Kris says the Southwest Airlines check-in desk gave her all sorts of hell when she tried to check herself and her 7-month-old baby boy onto a flight. The clerk at first refused to give up her ticket because she didn’t have proof of the baby’s age, then relented only after 10 minutes of arguing.
Kris forwarded us a letter she wrote to Southwest:
Your employees were unhelpful and generally rude towards me during my flight experience.
The problem occurred Sunday October 18 at 1:40 p.m. at the RDU check in desk. While checking in at RDU I was asked if I had a birth certificate for my son. I apologized and told her that the agent in PHL told us that Southwest needs proof of age and we didn’t have it, and that she let us go because my son was obviously under age 2; he’s seven months. I also told her that I made 2 trips on planes before this trip and was not asked for proof of age. She started telling me that without the proof of age she couldn’t let me have my ticket. And that she couldn’t take my word for it. I explained that I was already allowed to fly Southwest to get here and was just trying to go home. My son is very clearly 7 months old, he doesn’t even have teeth and can barely sit up by himself. It is hard enough traveling alone with a baby, being hassled was not something I was expecting out of my travel experience.
The RDU agent then told me that the agent at PHL “should have changed by ticket to a one-way fare” because I didn’t have proof of age. She also told me that” PHL should have made me have my son’s birth certificate faxed to RDU to prove his age.” This wasn’t a workable solution – but the agent said, “I should have had someone go to my house to get the certificate and send it to Southwest.” My son’s birth certificate is where it belongs – in a safe deposit box, not under my mattress.
Your employees at the check-in desk in both Philadelphia and Raleigh Durham tried to intimidate me with bogus FAA regulations. I was told in RDU that if I didn’t have proof of age, that I could/would be fined $5000, if caught. Before flying, I consult the TSA regarding child flight rules. When I got home, I checked the FAA for the regulation – there isn’t one. The closest the FAA has is this, which while not easy to find, specifically says the policy is determined by the airline, and not the government. The fact that your company is quoting bogus government regulations is what led me to send a copy of this letter to my congressman and senators.
The RDU agent continued to hassle me for more than 10 minutes even including threats like if she “lets me fly and I get fined that I will sue Southwest” and she wasn’t going to that to happen. I told her that I have to get home with my son and I am willing to take all risks, but she only hassled me more. She finally gave me my ticket when she was done accosting me and almost reducing me to tears.
Aside from the rude treatment by your employees, there is the issue with your lack of clarity when purchasing a ticket. At RDU she also claimed that I should know the rules because the rules for flying with an infant on Southwest come up in a box when you buy a ticket. At no point during the online purchase process is there an option to check a box indicating I am traveling with an infant. If I follow the standard purchase dialogs, I can buy the ticket successfully without any notification of your rules around traveling with young children. I need to specifically check your policy pages, rather than rely on my usual security requirements as set by TSA. In the future, I’ll be more careful with individual airline policy review, but for an organization so concerned with your travel policies, you make no effort to prompt users on following them.
My experience with other carriers (United, US Airways) this year has shown that the legacy carriers have bested Southwest in providing a more “family friendly” flight experience. I wouldn’t consider Southwest to be a good option for parents traveling with small children.
Obviously Kris could have avoided all that hassle had she simply checked her baby in as luggage, because as those ubiquitous commercials tells us, bags fly free. Babies? Apparently only with extensive proof.
UPDATE: Southwest gave Kris a $150 travel voucher and apologized.