A First Timer’s Guide To Southwest – What You Need To Know

Southwest Airlines is a unique airline in the United States. While the carrier has some markings of a traditional low-cost carrier, such as operating a single type of fleet and maintaining a single class of service, the airline also has some customer-friendly points. Here’s what you need to know before your first time flying Southwest Airlines.

Southwest Airlines plane
Southwest Airlines is one of the largest airlines in the US. Here’s what you need to know about flying with the carrier. Photo: Getty Images

Free bags and no change fees

Southwest Airlines beats network carriers in offering no change fees. The airline allows all passengers to be flexible with their travel plans. You can change your flight as necessary to a different itinerary without paying any fees – though a fare difference may apply. So, be aware of that. Moreover, the operator does not have a limit to the number of changes you can make to your flights.

In addition, Southwest also has the most generous domestic bag policy of all major airlines. The carrier does not charge anything for the first two bags a passenger flies with.

US Airlines United and Southwest Getty
United was the first of the big three US airlines to eliminate change fees. However, Southwest had already been doing this. Photo: Getty Images

Do note; however, that size and weight limits do apply. Bags must be under 50 pounds. After the first two free bags, Southwest charges $75 per bag. This does not apply to military members traveling on active duty or permanent change of station orders. Media camera bags are charged at $75 per item.

There are also overweight baggage fees for non-military and non-media equipment at $75 per bag weighing more than 50 pounds. Oversized checked bags charge $75 per bag, as well – also with exceptions for active-duty military personnel and large media camera equipment. Sporting equipment also incurs a $75 fee per bag.

Ancillary options

There are also some ancillary options you can also add to your travel experience. This includes EarlyBird check-in, which starts at $15 per customer. You can also upgrade your boarding group, starting at $30 per customer per segment. Note that these fees can be higher, depending on your itinerary.

Water and a snack mix
Onboard, you will get some complimentary beverages and snacks, but liquor will cost you extra. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

Southwest does offer complimentary entertainment streaming to your own device. WiFi access comes at $8 a day per device on a wifi-enabled aircraft, but you will not be able to access streaming on some platforms. You can, however, take advantage of complimentary messaging through WhatsApp or iMessage.

No pre-assigned seating

Do note that Southwest Airlines is unique in the sense that the airline does not offer pre-assigned seating. Passengers, barring those who require wheelchair assistance, are assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and a position (usually 1-60). Passengers then board based on their assigned group and position.

Then, once on board, the airline has an open seating policy. Passengers choose their own seats in any available row. Note that if you want to sit in an exit row, you have to meet the requirements such as being able to assist in the event of an emergency, be 15 years or older, and understand English, among other policies.

All of Southwest’s planes are in a single-class configuration, and all rows have the same amount of legroom except for exit rows, meaning there will not be much difference between a seat in, say, row 11 versus row 20, except for being closer to the forward boarding door in the former.

SW Interior
Southwest’s 737s are in an all-economy configuration. Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

You can, however, purchase upgraded boarding at a ticket counter into A1-A15, starting at $30, depending on your segment.

Where does Southwest fly?

Southwest only flies Boeing 737 aircraft on short and medium-haul segments in North America. The airline does offer some hubs in places like Houston-Hobby, Dallas-Love, and Baltimore, among others. However, it also does operate a lot of point-to-point flights, so you may not even need to make a connection anywhere.

Do you have any tips for people flying Southwest for the first time? Let us know in the comments!