Southwest has a reputation as a ‘no-frills’, ‘no-nonsense’ budget airline. They don’t have a first-class product, or travel to exotic, or even some of the more well-traveled airports. But don’t dismiss them.

If you aren’t trying to reach exotic places and you have a family in tow, Southwest offers just about everything a traveling young family could ask for.

Because Southwest offers unique features including family boarding, liberal luggage allowances, in addition to tricks like the Companion Pass and easy to earn Rapid Rewards Points, Southwest is my favorite way to travel with a family. Let’s review these features in more detail below.

Family Boarding

Business travelers and solo travelers often cringe at the inability to select seats ahead of time and may complain at the ‘cattle like’ treatment of herding people onto the plane by arbitrary number. But for a family of seven, the way Southwest boards is perfect!

Southwest allows a family with children six or younger to board between the ‘A’ group (Business select travelers, A-listers, and those who were the earliest to check-in or paid for early bird check in) and ‘B’ groups (generally regular travelers who checked in quickly).

This means that when my family gets on the plane there are plenty of seats left, allowing us to take up two rows and spend the next several minutes getting settled in while the remaining groups try to squeeze into leftover middle seats.

While I am seating my family on the plane, I don’t have to search for the seat number on my ticket, and I don’t have to worry about not being able to sit near our children.

We usually walk all the way to the back of the plane and begin the usual snack and electronic device disbursements. No extra fees for seat selection. No negotiating with neighbors about seat swaps. We always have easy access to the lavatories for the almost guaranteed trip we’ll take no matter how short the flight.

flying southwest with family

Plane Layouts

While we’re on the topic of plane seating, Southwest’s Boeing 737-800 typically has two rows of three seats each. While this creates an abundance of the dreaded middle seat, for families it can be quite handy.

For a family like mine, Southwest’s three-seat rows allow me to sit between two of my children so I can referee in-flight spats. Or box them in by sitting in the aisle putting myself within arms reach of the rest of my family.

The two-seat rows or 2-3-2 layout of other airlines with other planes make this slightly more difficult. Cozier is generally not helpful for any other kind of traveler, but when I travel with the family, I like to be able to sit close to my kids should they need help.

flying southwest with kids

Two Free Bags Per Traveler

I almost never check a bag when I fly solo. A change of clothes or two and a toothbrush can get me through most traveling that I do alone. But when I travel with my family, that’s a different story.

Southwest allows two free checked bags up to 50 lbs per ticket, which means my family of seven can bring up to 12 checked bags! (My youngest child is still a lap infant so he doesn’t get a baggage allowance).

While I probably don’t have the ability to navigate 12 bags to the check-in counter, this option means I can take a virtually limitless number of pack-n-plays, car seats, strollers, and suitcases full of a variety of clothes, foodstuffs, and even toys that traveling with my kids requires.

Not having to worry about the checked bag fee for each additional item gives me peace of mind that we can bring what we need in order to keep the family safe, comfortable, and entertained while we travel.

southwest companion pass

Companion Pass

The Southwest Companion Pass allows the holder to fly a passenger on any flight on which they travel for just the cost of taxes and fees. Traveling couples will often alternate holding Companion Passes so that each year one will be able to fly the other for free.
In our family, we try to ‘double up’ as often as possible and then try to focus our travel on Southwest for the years we both have these passes.

This saves us thousands of dollars as we are saving the cost of two tickets every flight! This benefit puts flights that were a stretch for us, from a points perspective, well within range.

The Southwest Companion Pass helps my large family travel like a normal-sized one.

lap children policies southwest airlines

Lap Children Policies

Since we’ve begun our points and miles journey, we’ve almost always had one of our children qualify as a lap-infant. Like most domestic airlines, Southwest doesn’t charge for a lap-infant ticket.

We’ve also had decent luck, utilizing a nearby seat to strap our child in an FAA car seat on flights that weren’t full. Your Mileage May Vary on this from flight crew to flight crew. But I’ve found Southwest’s flight crew generally pretty accommodating for families travelling with lap infants.

Just make sure to bring a birth certificate or other proof of age for the lap infant. Most airlines are pretty firm about the two-year cut-off age for lap-infants.

No Change Fees

Another great perk of flying with Southwest is they have no change or cancellation fees. This is great for planning family vacations far in advance, knowing you have the option to shift things if something were to come up. With Southwest I always book first, ask questions later.

I also have booked several tickets on different days if I’m unsure which day we’ll be able to get accommodations or when we’ll need to fly back.

Once, I had a potential business event I was going to need to get to one day before our vacation was scheduled to end. I booked an extra ticket for that day in case I needed to get to the event. I ended up not needing to fly out, but forgot to cancel the ticket! Because I didn’t even bother checking in, Southwest refunded my points. Had I needed to fly out, though, my seat was available. Any other airline and this would have been money or miles lost.

The more people you travel with, the more unplanned circumstances can occur.

Kids can get sick, have a surprise sporting event, or a parent can get called into work or another obligation. Being able to change or cancel flights without penalty is a huge benefit for families traveling together.

Rapid Rewards Point Earning Opportunities

When you travel solo, normally one credit card sign-up bonus is good for at least one ticket. Traveling as a family means you have to put a lot of effort into earning the points and miles necessary for your trip. Southwest offers tons of opportunities to earn Rapid Rewards Points, their points and miles currency. Their co-branded Chase card suite includes both personal credit cards like the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card and business cards like the Southwest® Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card each with generous sign-up bonuses and reasonable annual fees.

These cards allow you to earn a new sign-up bonus after 24-months from your last sign-up bonus from these cards.
Although not usually the best use of points, Ultimate Rewards points also transfer to Southwest Rapid Rewards, giving you a large option of cards to earn flights for your entire family.

Final Thoughts

If you want to fly in style or reach exotic places, Southwest isn’t for you.

But for a family like mine that takes several domestic vacations per year and at times needs to travel heavily, Southwest really can’t be beat.

They offer a lot of flexibility, preferential treatment for families while boarding and plenty of opportunities to earn points.

In addition, the Companion Pass makes getting your whole family on board for just the cost of taxes and fees that much more attainable.

Southwest is my go-to option for traveling domestically with a family.