Southwest Airlines and Their Stupid Check In Requirements

I’ve been a big fan of Southwest Airlines over years. I love their lower prices and that they let you pick your own seat on the plane. I also loved that they let you print out your own boarding pass 24 hours in advance of your flight so that you can save time when you check in at the airport… well, that was until today.

I’m sitting at the Oakland International Airport right now because when I tried to do my normal online check in earlier today I was told that I could not. Today when I logged in I got an error message telling me that *my* itinerary was not available for online check in. So I called Southwest to ask them about this. The person on the phone was unhelpful. She told me that she could give me no information on the situation and told me only that I would need to check in at the airport, that she was getting the same error message I was when she tried to look into my reservation. I asked to talk to a supervisor and was told that there was nobody there who could help me.

Finally she relented and gave me the customer service (a toll number) for Southwest Airlines in Dallas. I tried calling this number for about a half hour (it was busy most of the time). Finally I got through and after a wait on hold for a while another woman came on the phone who looked into my record as well.

She also told me that I couldn’t check in online and told me that she thought it might be security related. She could provide me no specific information on why I could not check in online beyond her opinion that it was “security” related. She did give me the telephone number to the TSA though.

So I paid my $4 on BART and another $3 for the airport shuttle and went out to the Oakland Airport. I waited in line at the Southwest ticket counter until it was my turn at the employee assisted ticket kiosk. Here I entered my flight confirmation number again and got an error message saying “additional ID required.” The agent asked to see my drivers license and then printed me out a boarding pass.

Now, so today I’ve wasted 3 hours or so $7 to get to the airport only to show my driver’s license to a lady behind a counter. Now tomorrow when I take my flight I’m going to have to show THE EXACT SAME F***ING DRIVERS LICENSE to the security agent when I pass through airport security. So why in the blazes does Southwest Airlines inconvenience me and make me come all the way down to the airport in order to get a boarding pass the day before my flight? I could of course have tried to do all this tomorrow, but then I’d end up packed into a middle seat with a horrible boarding pass for my flight to Nashville.

How is “security” enhanced by my having to show my drivers license today AND tomorrow? And is it worth inconveniencing customers to this degree for no real enhancement in security.

Thanks for nothing Southwest Airlines!

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31 Comments

  1. Brandon Tucker says:

    I don’t see why you had to go to the airport today. Yes you could have been a B or a C when you checked into the flight tomorrow, but that isn’t a big deal, is it? B’s can still find window and aisle seats, and so can C’s if you are lucky. Yes it is less likely but there is still a chance. The fact that you inconvenienced yourself today isn’t southwest’s fault you did that on your own, southwest didn’t force you to check in today they just said you had to check in at the airport.

    Now I probably don’t travel nearly as much as you, and yes this has never happened to me, but I think I would be able to handle it a little better. Would a C really be that horrible? When I do fly I go from the eastcoast to the westcoast via southwest airlines, and I have been in that middle seat, in fact I will be doing it again on Friday with a return on Tuesday and I am flying Standby so I am guaranteed last on, I don’t have a problem with this.

    In the middle of writing this I had a conversation with my brother about your issue, he was taking your side so maybe I am the one that has a problem, it is possible. But in this situation I would have just waited until the day of the flight, and maybe get there a little earlier. Eh, to each their own.

  2. Thomas Hawk says:

    Brandon, with a C pass, I’d definitely end up in a middle seat. I’m a big guy, not a comfortable way to travel for five hours. Why should everyone else get to check in early but not me?

    Why am I being singled out as a security risk and how does my showing my SAME drivers license to a Southwest ticket agent AND the security screener at the security checkpoint make things any more secure?

    Southwest needs more transparency and needs to let me know why they require this extra ID check in for me and other passengers and what they hope to accomplish by having someone show the exact same ID twice.

    What possible benefit is provided the general public by inconveniencing me this way?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I will not travel to the US anymore. Too many arbitrary ‘security’ rules.

