My family of four has flown A LOT (at least SIX times a year!) since 2015 when we discovered how to collect miles and points — most of it on Southwest.
I have messed up … A LOT … and learned plenty of good practices along the way, as well. To save you the hassle, which I’ve gone through, I wanted to share my top 9 tips for traveling Southwest, which I’ve learned along the way.
9 Tips for Traveling on Southwest
1. Remember to Check in 24 Hours Ahead of Flight Departure
To get the best possible boarding order on Southwest, which determine how early you can pick your seat (there are NO assigned seats on Southwest), you need to check in on Southwest exactly 24 hours ahead of your flight. This is even more critical if you have a children who need to sit with parents.
Set multiple alarms and do whatever you have to do to remember this.
2. Consider Time Zones
Keep in mind the time zone may be different returning from your destination and make sure you know what time zone the departure time shows. I made this mistake once returning from Colorado. My Google calendar showed our Denver to Indy flight leaving Eastern time when really we were leaving two hours earlier Mountain Time.
That meant we checked in two hours too late and were put in the back of the B boarding order — boo! However, we STILL were able to sit 1 parent with 1 child and also were able to do once when we once ended up in the C (last) boarding zone.
3. Consider Splurging on Early Bird
If you’re traveling as a family, you may want to get Early Bird check in for at least one parent. Early Bird costs $15-$25 per direction if you do it at the time of booking and automatically checks you in ahead of everyone else, except those who hold a Business Select seat or hold elite status with Southwest.
If you are flying free on points, this especially makes sense to spend a little to alleviate the stress of not knowing what seat you will be in. I have decided to do this going forward as one easy thing we can do to eliminate unnecessary travel stress :). Check out my FAQ that has everything you need to know about Early Bird seating on Southwest:
4. Print Your Boarding Passes
While it is cool and handy to have the boarding pass on your phone — either by text, email or the Southwest mobile app — it doesn’t hurt to have them printed, as well. I have had my Southwest app not work at the gate (again, unnecessary stress), and if parents have to pull up their own mobile boarding pass plus a child or two, that takes more time and again more stress of having to locate their electronic boarding passes while you are trying to get on the plane.
You can either print them at home when you check in or print them at the gate when you are checking luggage. Even if you’re not checking luggage, you can still usually go to a self-service kiosk and print your passes.
5. Weigh Your Checked Luggage
This is usually easy enough to do at home, but not so easy on the return flight. We LOVE this handy portable luggage scale (just $14.95! Note: This is an affiliate link) and take it with us everywhere.
You just hook it on your bag and pick up the bag with the scale and it weighs it for you. We use it both at home BEFORE we leave and upon our return. I recommend getting one with a “grip handle” otherwise, it hurts your hand when you pick up the bag to weigh it.
If you can’t weigh your bags, have a plan for what you will take out if they are too heavy. Travel packing cubes (also an affiliate link) make this easy. I love these for separating everyone’s stuff by color when packing, but a great perk is that if your bag is too heavy, you just remove one of these, which each come with a handle and bring it as a carry on.
You can also bring a lightweight bag you can dump a few things into and carry onto the plane if necessary. We’ve had to do this twice now!
6. Check If Your airport Has a Line for TSA PreCheck
Doublecheck that your departure airport actually has a line for TSA PreCheck if you hold this nifty way to bypass long security lines and avoid taking off shoes and removing computers and devices.
Here’s my advice on getting TSA PreCheck:
You can check this on the MyTSA app. It will tell if you if lines are open and if you’ll be traveling at a time when lines are typically more busy.
If there’s no line (this happened to us at New York City’s LaGuardia) plan to arrive at least two hours before boarding. If there is a TSA PreCheck line, great! Time saved! If not, you should still have enough time to get through the line on time.
7. Have Southwest Confirmation Numbers Ready on Your Phone
I suggest having all confirmation numbers accessible on your smartphone — either in email or in Notepad — ready to go at check-in.
Go ahead and do this on your way to the airport. This eliminates scrambling in the check-in line where you’ll need your confirmation number to check bags and print boarding passes, saving time, and again, stress.
8. Use Google Maps to Get Directions to Your First Location
Once you land and can turn on your WiFi, open up a mapping app on your phone to map directions to your first location if you are driving. That way, once you get in the car, all you have to do is press Go and listen to the “Google lady” (that’s my name for her :)) tell you where to go.
We often find that garages have no Wi-Fi signal, so better to do it while you have one.
9. Have a Flexible, Go-With-the-Flow Positive Attitude
Travel is not always fun and goodness knows delays pop up, you get lost, bags get lost, etc. Simply shifting your attitude to optimism and flexibility will improve everyone’s experience no matter what bumps emerge.
I hope these tips save you some of the stress we have experienced on our flights!