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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 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.
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 air fare per child. So if the air fare 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.
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
A Southwest flight attendant will keep tabs on the child during the flight but will not continuously monitor the child throughout the flight. Make sure your child is aware of this and consider their maturity level before deciding to let them 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 of 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.
Once the flight is over, the child will be escorted to the gate where they can be picked up my 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.
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 doesn’t have the best in-flight entertainment (IFE) and so you’ll want to pack something to keep your child occupied. Tablets are probably the go-to but other things like toys or coloring books could also be handy.
Charge up those devices
Southwest does not have power outlets on board so make sure that your devices are sufficiently charged before you arrive at the airport.
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.
Pets are not allowed to fly with unaccompanied minors.
It is possible to get refunded for the unaccompanied minor charges. If you 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.
So basically if your child has a penchant to get out of control, you could be held liable for his or her actions. This is just yet another reason you want to make sure you child is mature enough to travel alone.
Southwest Airlines has a “young traveler” policy for kids ages: 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17. This only applies for domestic flights.
Southwest states that a young traveler “must be of sufficient maturity and capability to travel alone—this includes, but is not limited to, checking in, passing through the security checkpoint, boarding, deplaning, and claiming luggage.”
So the child will need to be relatively self-sufficient and not overwhelmed by the prospect of trying to navigate a busy airport. Following the same procedures outlined above, you can obtain an escort pass to accompany the child through the security checkpoint through to the gate and also to pick them up at the gate.
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.
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Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the digital smart wallet, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time credit card rewards/travel expert and has earned and redeemed millions of miles to travel the globe. His content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.