pre-boarding area Southwest provided between gates.  It was nothing more than a small table and stools just the right size for kids but it was the perfect place for our son to spread out his coloring books and activities to play with until we left.  Once again we had no problem finding the same seats we’d selected on our first flight and thankfully everything went just as smoothly.  Our flight was once more on time and just as it had been in Austin, our luggage was waiting for us at the baggage claim area when we went to retrieve it. 

Our experience flying Southwest with two children couldn’t have been better.  The staff was exceptional and we had no problems with either of our flights.  The only thing I could find that wasn’t perfect was the cleanliness of the airplane on our flight home.  It had come into the gate a few minutes late and in order to remain on time, they hadn’t come through and cleaned it very thoroughly.  The worst I saw though were a few crumbs left on a tray table and seat.  Otherwise I have no complaints and would not only fly Southwest again, but recommend it to other families traveling with small children!

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avatarAbout the Author:

Kelsey lives in Southern Utah with her husband, their 3-year old son, and their newborn daughter. They enjoy the adventure of exploring new places together and love building memories through family travel.

Tags: , , Reviews, Travel Excursions
2 Comments to “The Southwest Airlines Experience: Flying with Kids in Tow”
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