Why I Will Never Fly Southwest Airlines Again with Children

UPDATE: Did Google send you here?  God bless Google. Let me sum it up for you.  I believe that Southwest is not a family friendly airline, particularly if you’re traveling with small children.  I fly the airline frequently as a business traveler and will continue to do so.  Now want to know why it’s only a great airline sans the kiddos?  Carry on for the long version…

A year and a half ago I wrote about why bloggers should never write a complaint post.  I’ve re-posted it a couple of times since then and have talked about it while speaking at conferences.  I stand by it…for the most part. But today something happened that was so aggravating to me that I feel compelled to share it with my readers. I’m not writing this to say that you should not fly Southwest Airlines, although many of you may have made that decision based on the other problems they’ve faced (for the record, no one has ever asked me to stop those lingering kisses I give my husband on flights…).  Instead I am writing to say why I will never fly Southwest Airlines again with children, and why you as a consumer should be aware of the issues you may face if you do.  Why do I need to tell you this? Because over the last couple of years I have sent messages to tens of thousands of people supporting Southwest Airlines only to realize now that I may have led people astray. In fact, just this morning when this all began I tweeted the following:

If I’m going to give you the good, then you deserve to hear the bad.

But first we need to get in the way back machine…

My husband and I dated long distance – like 1600 miles long distance – for the first two years of our relationship. Over that time we became very used to air travel, and I personally came to enjoy everything from the peaceful time to grade papers to the French bread pizza on the Friday evening direct flight from Dulles to Austin.  However, when it came time to fly from D.C. to Texas with our ten month old daughter, I was nervous.  Okay, I was scared. She was born two months early and had a myriad of health problems from gross motor skill delays to a hole in her heart.  Travel with any infant is difficult, but add in the complications of frozen breast milk, medications, and a nervous mom and things get a little tricky.  We booked our flights with Southwest and assumed – never assume – that we would pre-board with our daughter just like we would had we flown any other airline in the world.  What happened instead was that we were allowed to board after the sixty people in the A group.  Did I mention it was a continuing flight?

If you do not know the difference between a continuing flight and an originating flight, here’s a crash course, and please don’t ever forget this information.  You should ask. You should always, always ask.  An originating flight means that when you get on that plane, you are the first group of people to be on that plane for that trip. You are not getting on the second, third, fourth leg of a flight and joining the people who have already boarded.  You’re the beginning.  The alpha.  The original passengers.

If you fly Southwest and your flight is continuing, your A, B, and C group passes actually become D, E, and F.  The people who boarded the first legs of the flight have their seats…and they’re not giving them up for anything.

My husband and I boarded the flight with our daughter only to find that there were not three seats anywhere near each other. We did find two seats so I could sit with my daughter, but the closest we could find for my husband was back a few rows.  We asked many, many people if they would give up a seat so that we could all three sit together, and no one would move.

Was this necessary?  Of course not.  Would it have been a kind thing to do for a scared, new mom of a sick child? I think so.  In fact, I’ve often been asked to do the same, even giving up seats I paid extra to snag, and I always say yes because I’d want that kindness extended to me if I were in their shoes.  Apparently there’s no airline seat selection karma.

 The flight attendants said they were not allowed to request that people move so that families can sit together, so they did nothing to help us. That three hour plus flight with my baby was the worst flight of my life and I vowed to never take my family on Southwest again.  However, I continued to fly with them years later when I began traveling for work, and flights with them as a single person were always problem free.

Then Southwest added the Early Bird ticketing option.  I have sung the praises of Southwest Airlines Early Bird far and wide to anyone who will listen. For just $12 per person per leg (post updated to reflect a change in pricing), you can be automatically checked in for your flight.  I have never gotten a spot higher than A31 with this system (although A group is not guaranteed), and we have always found seats together because it places us 30 to 45 people ahead of the family boarding!  Once other airlines began charging you extra to breathe, I started flying Southwest exclusively, and I fly often.  I mean, really, a lot.  Look:

When it came time to travel to Florida for the 40th anniversary of the opening of Walt Disney World, I booked my family’s flight with Southwest, paid the $80 for the Early Bird on all four tickets in both directions, and relaxed knowing that we would have a great vacation. Then the last week happened, and I woke up this morning feeling like getting my kids to a 7:30 a.m. flight was not the wisest option in the world.  Luckily, Southwest does not charge you to change your flight.  Seriously, I’m telling you that there are so many things that I love about this airline!  But it’s not worth it anymore with kids because…

I called reservations this morning around 9:30 and asked if it was possible to move my family’s tickets to a later flight tomorrow morning while still keeping the Early Bird reservation.  I know that tomorrow is tomorrow – as in soon – so I asked. The woman was fair and said, “Well let’s put in your information and see…” and after a few moments she confirmed that yes, the Early Bird feature that I had already paid for would transfer if we moved our flights to a later time tomorrow.  After she clicked on her keyboard for a little while and took my credit card information (the new time was a slightly more expensive flight), she confirmed with me one more time that I wanted to make the change and one more time I confirmed with her that the Early Bird transferred with the new flights.

