Like most carriers, Southwest Airlines created specific rules and regulations for children between ages 5 and 11 who travel alone. The carrier's Unaccompanied Minors program helps ensure that children get from Point A to Point B safely and efficiently.
The process starts when a parent or guardian books a ticket, which can be done online or by calling 1-800-I-FLY-SWA. When booking the flight, have the following information available: the child's full name; the booker's relationship to the child; address and phone number; date of birth; contact information on both the parent/guardian dropping off and the one picking him/her up; and contact information for an alternate adult at the child's destination in case the primary person is not available.
The fee for a UM booking is $50 one way or $100 roundtrip on top of the airline fare. UMs can only travel on non-stop or direct flights with a stop but no change of planes.
At the airport, the parent/guardian and the child must go to the Southwest Airlines ticket counter to check in. Have a copy of the UM's itinerary and proof of the UM's age (via a birth certificate, passport etc.) along with the UM Information Form.
The child will be issued a UM lanyard and the gate agent will print an escort pass for the parent to accompany the child through the security checkpoint and to the gate. The airline advises being at the gate no less than 45 minutes to the flight's scheduled departure time. Don't forget to let the Southwest gate agent that you're dropping off a UM.
When it's time to board the flight, a flight attendant will get your child and let him get on the plane before general boarding starts. Parents/guardians are required to stay in the gate area until the UM's flight is in the air. They should also call the parent/guardian picking up the UM to let him/her know that the flight has departed.
A flight attendant will check on the UM periodically but will not continuously monitor the child during the flight. A child must wear the UM lanyard around her neck at all times and follow all instructions given by flight attendants, including wearing a seatbelt. After landing, the UM will be escorted off the plane and taken to meet their parent/guardian at the arrival gate.
As the parent of a child myself, here are my tips to ensure that your unaccompanied child has a good flight:
- Prepare children by walking them through the entire UM process, explaining things in detail and answering their questions;
- Pack a bag with your child's favorite food and snacks, since Southwest doesn't serve meals;
- Make sure their smartphones/tablets are fully charged (consider packing a portable battery pack) since Southwest's Wi-Fi-enabled flights offer free Dish TV programming; and
- Have books, toys and games available in case the electronics are not available.