  4. Dave says:

    Having just flown internationally I was similarly frustrated with all the new security measures. Two security check-ins and one pat-down to get on the plane and another once arrived. Getting fingerprinted, retinal scanned, x-rayed and patted down it has truly become a crime to travel.

    And despite the billions spent on security, the invasion of personal privacy and inconvenience, I don’t think we have become much more secure,

  5. Brent Logan says:

    Why don’t you choose an airline that lets you choose your seat, online, when you make your reservation?

  6. Thomas Hawk says:

    I think I object to the lack of transparency even more than the misguided meaningless “security.” If an airline is going to inconvenience you, they ought to have the obligation of telling you why. Was it a “random” govt flag? Are you on some sort of bad guy TSA list because you posted negative comments about them on a blog post? Does some Southwest employee have a grudge against you and so they want to make your life more difficult? Transparency is needed here and Southwest is lacking.

  7. JP says:

    Sorry your time was wasted. We have such hard lives here in America. Such first world problems we have to deal with. Nothing like good old freedom of speech to complain about something like this on a nice computer, on a fancy blog. But really come on. Put this into perspective, just watch CNN right now.

  8. Jerry Anderson says:

    “Put this into perspective, just watch CNN right now.”

    Well said JP.

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  11. You’re a security risk because they’re worried you’re going to try to take pictures, be stopped by a security guard, and then petulantly blog about it. 🙂

  12. Rob-L says:

    In the long list of things to get upset about, this is near the bottom. I think that you’re over thinking it; it probably wasn’t any more than a glitch or snafu. See what happens next time.

  13. Taco Girl says:

    Your rich guy, world is against me, whining is getting very old. It’s a real shame you have kids that will probably pick up and continue your ugly, entitled, attuide.

  14. Rob-L says:

    Hey Thomas, it looks like you’re not the only one with problems! Have a look at this: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/14/nyregion/14watchlist.html?no_interstitial

    I guess it could always be worse, eh?

  15. Mark D. says:

    Thomas,

    The exact same thing happened to my sister -in-law when she visited over the holidays. She paid additional to get in the “A” boarding group, but because of the same snafu of not being able to print the boarding pass, she was told she would have to take her chances at the time of boarding and may not get in the A group. In addition, they also sent her luggage on the wrong plane and blamed her when it was not her fault. She had to get on another flight because of weather cancellations her original flight was cancelled. Southwest wanted her to fly on flight that left at 9:00 p.m. and arrived after midnight. They did not even tell her there were earlier flights available. She ended up paying $45 to have her luggage delivered to our house because of their mistake. As far as I am concerned, Southwest can take their low fares and feel good marketing and shove it.

  16. FC says:

    I had the same situation happen to me once a while back. The airline was unable to give me any additional details over the phone and I had to wait until I got to the airport counter to check-in. The lady moved to another counter and called someone on the phone. She then stared at me for several seconds, came back and gave me my boarding pass. This was all in front of my family! I finally asked what all that was about and she said that my name matched someone on a watch list; the other person was wanted by the FBI. The description and the age did not match of course 🙂

    In summary, this was probably the only way to catch the bad guy if he was actually trying to fly. I’m not sure its up to the airlines how these watch list procedure works, you probably should check with the friendly folks at the TSA Blog and they may be able to shed more light on this issue.

  17. I dunno why this happened, but it reminded me that in October I received an email from Southwest with the subject line “Important Notice: TSA Secure Flight”. It asked me to go on their site and fill in my exact name for TSA that matches my ID. I did do that and while I haven’t had any problems flying out of Oakland since (or ever really), I haven’t travelled yet in 2010.

    Did you get that email? It looks like it was sent to their frequent flyers.

  18. Karl D. says:

    I think your beef here is with the TSA – you would have had the same problem had you flown any airline. Do you really think Southwest wants to hassle you and tick you off? No. It is the manifestation of some ridiculous security rules put in by the previous administration in order to have the appearance of safety. The Secure Flight rules require the airlines to enforce an exact match of the name you make with a booking to the name that appears on your ID, down to the middle initial or lack thereof.