Yes, she said.  Yes, you are all set with Early Bird, same confirmation number for the reservation, everything is set.

And then I went about my morning. If you’ve ever flown Southwest without the Early Bird upgrade, you know that when it approaches twenty four hours before a flight, you begin stalking the check-in page.  You’ve got to beat all those other people to that A boarding group, so you become a crazy person trying to click at EXACTLY twenty four hours out.  I didn’t do that because my $80 bought me peace of mind.  About 10:40 I decided I’d print out my boarding passes and leisurely went to the page only to find that we were in the middle of the B boarding group. What happened?

I called Southwest back expecting them to apologize for the technical glitch and reprint my passes.  After all, I have flown them enough – seriously, all the time – that I know they hold passes A1 through A15.  If ever there was a time to hand one of those babies out to someone, it was now when this poor woman who has forked over thousands to them just got screwed by a computer error.

Except it wasn’t a computer error. It was the human error of reservation agent 23635 (name withheld to protect her since karma is already coming for her) who had assured me not once, but TWICE that we would be in the Early Bird ticketing system.  It turns out that if you change your flight less than twenty five hours before the flight time, the Early Bird reservation is forfeited.  I changed my flight twenty four hours and forty-two minutes before my flight.  She knew this. She made the change.

So there I was, out the $80, out the $388 I had paid to let my kids sleep in a couple of hours, and booked on a flight where for two plus hours my family would be sitting separately.

Was my world ending? No, of course not.  Was it right? No.  Of course not.

So I asked them what they could do about this.  In general, companies can always do something.  Heck, in general even I can always do something.  If you win a giveaway on my site and the prize never shows up, I buy it and send it to you.  That’s life.  That’s integrity.  So I waited to hear something pleasant like, “Just a moment m’am, let me fix this problem for you.” What I got instead was, “We are sorry, this was definitely a mistake on our end, but there’s nothing we can do for you.” I reminded them about those first fifteen A tickets, and after first acting like they don’t exist – I seriously fly Southwest A LOT – they finally said that only Customer Relations could move my ticket to one of those slots so that I could board in the A group like I had paid to do.  Five agents later I spoke to a Customer Relations Supervisor named Lila (oh what the heck, why not just use names) who told me that they could not do anything for me regarding tomorrow’s flight.  Yes, it was their mistake.  Yes, they acted in error.  Yes, they got me into this mess, but they were not going to get me out of it. The best she said she could do was refund me the price of the upgrades, but that would happen seven to ten business days after the conclusion of the second leg of her flight.

Two hours, five agents later and I’m on the phone at this point because of principle, because if I patronize your business loyally and shout from the rooftops – or Twitter – how great you are, then you should stand by that great status and right the wrong, no matter how small.  And then I hear this, “I’d like to offer you a $100 voucher to fly with us again because of your trouble today.”

And then I hear myself saying, “Thank you for the generous offer, but with all due respect I will have to decline. I have many trips coming up in the next two months, but they will not be with your airline.”

So why will I not be flying Southwest Airlines again with my family?  Because if I can’t trust that you will make even your little mistakes right, then I can’t fly with you. I can’t give you my money. I can’t give you my support. I can’t travel with my kids on your planes no matter how funny your flight attendants are or how free it is to pack my big suitcases.

And how did the story end?  Well if you like math like I do you could figure out quickly while Lila with her hands tied was talking that $388 plus $40 = $428 and that ticket A2 actually only costs $137 more so while she was processing my refund on my upgrades, I was getting out my credit card.  As she continued to tell me that there was nothing she could do to improve the situation and ensure that my family would sit together, I figured out that if I bought a business class ticket – one of those A group spots they refused to give me despite my Early Bird purchase – that I could hold four seats for my family. Despite them not because of them, I’ll be the second person on that flight tomorrow, all with a positive balance of $291.  Had they made the problem right and changed my ticket, they would have kept my business and saved nearly $300.  I always win.  But I’m still not flying Southwest with my kids.

