The Southwest Airlines unaccompanied minor policy is a bit different from some of the major airlines like Delta, American, etc.
For one, it’s cheaper to fly with children on Southwest than it is with those other big carriers but there are also differences with the age limits required and also with the routing allowed.
In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about the unaccompanied minor policy for Southwest, including things like fees and all the rules. I’ll also walk you through the entire experience so you’ll know what to expect and then finally offer some tips to make your experience as smooth as possible.
Table of Contents
What is the Southwest Airlines unaccompanied minor policy?
Southwest Airlines requires children ages five through 11 traveling without an accompanying passenger age 12 or older to travel as unaccompanied minors (UMs).
Children aged 12 or older cannot travel as unaccompanied minors and must travel independently though there is “young traveler” policy for kids aged 12 through 17 (more on that below).
What are the Southwest Airlines unaccompanied minor fees?
Southwest Airlines charges $50 each way (or $100 roundtrip) for the unaccompanied minor fee. This is in addition to the airfare per child. So if the airfare costs $120 and you’re flying an unaccompanied minor roundtrip, the total cost would be $220.
This fee is much lower than what the legacy carriers charge. Both Delta and American, for example, charge $150 each way, so you can save a couple of hundred dollars by going with Southwest on a roundtrip ticket.
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How to book a Southwest unaccompanied minor reservation
There are three different ways you can make a booking for an unaccompanied minor.
- Book online at southwest.com
- Call Southwest at 1-800-435-9792
- Make the reservation at the Southwest ticket counter at the airport
When you enter the child’s birth date online, you will need to indicate whether the child will be traveling with someone over the age of 12. If not, then you will be required to fill out the unaccompanied minor travel document and pay the fee.
If you are using Rapid Rewards (points) to make your booking, you can still book a ticket for an unaccompanied minor.
When you’re ready to make your reservation, you’ll need the following information:
- The child’s full name
- Your relationship to the child
- The child’s address
- Telephone number(s), including area code
- The child’s date of birth
- Information about both the parent/guardian dropping off and the one picking him/her up
- Contact information for an alternate designee at the child’s destination
Southwest Airlines unaccompanied minor form (PDF)
Here is the Southwest Airlines unaccompanied minor form. As you can see, you’ll need the information for the parent/guardian dropping off the child as well as the parent/guardian picking up the child. In addition, you’ll need to name an alternate to pick up the child just in case something comes up.
Dropping off at the airport
Give yourself plenty of time
One mistake that many people make when dealing with unaccompanied minors is that they don’t plan properly and allow enough time for them to make it through the airport. When you’re dealing with an unaccompanied minor, you’re going to need to find time to:
- Park the car
- Obtain your escort pass
- Get the child’s UM lanyard
- Get through security
- Check in at the gate
- Arrive in time for pre-boarding
So be sure to arrive earlier than you usually would if it were just a normal flight. Your goal will be to arrive at the gate no less than 45 minutes prior to the flight’s scheduled departure time.
Once you arrive, you’ll need to stop at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter. This is where you’ll receive a UM lanyard for the child and you (the parent or guardian) will obtain an escort pass. You must get the escort pass to take them through security.
At check-in, you will need to show the following documents:
- A copy of the child’s itinerary
- Proof of the child’s age (birth certificate, etc.)
- Your valid, government-issued ID (required to get an escort pass)
Once you have your escort pass and make your way to the gate, you’ll want to check in with a Southwest Airlines Employee at the gate and let them know that you are dropping off a UM. This will help them inform you about pre-boarding but it’s ultimately your responsibility to make sure that you child boards the plane at the right time. Read more about how the Southwest boarding process works here.
Must be accompanied until the plane departs
A parent or guardian must remain in the gate area until the flight is in the air. This is a key thing to remember because many people assume that they don’t need to stick around after escorting the minor to the gate.
The reason you need to stick around is that the plane could come back to the gate even after it has left the gate and the airlines want to make sure that someone will be around to look after the minor in that scenario.
After the plane has departed be sure to call the parent/guardian picking up the child to let them know that the flight has departed.
In the air
Flight attendants aren’t babysitters
While a Southwest flight attendant will maintain general oversight of the child during the flight, it’s important to note that they won’t provide continuous monitoring throughout the journey.
It’s crucial to ensure that your child understands this aspect and to carefully assess their level of maturity before making the decision to allow them to fly alone.
The child is required to wear the UM lanyard around their neck at all times during the flight so make sure that they are aware of this.
It’s important that while the child is flying, there are parents or guardians who can be reached via phone in the event there is a change to the plane’s path due to unexpected circumstances. See below about downloading an app to keep you informed of the flight during the entire process (highly recommended).
Once the flight is over, the child will be escorted to the gate where they can be picked up by the parent or guardian.
The person picking up the child will need to check in at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter to obtain an escort pass that will allow them to go through the security checkpoint and they must show a valid, government-issued ID.
Parents and guardians picking up an Unaccompanied Minor should arrive at the gate 45 minutes prior to scheduled arrival. Many times planes can arrive very early which is why they want you to arrive so early. The parent or guardian will need to present a valid government-issued photo ID at the time of pick up.
It’s important to note that Southwest will not release an Unaccompanied Minor to anyone other than the designated parent or guardian. If something comes up and you need to change who the designated parent or guardian is make sure that you talk to someone at the ticket counter before the child’s arrival.
