The Ultimate Guide: Flying Southwest Airlines with aLap Child
Welcome November & goodbye sunlight! As much as I love the long days of summer and dread the seemingly endless darkness, I can't wait for the end of the year holidays. I'm feeling less guilty talking about snowmen & Christmas trees now that Halloween is officially behind us.
I thought it would be timely and helpful to review what it's like to navigate the airport and flying Southwest Airlines with a lap child for those of you who will be flying to be with family soon!
We have flown SIX round trips with our under 2 year old. Every flight has been with Southwest Airlines, so I have some tips and helpful reminders to make your trip through the airport and on the flight easier! Everyone finds an airport routine that works for them so I am sharing what my partner and I have done consistently. This is not sponsored by Southwest, but merely sharing our experiences!
Planning ahead is crucial for a smooth air travel day, so be sure to read all of the tips to make your experience as enjoyable as it can be :)
BEFORE CHECKING BAGS AT THE AIRPORT
Decide what bags you want to check at the counter, at the gate, and carry on when you board your flight. We always checked the car seat and gate checked our stroller so it could help carry all the gear. Think about the logistics such as the arm space or back space needed to hold all the bags!
Familiarize yourself with Southwest's policy regarding traveling with children. They have an option for "affordable infant fare" if you choose to get a seat for your under 2 kiddo. Know your options and make the best choice for your family.
Bring a copy of your child's birth certificate. TSA will always ask to see proof of age for the lap children under 2.
Checking a car seat &/or stroller does not count towards your total checked bag count. This means you can check 2 bags (under 50lbs) for free per person PLUS a car seat &/or stroller for free!
Ask the employee at the counter how full your flight is. They will be able to tell you. I always ask so I can mentally (and emotionally) prepare myself whether or not we will have to squish or have a little extra wiggle room. Trust me. My very actively toddler has been blessed with the gift of always. moving.
WAITING AT THE GATE
If you choose to check a stroller at the gate, leave yourself enough time to check in at the desk. We purchased a stroller bag to keep it relatively safe from physical damage while on the plane. The employees are able to attach the luggage sticker directly on the bag without requiring me to lug the whole stroller with me to the desk.
Family boarding comes between group A & B which means you can board the plane with your family regardless of your boarding pass letter/number. Wait near the family boarding area and if that's not clear, ask an employee who would be happy to point you to the right place. I generally like waiting close by in case there are a lot of families (Hello Orange County airport, gateway to Disneyland!) or if the flight will be full. Southwest Airlines has open seating which means first come, first served. Patrons line up according to their boarding pass A through C, 1 - 60.
Try to build in enough time to let your toddler stretch her legs or do what makes her happy before getting on the flight. We are often walking around the terminal, finding emptier spaces to jump and explore before being cramped on a flight. Give your toddler some undivided attention and get involved in their play! That connection time will be comforting for both parent and child in the midst of the eventful day.
BOARDING THE PLANE / DURING THE FLIGHT
Ask the welcoming flight attendant which lavatory has the changing table. Many people assume it is in the back of the plane but I have had friends who learned the hard way that the changing table is in the front lavatory. Prepare yourself before your child has the blow out. And better yet, I hope your kid doesn't have a blow out at all!
If your child is old enough for a cup of water or free beverages, they will give cups with a lid and straw! Even if they don't consume any liquid, the ice, cup, and straw alone will provide plenty of entertainment :)
If you're breastfeeding or still drinking bottles, take off and landing are great times for that! Sucking (on anything really) will help alleviate the change of pressure for your little one's ears. If you're trying to figure out timing with naps or feeding and can't manage both, flight attendants have told me that landing is harder on your ears than take off.
Bring something new/novel to hold your kiddo's attention! I have bought small cars and unveiled them on the plane! It brought him so much joy and entertained him for quite awhile. I've also packed a drawing pad and crayons, and books to keep him occupied.
If you need some screen-free entertainment ideas and don't want to buy yet another toy/object for your child, check out my post on strategies for saving money on toys!
If you are worried about your child "behaving" or "being good" through the airport and on the plane, I understand. It is stressful thinking about how others may respond to you or your child. It has been freeing and helpful for us to remember that while others may negatively respond to something you cannot control, in the end their response is a reflection of themself and not a reflection of you as a person or parenting choices. No one can force a child to enjoy the stimulation of the airport or plane. Have grace on yourself and be attentive to your child's emotions. Chances are, acknowledging those emotions and allowing space for them might actually be the most helpful thing :)
I wish you all safe travels and hope that these tips help you feel more prepared and ready to take on the beast of traveling with your precious kiddos!