Postscript: Part of the confusion was that each of the five people with whom I spoke gave me different information. When I asked Customer Relations Supervisor Lila about that, she said that’s because people at different levels have access to different amounts of information.  When I pointed out that that seemed to cause problems and seemed to be forcing their agents to mis-communicate, she, well, agreed.  Huh.

Postscript 2 (as if I hadn’t already made you read way too many words for a blog post): Even as I sit here high and mighty on my morals, I know it will be hard to quit Southwest with their flexible flight changing and their WiFi on select flights.  Mmmmm, WiFi.  But come ON, Southwest. I called. I asked. I followed due diligence. Why’d you have to play me like that? Meh. I’m so going to end up going back…

Last Update…I Swear: Southwest Social Media looked into the situation and the refund on the upgrades was their only course of action. I would have, of course, preferred to not be refunded the upgrades and kept the Early Bird service that I was charged for and told I would receive.  I do appreciate their effort.  In the future, I would just prefer consistency and follow-through.  When my kids are a bit older and I don’t mind them sitting five rows away from me, I’ll likely fly them again. But I stand by advice that families with small children should book their flights with airlines that allow you to choose your seats before checking in.

Leave a Reply


  • I hate when customer service acts like they can’t do anything, when you know they can. Sorry this happened to you.

  • Wait, wait. I’m not sure I understand how the story ends. (I don’t fly Southwest much at all.) You ended up paying MORE at the very last minute – via Lila – to purchase ONE biz-class ticket (A2) and you will get on the plane early and save seats for your family?

    But you had to pay for this?

    What’s the $291?

    English was my major, not math.

    • I missed the part where Lila said she’d refund you the $388, but that’s what it sounds like! So are you taking the EARLY flight or the later flight?

    • English was my major, too, but only because I couldn’t admit that I liked math almost as much as my older brother. 🙂

      My upgrades for my flight came to a total of $428. Lila said that she would be refunding those upgrades because of the error of that first ticketing agent. This was after she said she couldn’t do anything for me. I knew that the cost to upgrade just my ticket to business class was $137. So after she put through all of the stuff on her end, I bought the business class ticket so that I would still get on in the A group. Had they done what I suggested originally and just rectified their mistake by moving my B class ticket to A class, they would have saved $291 and kept me as a customer, which obviously was not a concern to them.

    • Brent

      I found you after Southwest billed me twice for a ticket where I was supposed to receive a credit. WTF? I changed my departure and it appeared to be the same price but some how they billed me an additional 274.00 By the way–Southwest employees quickly lose their sweetness when you try to get something corrected. Behind the goofy crap they will rip you a new one if you dare question them.

  • sw1

    I attended a social media conference with their executive in charge of communications – they have a very sophisticated social media program and I am confident they are reading this post (found via their listening tools.) The true test is if they respond to you here… because they are a savvy social media organization. The clock is ticking Southwest social media team – make it right!

    • Michelle Paradis

      I bumped in to this blog, as I am about to post on several Mommy blogs about my bad experience with Southwest Airline’s complete lack of family boarding (boarding after 50% of the plane has boarded while the “B” passengers are on your heels annoyed at your needing to get two babies situated does not constitute family boarding in my opinion). We were one of four families who complained at the gate agent between both flights, to which the gate agent simply replied over and over that there is nothing he can do about it. I am shocked that since 2011 when you wrote this, Southwest has done nothing to change their family policy.

      To make matters worse, the extra seats they have added totally eliminates the ability to move car seats down the aisle, you have to hold them over your head. It’s not fun when you are doing it by yourself while your spouse is carrying two 1 year olds down the aisle.

      It’s our last Southwest flight, and we are 6 found trip tickets that they have lost for our next trip in July, it’s surprising that they do not understand the impact.

      • Jorge Pasada

        Sounds like SW is not the airline for you. Most airlines have gotten rid of family boarding all together. BTW, 45-60 “A” group passengers is not half the plane. Be thankful you get to board after them. I know I am, when traveling with my kids. If you don’t like not having an assigned seat, use a different airline. Or do like this lady did and buy early bird check-in. It’s pretty cheap.

  • I understand this is frustrating, but to swear off an airline that is probably your cheapest option for life, just because of their poor policy on something you aren’t likely to do ever again seems like you’re shooting yourself in a foot. I think you’re hurting yourself more than you’re hurting Southwest by flying on more expensive airlines.

    Furthermore, changing flights within 25 hours of departure time is logistically a nightmare for them, and I personally think it is generous of them to allow you to do it without paying a fee. You are free to never fly Southwest again, but if I were in the same situation, I would have no problem using them again. Especially if their fares were the cheapest I could find for my trip.