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Southwest Airlines unaccompanied minor rules
Something that’s very important to note is that Southwest does not provide unaccompanied minor service to and from international destinations. Southwest serves a number of international destinations, so you’ll want to make sure to keep your unaccompanied minor requests to domestic routes.
If traveling to Hawaii you’ll probably need to fill out the Plants and Animals Declaration Form at the departure gate prior to boarding the aircraft.
Unaccompanied minors are only allowed to travel on nonstop or same-plane service flights. These are flights that might make a stop or two but they do not require passengers to change planes or flight number.
This is different from other legacy carriers that allow connections (depending on routes and age), so if you need more flexible routing you might want to look into other airlines like American or Delta.
Southwest does not offer a meal service though they do provide very light snacks on flights. If you think your minor will have an appetite, consider packing food with them to take through the airport (see what foods are allowed through TSA here) or you might just want to purchase something for them at a store within the airport once you get through security.
Southwest Airlines may not offer the most extensive in-flight entertainment (IFE) options, so it’s a good idea to come prepared with activities to keep your child engaged and entertained during the flight.
While tablets are often a popular choice, you might also consider bringing along items such as toys or coloring books to ensure your child has a variety of options to stay occupied and enjoy a comfortable and enjoyable flight experience.
Charge up those devices
It’s important to note that Southwest Airlines does not provide power outlets on their aircraft. Therefore, it is advisable to ensure that all your electronic devices are adequately charged before your departure to the airport.
This proactive approach ensures that you have sufficient battery life for your devices throughout the duration of your flight, allowing you to stay connected, entertained, or productive as needed during the journey.
Get an app to monitor the flight
I suggest that you download an app like FlightAware that allows you to monitor the progress of your child’s flight.
By using FlightAware or a similar tool, you can stay informed about the flight’s status, including its departure time, estimated arrival time, any delays, and even the plane’s current location during the journey. This added level of visibility can provide parents and guardians with peace of mind and help them stay well-informed throughout the travel process.
Pets are not allowed to fly with unaccompanied minors.
This restriction is in place to ensure the safety and comfort of all passengers, as well as to avoid potential issues or disruptions that may arise from having animals in close proximity to unaccompanied minors who might require special attention and care during the flight.
It is possible to get refunded for the unaccompanied minor charges. If you cancel your reservation or if your flight is canceled you can get refunded for the charges. Also, if the child is joined by an accompanying passenger age 12 or older they would no longer be an unaccompanied minor and the charges could be refunded. In all cases, contact Southwest at 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792) or visit the airport ticket counter to process your refund.
Be aware of the liability language that you are agreeing to which states:
THE PURCHASER AGREES TO INDEMNIFY, HOLD HARMLESS, AND FULLY RELEASE SOUTHWEST AIRLINES FOR ANY AND ALL INJURY OR DAMAGES TO PROPERTY OR PERSONS CAUSED BY OR INCURRED AS A RESULT OF AN UNACCOMPANIED MINOR’S ACTIONS, INCLUDING INJURIES TO THE UNACCOMPANIED MINOR CAUSED BY HIS OR HER OWN NEGLIGENCE.
In essence, if your child tends to exhibit unruly behavior, you may be legally responsible for any consequences resulting from their actions. This underscores the importance of ensuring that your child is sufficiently mature to travel independently. Additionally, it’s crucial to assess their ability to handle the responsibilities associated with solo travel.
If you are interested in finding out more tips check out the ultimate guide to unaccompanied minors here.
Southwest Airlines has a “young traveler” policy for kids ages: 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. This only applies for domestic flights.
According to Southwest’s guidelines, a young traveler must demonstrate a sufficient level of maturity and competence to navigate the entire travel process independently. This entails responsibilities such as checking in, passing through security, boarding, deplaning, and retrieving luggage.
In essence, the child should possess a reasonable degree of self-sufficiency and should not feel overwhelmed by the prospect of navigating a bustling airport. By following the same procedures outlined earlier, you can obtain an escort pass, which allows you to accompany the child through the security checkpoint, all the way to the departure gate, and also to pick them up upon arrival at the gate.
Southwest Airlines unaccompanied minor FAQ
All children ages five through 11 traveling without an accompanying passenger 12 or older must travel as unaccompanied minors.
You will have to pay $50 each way for the unaccompanied minor fees.
You can avoid the unaccompanied minor fees by using a credit card with an airline credit such as the Amex Platinum Card.
No, an unaccompanied minor cannot fly on Southwest international flights.
You can make an unaccompanied minor reservation online, at the ticket counter at the airport, or by calling Southwest at 1-800-435-9792.
You will need to fill out the unaccompanied minor information form.
This is a simple form that just requires you to input contact information for the parent or guardian dropping off the child and the parent or guardian picking them up.
Keep in mind that all contact information must match to a government issued ID for the adults involved in picking up and dropping off the child.
If you are dropping off an unaccompanied minor you will want to arrive early to make sure you have enough time to obtain your escort pass, get through security, and arrive in time for pre-boarding.
Yes, unaccompanied minor passengers may be board during pre-boarding. It’s a good idea to notify the agent at the gate that the unaccompanied minor will be pre-boarding.
Unaccompanied minors can only travel on nonstop or same plane service flights.
If a flight requires a connecting flight (where the passenger hops on board a different plane) that is not allowed for an unaccompanied minor.
The Southwest Airlines unaccompanied minor policy is a bit different from the major airlines. It’s not as expensive and it’s also not as strict on the age limits. But it’s also not as flexible when it comes to connecting flights and international travel.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.