Southwest Airlines PSA for International Flights


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Southwest Check In Procedure for International Flights

Southwest Check In Procedure for International Flights

Southwest has been trying to expand their route system over the last several years.  They are adding in flights to Hawaii in 2018 to expand domestically.  This was after Southwest purchased Air Tran a few years ago in order to increase their international routes.

Now Southwest claims great international locations like Aruba, Montego Bay, Cancun, Punta Cana, Costa Rica, Turks and Caicos etc.  As they continue to grow more people are flying them internationally.  That is where their annoying check in process can cause some problems.

Southwest Check in Procedures

The most annoying second most annoying thing about flying Southwest is the need to check in 24 hours before your flight.  You have to do this in order to get a boarding position. Southwest does not assign seats (the most annoying thing about flying Southwest) but rather assigns a boarding position.  You are then free to choose any available seat once on the plane.

That is where the trickiness of international travel may slip you up.  When checking in 24 hours out the minutes matter, heck maybe even the seconds.  The closer you are to A-1 the better the seat you get.  And if you are traveling with a group then you want to get in the high B’s at a minimum to ensure you sit together.

The one thing that may trip you up when checking in internationally is that you need to provide your passport number when checking in at the 24 hour mark.  There is nothing worse than getting up early in the morning to check in the day before your flight only to be left scrambling for your passport number.  So make sure you have it handy before checking in or those minutes you spend looking for it could cost you dearly.

There is one way around this and that is early bird check in.  This is when you pay $15 for the pleasure of not having to remember to check in.  This guarantees you automatic check in (usually resulting in A or high B boarding). The cost is one way only, a total of $30 roundtrip.  Early Bird is also non refundable if you have to cancel your flight in the future you lose the $15.

I did verify with Southwest’s twitter team that there is no way to load in your passport number prior to checking in.  If someone has a way around that let me know in the comments section.

UPDATE: It may be possible to avoid this by loading your passport info and emergency contact info while booking the flight or by going to the manage reservations page. You will still need to provide your passport at the airport when checking in to receive your ticket.

Also if you book your return flight to the US on a different airline you will not be able to complete your check in until you show proof of your return at the airport.  (Thanks Ryan F.)


Southwest is a solid airline with a good rewards program for a low cost carrier. But they have the worst check in/boarding procedure of any other airline.  Make sure you are properly prepared in order to guarantee success, especially on international flights.  Remember to have everyone’s passport number on hand 24 hours before departure to ensure the best boarding position possible.


Remember that Southwest flight changes are more difficult these days too!

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  1. I haven’t tried on WN but consider checking in with 999999999 as passport # and later update it once your seating position is assigned? I’ve done that when booking flights without my passport on hand and haven’t had any issue updating it later as long as it’s done before I get to the airport where they physically check it.

  2. There is a place you can enter your passport and emergency contact info beforehand so it doesn’t hold up the check-in. I found a script that will automatically check you in also. Just used it and it work flawlessly on an international flight 2 weeks ago. Check out this guide for step by step walkthrough of address to enter your passport and emergency contact info along with how to setup automatic check-in script:

  3. Hey Mark I think there is some miscommunication between your post and even the verification with that SW agent on twitter. I just went and got back from Mexico with three other people. We all had out KTNs, SWRR, and passport info logged into the reservation. When I went to check in all four of us, we were all set. There was that usual understanding of rules and regulations and then checkin, done!

    Of course, it didn’t give me a boarding pass, but there was something where it said we’ve reserved your boarding position so it gave me and my three companions each a boarding position. We went through the annoying process of passport verification and “DOCS-OK” at the airport, but at least for mexico, you can preload that info in there and just checkin.

    • Ok thanks for the info Brian. Interesting the person who brought it to my attention was checking in for a flight to Mexico tomorrow.

  4. You get what you pay for with Southwest. Old and limited technology.
    Just wait until they cancel your flight in Mexico because of some issue and they won’t rebook you on another carrier. Then it really starts to feel like you are flying Spirit

    • Actually they are now using Amadeus for their reservation and scheduling systems integrated fully last year. They have also updated many of their backend systems and actively upgrading other systems that are not forward facing. Amadeus is used by other major carriers like British Airways among others. So to say they are using old and limited technology is not correct.

      The upgrade, while going virtually unnoticed to passengers, has caused some pains here and there as the vendor still needs to work on some issues. For $500 million, I’d have expected it to be damn near perfect. Read:

      • I’m well aware, but they choose to make decisions that make them equal to the majors. For example, they are refuse to offer interline during an IROP, or business-traveler friendly policies like the majors, but they charge fares that are often higher.

  5. Hi Mark: Thanks for the info. As a regular Southwest flier, I wanted to clarify that the Early Bird Check-In does not guarantee an A boarding spot. Paying the $15 dollars will check you in, but you get whatever spot comes up in their automated queue. It’s not unusual to get a B-group position. You pay for the convenience of not having to remember to check in. I usually set an appointment in my phone calendar so it reminds me 15 minutes a head of time so I can be ready to hit the check-in button as soon as the clock hits the exact 24-hour minute. You are correct that every second counts if getting an A group boarding pass is important.

    • Thanks Alex I will update it – the few times I have used it I get A boarding but I guess that depends on if their are a A-Listers on the flight. Thanks again!

  6. I agree that SW has the most ridiculous check in process and it is because of this and the fact that they are no longer the cheapest option and also limited frequent flyer program that makes them not a very attractive option for me to choose for business and personal travels.

    • I’m not sure what you mean by limited frequent flyer program…Their frequent flyer program is the best of any airline and with transfers from Chase Ultimate rewards it is easy to rack up hundreds of thousands of miles that never expire and you can cancel the flight anytime for free and you get 2 free bags.

      • Canceling flights for free and two free checked bags are airline policy – nothing to do with their frequent flier program and no need to be a rapid rewards member.

        The RR program is limited because you can only fly within southwest’s own limited route network and they have no partners. A RR point has a max value of something like 1.6 cents. Chase Ultimate rewards can be transferred to partners like United and Singapore, which have access to the worldwide star alliance network and international business class redemptions can easily make those points worth 5-6 cents +. Or British Airways or Korean to book flights to Hawaii for 25k round trip on American, Alaska or Delta. And you get to reserve a seat and board at your leisure.

  7. @Jason, actually Southwest has the most advanced computerized reservation system in the world now that they migrated all flights to Altea. It’s the same system that BA, LH, CX, etc use, all of which allow for pre-entry of travel documents. It’s just that for WHATEVER REASON, Southwest has stupidly decided to keep their archaic processes in place, cattle call being one of them as well. I try to avoid them usually but their ticket flexibility is the one thing that cannot be beat by anyone else in the US.

  8. Take a pic of your (and your significant other’s) passport with your phone. I can’t tell you how many times this has come in handy. I almost use it exclusively except when I am physically at the airport, obviously. At this point I’ve memorized my own info but it helps when checking in a significant other.

  9. Save your passport number in your profile, along with your TSA pre approval (I have NEXUS). Who wants to scramble at check in?


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