    • They actually are often not the cheapest airline, but I tend to fly with them out of loyalty to the company. Generally I can fly for less on AirTran and am fortunate enough to live near three international airports providing me with many options. The fact that they were happy to take my $80 and not provide the service I paid for removes my sense of loyalty to them, also then removing the main reason I fly with them in the first place.

      And yes, I’ve shot myself in the foot on principle many times in the past and will likely do it again. Doesn’t mean I won’t stand by what I believe.

      Thanks for commenting!

  • I’m truly glad that you shared this. I too fly Southwest. As I’m in a wheelchair, it’s imperative that I board first and into the first row with the bulkhead area (due to my disease, my leg must be kept elevated). An issue such as this has the potential to ruin an entire trip for us.

    Ironically, today I’m searching for flights for the Christmas time period. I’ll definitely keep this in mind.

    This could have far-reaching effects in the special needs community as well. One of the benefits for us in flying Southwest is the no-fee changes, since health concerns can often change plans at the last minute.

    I’ll be quite interested to see how this pans out.

    • Yes, part of why Southwest was right for me in the past was that flexibility because every parent knows that when you travel with children, many things can come up at the last minute. Being able to change reservations without a fee was critical, but it’s more critical that I know I will be given correct information especially as it directly impacts my kids’ experience when traveling. Hopefully tomorrow when I board that plane I’ll be able to hold those seats! No guarantees!

  • Southwest Airlines has me very confused at the moment. Amy, it is thanks to you that we have purchased the Early Bird Check In for flights. It was worth the money not to worry about getting a likely spot in the A boarding when with the family.

    It was just a few weeks ago that I praised their amazing Social Media Team (@SouthwestWhit) and customer service in general. Thanks to Hurricane Irene, we were left worried that we would not make it to our flight after the storm. We were right, the roads were closed although the flight did go. A quick Tweet to them after a great call pointed their Twitter people in my direction. Before I could blink, Whitney had made me forget about my dislike for the Southwest cattle call boarding. Not only did she refund my Early Bird Check In money, but she changed my voucher to a full refund. I even wrote a post about how well they used social media along with another company.

    Now I am left more confused. With so much negative publicity, was my encounter with Southwest Airlines a fluke?

    • When I spoke to the supervisor in reservations, I was told that there were only 2 tickets in the A 1-15 group available, which removed the option to upgrade my entire family to business class. When I spoke to the supervisor in customer relations (two people later, five people down the line total), I was told that the only ticket in A1-A15 taken already was A1. It seems that perhaps the social media team has as much information and leeway as the last person to whom I spoke and that explains your good experience. Sadly, it took me two hours to get to someone who knew the truth about the flight, and it took me several hours to hear back from anyone in social media.

  • I think you have the right to be upset, but I’m not sure a ranty post and a twitter stream full of your tirade is the way to go.

    It is right on SWA’s website that EarlyBird Check-In may not be transferrable – http://www.southwest.com/html/generated/help/faqs/earlybird_checkin_faq.html

    If an EarlyBird Check-In Customer chooses to change a flight, will the EarlyBird Check-In options transfer to the new flight?

    It depends. EarlyBird Check-In is tied to the Customer’s reservation for which the EarlyBird Check-In purchase was made and will be transferred to the Customer’s new flight if he/she changes the flight at least 36 hours prior to the original flight’s scheduled departure time and so long as the change is to a flight that will depart in more than 36 hours. Since EarlyBird Check-In is associated with a reservation, any changes must be made within the same reservation record (same confirmation number) in which the Customer purchased EarlyBird Check-In.

    It is a bit of a “she said/she said” with your situation. While I absolutely feel for you and would be equally outraged, the fact is that the information is plainly on their site stating your EarlyBird would not transfer. If the agent said it would, it was up to you to confirm that on the updated email. I know I have failed to read these confirmation emails, and being that you were busy you may not have given it the attention it needed.

    Southwest sends out EarlyBird confirmation emails. I’ve received one for each of the over 100 flights my family has flown in the past 18 months. There are times I did not get them – and I called to check. Emails do get misdirected.

    I’m sure this will all work out for the best. But to put the blame squarely on Southwest and take no responsibility for your own lack of follow up is not right.

    Furthermore, you, as a frequent flyer should know that EarlyBird check in DOES NOT guarantee you an A-boarding number. Having made your reservation for that new flight put you near the bottom of the EarlyBird queue and if there were that many passengers ahead of you to put you into the B group then so be it. You may have gotten what you paid for but didn’t like it. That doesn’t make it Southwest Airline’s fault.

    Seems like the people at Southwest may have actually tried to remedy a situation that really wasn’t their fault at all.

