Southwest check in can seem a little stressful, especially not having a seat assignment in advance. This can be especially daunting if you are flying with kids. We have flown many, many times on the airline and have almost mastered Southwest Airlines’ check in :).

I’ve put together some tips to help you complete this task STRESS-FREE with the best shot at getting the seat you want — or at least to make sure your children can each sit with an adult family member. Big relief, right?

TOP TIP: Set every alarm possible to remind you to check in online via the Southwest app or website EXACTLY 24 hours ahead of your flight departure time.

Southwest check-in

Click on the links below to take you to the section you’d like to learn more about or simply keep reading:

Download Your FREE Guide & Start Flying FREE on Southwest!

Southwest Check-in Basics

How Southwest Boarding Works

Southwest assigns “zones” for flight boarding based on when you check in and the level of ticket you have purchased. These zones are A, B and C and order 1-60 in each “zone.”

Let’s say you are assigned B24. That will put you in the middle of the B zone. You board in the order you’ve been assigned, which is determined by when you checked in, starting with A and ending with C.

Ensuring a Good Flight Boarding Position

Southwest Boarding Position

If you want to be assured of the best possible seat choice, you have a couple options when booking your Southwest flight. First, you can choose Southwest Business Select. This puts you in the first boarding group, which is A 1-15, though BEHIND anyone boarding with a wheelchair.

Once when flying into Ft. Myers, Florida, we had Business Select tickets, but were relegated to the fifth row because of the number of elderly and individuals boarding on wheelchairs. So there is no guarantee of the first row.

Southwest Business Select gets you more Southwest points but is also MUCH more expensive, though may be worth it as a business expense write-off. Note: You also get a free Southwest drink with your business fare.

Secondly, you can purchase Early Bird Check-in. This costs $15 per flight per person per way, which adds up quickly for a family, but it automatically checks you in before the rest of the public.

It’s best to sign up for Early Bird when you make your reservation, as the order of boarding in Early Bird is determined by when you purchased it. And you’ll need to do it at least 36 hours in advance (the timeframe when the automatic check in begins for Early Bird).

We now purchase Early Bird for my husband to ensure he has enough legroom, because he is tall, and he is usually able to save a middle seat for my oldest son (though technically you aren’t really supposed to “save” seats). But generally, middle seats are the last to be taken (how terrible to have to sit between two people ;-)), so it’s usually not a problem.

Lastly, if there is availability, you may be able to upgrade your boarding position to A1-15 for $40 per flight. If the airline does not sell all of their available Southwest Business Select seats, which allow those passengers board in Zone A1-15, they will then sell them to other passengers for a fee. Look for a sign at the gate that says “Upgrade Your Boarding Position” or ask the agent at the gate. More about How to Upgrade Your Southwest Boarding Zone at the Gate.

Upgrade your Southwest boarding zone at gate

You may be able to upgrade to Zone A1-15 at the gate for a $40 fee if you see a sign like this.

Checking in Online or Via Mobile: Step-by-Step

The KEY to getting the best seat possible is to check in for your flight online ahead of time as soon as you possibly can. Southwest allows you to do this 24 hours in advance, so set your alarm, set your mobile phone, set your calendar notifications, set ANYTHING and EVERYTHING to remind you to do it right at that moment.

If you have the Southwest mobile app and have allowed notifications from the app, it, too, will remind you. That has saved me before!

You’ll need to open the Southwest app on your smartphone or click “Check In” on the Southwest home page. Have your confirmation number handy and go ahead and type it into the appropriate box along with your first and last name. Click Check In as soon as the clock turns to exactly 24 hours before you board. Heck, try it a few times before in case their clocks run ahead of yours!

If you are returning from travels, it can be more difficult to remember, as you’re likely to be out and about enjoying your vacation destination. (We forgot while in San Diego once, which was a bummer, but we still got to sit one parent and one child together even though we were relegated to the C boarding zone!) That’s why it’s key to set multiple alarms, so you don’t forget, and using your smartphone is super handy in this situation.

Once you click Check-In, Southwest will ask you how you want your boarding pass delivered. Have a plan so you can click your choice and move on. You can choose to print, send to your phone via text or send via email. Additionally, you can log into the app using your Rapid Rewards points account and pull up your boarding pass.

If you did not send family members’ boarding passes to your email or text, you will need to log into their Rapid Rewards account on your phone to access their mobile boarding pass. If you use an iPhone, you can then load them all into your “Wallet” app for accessibility whether or not you have WiFi.