    • Hi Jane, I’m sure you can imagine that I did in fact check my email and have the Early Bird confirmation just as I confirmed it with the ticketing agent. That is why they accepted that it was their fault. And yes, I understand that it does not guarantee a spot in the A group, but I was also able to confirm with the agent before moving my flight how many people had already a.) bought business class tickets and b.) bought Early Bird spots so that I knew moving my flight wouldn’t forfeit my A group ticket. I am very thorough when it comes to travel, especially when it impacts my children.

  • I won’t be flying them anytime soon either because of all the other issues they’ve had kicking people off planes for various reasons. Unfortunately Air Tran is now owned by Southwest and they won’t have my business either.

    • I had no idea about AirTran!

      • Yeah we found out when we took the kids to Disney in May. 🙁

        • Why do flights to Disney cause so many moral dilemmas?!

    • marilynne

      I was a loyal customer who raved to friends and relatives about my love for SW Airlines. I am losing my love blush a little, but remain faithful because I still want to love them.
      A great benefit of SW ,for me, is that you can cancel a flight that you booked. The difference goes into a fund which you can use to pay for part or all of your next SW flight. Two of us commute wkly. for 2 mos. on a short flight to and from LA every year, and this benefit helps us keep our buisness costs down. The money in your fund can be accessed when you are paying for your next flight.You enter the Confirmation number of the flight the money came from, then you press an “add funds button”, and the funds available will go towards the flight you are purchasing. I was upset today to learn that after 1 yr. the money in the fund expires. I was was trying to access the funds and it wasn’t going through. I called and told an agent on the phone, who looked it up for me and let me know that the funds were gone. She told me it is in writing on website in plain English. I was a few days past the deadline — lost the funds in the account that I was counting on using. So often, I have sung the praises re: how well I am treated with SW. but this agent was cold. (I’m spoiled by all the nice ones) I would like it if SW made it possible for the consumer to look up the status of their funds online . One could enter the confirmation numbers and check on their funds in order to see the amounts and when they expire, and then purchase new tickets in a timely manner. As it is now– you can call in and an ask an agent who will give you the info. Since everything else can be done on the computer, why not this?
      Amy, I understand that when you are giving all your loyalty to a company, you sort of have an expectation that someone will, in your case, do all that they can do to keep you as a happy customer. In my case, assuming that the agent had no ability to bring back the funds, she could have been nicer when letting me know the bad news.

  • Southwest is in the news a lot for treating customers rudely, arbitrarily and sometimes discriminatorily. It is their business practice to allow their employees a big leeway to make rules up as they go along. They are proud of that culture, and it may indeed make for a happy staff. It also makes for happy customers–UNTIL you are the one wronged by that culture either because of discrimination or their many, many errors made. I kinda wish people would learn from others. They used to get away with that sort of screw-one-customer policy, because what’s one disgruntled customer now worth compared to their overall holding. But social media is changing that, and finally Southwest is getting the bad press they deserve.

    • Deb, thanks for your comment. I didn’t want to make my issue today about a bigger issue that wasn’t mine to make, but I did want to give that a nod by pointing out that my man and I most definitely smooch in flight & have never been called out for it. Whether it’s type of clothing, type of couple, or type of ticket, it does seem that the rules change as quickly as the weather. Absolutely frightening.

    • Brent

      This is my second time flying Southwest. The ticket price screw up ie billing me a second time was enough to put me off ever flying them again. The first time I flew Southwest (Dec 2012) I saw a pilot flying as a passenger pull a not so nice move. An elderly lady (very much in need of aid) was trying to put a bag in na overhead and the pilot in the aisle seat beside her made no effort to get up and help. Another passenger hopped up and did help. The flight attendants on the return flight were beyond unprofessional. They cackled like hens on the PA system but were notnhing short of nasty as they did the drink service. I really questioned ever flying them again

  • Amy

    I love you for so many reasons, and this is one of them. You are not afraid to speak your mind, but you speak it in such a classy way. I hope you guys have a fantastic Disney trip (and that your flight turns out to be pleasant)!

  • Thank you, Amy!

  • Great explanation of your issues.

    I won’t say anything bad about Southwest, because I love them, and they are by far the best airline I’ve ever flown. Even better than the European luxury carriers. That said, their open seating policies do pose a problem for families, especially when family members want to sit with each other. I usually fly them alone, but might think twice if I had little kids. Thankfully, my family and I don’t really care if we sit together. Hubs can sit by one kid, I can sit by the other, or one of us can handle both, leaving a single adult — we don’t really care.

    Hope you have a chance to take a deep breath and have an awesome trip despite all this unnecessary stress that wasn’t even your fault. Have a blast!

    • Thank you, Amy! And yes, I think that when the smoke clears I’ll be re-titling this post to Why My Kids Will Never Fly Southwest again. Very non-family friendly airline, but if they keep adding WiFi to those flights headed in the direction of blog conferences…

  • Be careful switching to AirTran. They have absolutely NO customer service training and most of their responses to any question is “I don’t know” which is ten times more infuriating than getting bumped from the Early Bird list. I’m not a big fan of the way Southwest handles boarding as I prefer assigned seating even if I have to board the plane last. Flying the “friendly” skies is not what is used to be no matter what airline you are loyal to. I was following your tweets today so thanks for giving us the full story!

    • You’re welcome, and thank you for the heads up! The days of French Bread Pizza Fridays are gone for good, aren’t they? 🙁

  • Janet

    I’m sorry to hear of the issues that you encountered. I used to travel on business quite a lot, but it was rare I ever travelled on Southwest Airlines (my airline of choice was always American Airlines). No matter who you fly with, though, issues will eventually crop up. Sadly, the airline industry just isn’t what it used to be.

    It sounds like you eventually got what you had initially paid for. That’s always a good thing. I hope your family vacation is a fun one. 🙂

  • Jennifer Souveroff (@Scampers49)

    I know just how you feel about Southwest. I flew with my sister last week from Los Angeles to Louisville and back home. We made the mistake of not get our boarding passes before we got to the airport. We checked in at the same time, with a skycap, and we ended up not only in the C’s but separated by nine digits. I wanted to “save” a seat for her but there was no place to save one. Everyone on the plane sat in either the window or aisle and no one wanted to move. We were not happy campers having to sit apart on every leg of our flights — I cannot imagine what it is like for families. We have been on other airlines where the flight attendants or other passengers are willing to make changes to allow my daughter to sit next to either my husband or myself. Yes, Southwest does sometimes have the best prices, but we now try to pick a flight/ airline where we can choose our seat assignments ahead of time.
    Dealing with the airlines can indeed be frustrating, annoying & aggravating especially when it’s during a family vacation. But, it sounds like you had a great time in Disney World other then that!

  • […] Here’s another: “My husband and I boarded the flight with our daughter only to find that there were not three seats anywhere near each other. We did find two seats so I could sit with my daughter, but the closest we could find for my husband was back a few rows.  We asked many, many people if they would give up a seat so that we could all three sit together, and no one would move.  The flight attendants said they were not allowed to request that people move so that families can sit together, so they did nothing to help us. That three hour plus flight with my baby was the worst flight of my life and I vowed to never take my family on Southwest again.  However, I continued to fly with them years later when I began traveling for work, and flights with them as a single person were always problem free.” […]

  • Lara

    My end to Southwest praise:
    Just returned from a weekend to Key West. Did earlybird check in on both legs and my friends did not. Going out we got A16 & A17 while me friends were in C; however coming back they checked in online earlier than we did and got A18 & A19 while we were in B with earlybird??? I thought earlybird check in automatically checks you in 36 hours before your flight. My friends checked in 5 hours before flight??? No one at the airport could tell me why. We paid same fair and I fly more than they do so it was not a status issue….not cool Southwest, not cool!

  • Dan

    Southwest is a very unprofessional, lazy, and greedy company. Their customer “service” department should be called customer “fuck over” department, because they can really give two shits about anything you have to say. They refused to give me credit for a flight I could not take, and said I should feel lucky since “other” airlines charge an additional fee if you can not take your flight? I really don’t even care to confirm that, because comparing YOUR companies policies to other companies policies is fucking irrelevant. Southwest Airlines I regret spending thousands of dollars with your shitty company, and I will never spend a never dime with you again. Time to spread the word.

  • I am sorry to read what had happened to you. I agreed that Southwest airline is not very family friendly. I often travel and when I travel with my child, with other airlines, we get to board first. Southwest airline’s earlybird check in is a waste of money. The current price for this option, as of 8/24/2013, is $25 per person for each way. When I booked my flight with Southwest and I was given a choice of either paying for myself, or both my child and me. I called a representative on the phone and was confirmed that I wouldn’t have to pay $25 for my 7 year-old son because he is a minor. He would be also automatically checked in with me because our tickets were purchased together. I went ahead and paid for the earlybird check in for me only, for both ways.

    When we departed Las Vegas, where I live, we were automatically checked in. I and my son were in the “A” group to board.

    Everything went fine, right? Great!