Tips for Families

Southwest check-in tips for families

If you purchased everyone’s ticket under one account — either with cash or points — you can check everyone in under the same Confirmation number. That means you only have to check in ONE TIME! That used to not be the case, so thanks to Southwest for this update!

The only exception is if one of your traveling companions is flying using your Southwest Companion Pass, an amazing perk of flying Southwest that lets one person fly free with you for up to two years. It’s actually quite easy to earn and I show you how in my free ebook, which you can download below:

Download Your FREE Guide & Start Flying FREE on Southwest!

If you have added your Companion to the ticket, that person will have a DIFFERENT confirmation number and will need to be checked in separately.

If you have children 6 or younger, Southwest lets you board between the A and B zones, which is handy, but if your kids are older, please follow the below:

Here Is Your Strategy:

  1. Have everything open, confirmation numbers typed in for the main confirmation number and that of your Companion. Make sure someone is ready to click Submit on each device (phone, etc.) when 24 hours in advance rolls around. DOUBLE CHECK all confirmation numbers and have them written down and available in case you got one wrong. I like to keep these in Notepad on my phone, which is also handy when checking bags or printing boarding passes at the airport.
  2. Click, click, click!!
  3. When boarding your flight, give Mom and Dad the best boarding position passes (even if it went to a child) and have each parent bring a child (or two) with them. We’ve never had anyone question if my husband had my child’s boarding pass who got the best boarding position and if my child is with my husband (despite having a number further back) so long as they are both in the same zone. If you have older children, they are probably fine standing alone wherever their boarding zone places them.
  4. Look for two seats together, which is usually toward the back of the plane. We have never had a problem finding two seats even in zone C — and even when I forgot to check in until two hours later!
  5. If you cannot find seats to match kids with a parent, ask if someone will switch seats. A flight attendant announced on one of our Southwest flights that they needed someone to switch so a mom could sit with her two young children … unless someone was up for babysitting… 🙂 Needless to say, someone switched!

Curbside Check-In

Some airports do offer Southwest Sky Cab curbside check in. View this list of airports to see which services they offer.

Ticket Counter Check-In

Southwest Check-in

Credit: Southwest Airlines

You can also opt to check in at the Southwest ticket counter and/or check your bags and print out boarding passes even if you’ve already checked in online. We often do this rather than rely on the boarding passes on our phones, just in case our phones die, we lose service or who knows what else?! It’s happened to me before :).

If you purchased a Business Select fare or hold Rapid Rewards A-List Status, you can check bags faster through the Fly By Priority Check-in Lanes.

Self-Service Check-In

Southwest Gate Check In

Credit: Southwest Airlines

Another option in some airports is Southwest Self-Service Check-In. Look for a Self Service kiosk at the Southwest gate.

Most customers can use the kiosk except for:

  • Unaccompanied minors
  • Customers traveling with pets
  • Customers traveling on age-qualifying fares (Infant, Child, and Senior Fares) that have NOT already been age verified
  • Customers traveling on a military fare
  • Customers traveling with paper tickets

At the Self-Service kiosk, which we really like, you will check yourself in and type in the number of bags you are checking. It will then print baggage tags, which you attach yourself before briefly visiting the Southwest desk to show your IDs and hand over your bags to be loaded onto the plane.

Southwest self tagging

Note, if you are checking in 20 minutes or less before your flight’s departure, you will need to check in AT THE GATE. You will be given a security document to get through security, but you will still have to check in at the gate.

View this list of airports to see which services they offer.

Other Frequently Asked Questions

Southwest Airport Check in

When Should I Arrive for Airport Check In?

You will need to have your boarding pass at least 40 minutes ahead of your flight’s departure and 10 minutes ahead of boarding (which is 30 minutes before departure).

What if I Decide Not to Travel on My Scheduled Flight?

If you are not going to be traveling on the flight you booked, you will need to notify Southwest at least 10 minutes before departure, otherwise, you will forfeit the cost of your ticket.

When Do I Need to be at the Southwest Gate?

You will need to be at the Southwest Gate to board your flight at least 30 minutes ahead of time. We like to get there about an hour ahead just to have a few moments to grab something to drink at the airport store or airport Starbucks.

In Summary

While checking in on Southwest Airlines is a bit more work than having a seat assignment, I think it’s worth it not to have to pay a penny for your flight, because Southwest is one of the easiest airlines to book with points. Heck, just envision everyone on their way to vacation and only paying $11.20 per person (the mandatory security fee that everyone has to pay).

Plus, who can argue with their free baggage policy, allowing you to check two bags per person free, and no change fees for cancellations or flight changes? I don’t mind sitting in the back and looking for a seat, do you?

Got any tips for getting a good seat on Southwest?

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