    However, the return flight from Midway airport back to Vegas was a disaster. Our 6:45pm flight was delayed for 2 hours, and we had to wait till 8:55pm to board. Because the flight was delayed, my earlybird boarding position wasn’t printed on the boarding pass. When I got to the gate, I spoke two Southwest agents at the gates regarding the early bird check in. While the second agent was checking my boarding pass on her computer, the first agent told me that i had to check in 36 hours ahead, or I would have to pay again. I told her I didn’t think that was how it worked. The second agent told that I got it right. She handed me our new boarding passes, which I was in “A” group, and my son was in “C” group. She said because I didn’t pay for my son’s earlybird check in. I explained & without a concern, she told me to speak to another agent at the gate.

    When it was time to board. The boarding agent impolitely told me that my son couldn’t board with me because he was in the “C”. I had to wait for all the A group to board & we ended up being all the way in the back of the plane.

    So you see..regardless of the fact that I paid for my earlybird check in and their flight delay, they wouldn’t let my son board in “A” group with me. I paid for the service I didn’t get to use so a refund will be requested as soon as I get home.

    I will never fly with Southwest, nor will I recommend any family with young children to fly with Southwest airline. Earlybird check in is a waste of money and this airline isn’t family friendly.

    By the way, I cancelled my purchased tickets for my future trips with Southwest.

  • Paul

    Lately I Have had better experiences with my 3 kids on Frontier, the staff has been very nice & I Have not had issues with having us all in separate seats. My last 2 flights were from DEN to NYC (LGA) & Trenton to CLT. No problems on any of the flights and my seats were assigned. Therefor I didn’t have to try and get a refund, & deal with there reservations agents, this is why I don’t fly Southwest with my kids.

  • Mom of 4

    Not to defend them…they, clearly made a mistake, but changing a flight within 24 hours is risky. No other airline would let you do such a thing without a ton of fees. I’ve flown many airlines with my kids (mainly when 3 were all under 3. Sw is, by far, the best one. Are they perfect, no. But, delta, on every flight, told me my car seat wasn’t allowed…ur was. They even tried to tell my husband that he had to forward face my 8 week old daughter in a car seat that clearly stated…do not face forward. All other airlines were awful to kids.
    You need to just go with their system. They board kids between A & B. The only way around it is buying a non-discounted fare. and, honestly, early bird is assigned by the time you purchase it. That late would have been worse than not having it.
    I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but you may have just pushed the system a little too far.

    • N

      Bull honky!!!
      They could have helped her & her family if they wanted to!!!!

  • Mark

    Great news for the rest of us. Please dont take your kids on any airline

    • Lyndsey Wagner

      My thoughts exactly.

    • Donna paraskevaidis

      that ridiculous mark

      • Mom of 3

        Aspen, My 3 yo, Jace my 9 yo, and Sloane my 15 mo were traveling with me to Orlando, Florida. We checked in right when it was 12:55 like it said and we got C60, the very last person/people to board, and my 3 yo and my 9 yo both had to sit by strangers!!! Can you believe it?!? By the way we live in Sacramento, California, A LONG RIDE! My 3 yo was very upset. I do not recommend SW!!!

        • E. S.

          With a 3 yo and a 15 mo, your whole family (including your 9 yo) should have boarded in the family boarding after A group completed… even if you held C60.

  • Sonya

    Obviously a very old post but I wanted to comment because I’m a frequent SW flyer and find that the Early Bird Check-In seems to be widely misunderstood. I myself don’t use it for business travel because I always purchase the Business class, but for personal travel I don’t use it either unless I know I’ve bought tickets very far in advance. Because EBC works just like the regular check in with one small nuance, it is first come first served based on ticket purchase date. So a ticket purchased with EBC 6 months before a flight will get an A pass and someone purchasing a ticket 24 hours before a flight should save their cash. It is so frustrating when CS gets information wrong but equally frustrating when it’s reported as a problem with the business as opposed to an unfortunate, in this case, rule, related to the use of the service.

  • Crystal

    I don’t like SW. The tickets are expensive, the seats are tiny, half the stewards are rude, it is a mob rush to get a seat (and then they make it so no one else can get a seat next to them) and when they are not losing your luggage, they’re dumping sewage water on it.

  • Theresa

    Don’t fly with Virgin America, if you have kids, either. We have booked upgraded seats with advanced seat selection months before our flight, but found our seating assignments were changed and we are no longer seated together, when we go to check in.

  • Hope

    I realize this is an old post but as Google is sending people here, I want to point out one issue that has changed or become worse since this post was written: On the “legacy” airlines (Delta, AA, United), they have started charging extra for so many seats, that it is extremely difficult to secure 3-4 seats together without paying extra. I have found this to be true even when booking well in advance.

    After having played that game for the last five years, it was a breath of fresh air to move to a market served by Southwest….walk on the plane and walk to the back until we found 3 seats + an aisle across together. I agree that on a heavy thru flight, it could be harder but we sometimes had to separate into 1 parent + 1 child on the legacies anyway.

  • Katrina

    I’m flying for the first time with my 6-year-old son to Florida, and thinking about booking Southwest, because it has the best times, and the luggage is free. I have flown many times as a single person, without any issues. They did on one of my flights ask people to move seats so a woman with her 4 year old daughter could sit together, even though they boarded in C. Not a problem. Never have I checked in early enough to get A, it’s always been B or C. It’s a risk you take, and you would hope that someone would be willing to move over if asked.

  • glasshalffull

    I realize this is an old post but because it continues to populate, I thik its appropriate to comment. Let me try to help people understand the A boarding group. When you purchase your ticket and pay the extra $15 for a better seat…. (1) you do not have to do pre-boarding check in on line. (2) A boarding spot will be selected for you. But this is KEY and the part many don’t understand. If I buy a ticket at 10am, and pay the $15 fee, and you buy the same ticket at 10:02am on the same day, and pay the $15 fee, I will get a boarding place ahead of you. They assign boarding selection based on when you purchased it. (3) You will NOT get a boarding pass in A 1-15, but you MIGHT get in the A group. It depends how many buy the $15 feature, and when you purchased your ticket. YOU might end up in the end of the B group. there is no way of knowing, but it seems to help move you forward, most often. SO HOW DO YOU GET IN THE FIRST 15? When you get ot the airport, you can purchase one of the coveted A1-15 spots if they are still avialalbe. (I beleive they are $40 per ticket) In other words, if you get there by the skin of your teeth they might all be purchased and you’re stuck with your current spot. At the same time, you might still get the first slot. It depends how many arrived prior to you, who also wanted to buy A 1-15. When purchasing this boarding pass you can actually ask what spot it will get you before you decide if its worth it. THINGS TO CONSIDER: No matter what you do to get a better seat, could be turned upside down if you are getting on a plane where others have boarded in another city before you.

    As far as other passengers not trading places to help you accomodate, is sad and a sign of our times. Sadly, you might consider offering them cash to do so, but flight attendants have no idea of knowing if the person you are tryimg to move paid the full business fare, the $40 fee or what they may or may not have done to get that seat. I assume someone would have ended up in a middle seat for the long flight, to accomodate you. They likely jumped through some hoops to make sure that didn’t happen for them, so I also understand their perspective, although I would have never allowed for children to be apart from a parent. I truly understand how frustrated you must have been, especially getting wrong information along the way and the way it turned out where passengers wouldnt even come to your aide. But with all that said, I am not sure you’d find it any easier on another airline. You did call 24 hours or less prior to your flight and if the plane is full, its full. My mom use to say, “You’re lacking of planning, doesnt make it my crisis.” Sounds like you had it perfectly planned until you changed your mind about leaving later. I hope you still enjoyed the magic of Disney World with your kiddos and have only had hassle free flying since. Its obvious to me, you are a very positive, generous person because you mentioned the positives of SWA even when you were reporting the negative.

    • Jana hebert

      As someone who travels with a child as well, I have to offer a balanced opinion about the issue of other passengers changing seats. I would hate to be separated from my kid on a flight, but courtesy has to be mutual. Many parents are unwilling to teach their kids to be mindful of others in public places. Parents themselves do thoughtless things such as changing diapers in inappropriate places. Respect has to work both ways, and I think many passengers (including those whose kids are past the baby phase) are tired of the expectation of unilateral kindness.

  • Kianne

    Thank you so much for this post! I am doing a lot of research about this topic, after having the worst flying experience of my life, due Southwest’s terrible policy about boarding with small children. I flew with my 5 month old in her FAA approved car seat, by myself this past week, and I will likely never fly Southwest again unless I can do enough to convince them to change their family boarding policy. Stay tuned!

  • Diana Oedy

    I completely agree. Open seating is thr worst thing ever. And I will not be flying southwest again because of that, but what is even worse is that I was flying alone with my 4 kids, 20 months, 7, 10, and 14 and since not all of my kids are under the age 6, and I didn’t have 2 adults with me we weren’t even allowed to board at family boarding, even though we were a family and I had a toddler. I feel like it is even more necessary to board early and try to get seats together when you are traveling solo with kids. So we ended up being literally the very last people on the plane. Southwest does not cater to families at all and we will not fly with them again!