  19. Thomas Hawk says:

    Karl, I may indeed have a beef with the TSA as well, but right now my biggest beef is with Southwest Airlines and their total lack of transparency. If in fact the TSA has dictated this discriminatory action against me then I believe Southwest has an obligation to tell me this. As of now they leave me totally in the dark, refusing to address why I actually had this happen. Southwest owes their customers better than this. Providing me the reason why I or anyone else experiences this inconvenience is a valid question and not too much to ask.

  20. Thomas Hawk says:

    Robert, I never got an email like that.

  21. I might have only gotten that email because my Southwest customer name doesn’t exactly match what is on my driver’s license. How they would know that, though, I really don’t know.

    My guess is you were put on a list by someone / something. The TSA and all things related to so called “anti-terror” are like the worst of the credit bureaus with even less due process, zero accountability and no transparency.

    Considering that, I’ll bet Southwest has their hands tied.

    Good luck — I hope the problem gets resolves for you.

  22. Brandon Tucker says:

    Thomas,

    Maybe it was the TSA that flagged you and Southwest was unable to comment on it do to the laws. For example, if you were a criminal and you called southwest and they told you that you were red flagged wouldn’t you just find another means of transportation? The person at the call center doesn’t know whether or not you are a real criminal or just share the name with someone who is.

    Granted none of us know all facts about this, not you and not the service representatives at the call center, but think of it this way you didn’t get arrested at the airport when you showed up.

    Just try to put this all behind you and try to enjoy your time in Tennessee.

  23. John_G says:

    Same thing happened to me on USAir. I finally reached a customer service supervisor who told me that TSA randomly selects online reservations for extra scrutiny, and it was just my lucky day. I have no beef with privacy concerns. I don’t think anyone boarding a commercial flight should have any expectation of privacy these days, what with shoe bombers and underwear bombers. However random searches/scrutiny makes about as much sense as searching old ladies. Just not effective; a total waste of time in almost every case. Profiling is whats needed.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately due to TSA/DHS regulation if you are flagged on a watch list the airline is not supposed to divulge this information per government regulations, unless certain requirements are met.
    The matching process of your name to a TSA list is done differently from airline to airline, that’s why all the airlines are moving to the Secure Flight program where you will have to give your Full name as issued on your govt issued ID, DOB, and Gender. (see TSA.GOV for more info on that) at that point the matching will be in the hands of the federal govt (e.g. DHS) and then you don’t fly unless they say you fly. SWA’s hands are tied on this one as will all the other airlines, and while you’re poking SWA in the eye about it, you should really be poking the TSA and DHS, which at that point they will probably poke back with a much bigger stick and tell you because. And as with all govt programs, they don’t have to give you a reason as to why they do what they do. Consider this, there’s a process for everything in business, SWA was just following process as mandated by the TSA/DHS. And unfortunately, unless you fully understand what happens from the time you purchase that ticket until the time you actually board that plane then you really have no room to complain as to the effort the airline is making to try to keep you safe in the air.

  25. DWAnderson says:

    I agree that this is most likely a TSA/DHS issue, not one that Southwest had much control over. My wife works for a Southwest competitor and that is their experience.

  26. Eric in SF says:

    Thomas – your idealism is showing and maybe a little lack of keeping up with how the airport security winds are blowing.

    If you are flagged/monitored/whatever by the feds, they’ve passed laws making it a crime to discuss this with you by anyone.

    That means, by law, the transparency that you’re longing for, is prohibited by law.

    Write your congressperson.

  27. Eric in SF says:

    However, in this case I don’t think you were singled out, I think you experienced the new security system put into place after the attempted Christmas Day attack.

    My earlier comment applies here – the transparency you want has been outlawed and there was and is nothing SWA could legally tell you.

  28. Stuart says:

    What a waste of time this post was! Thanks so much for airing your petty complaint. I’ll forward the link to millions of people who suffer real and substantial setbacks.

  29. anonymous says:

    This is a silly and ridiculous complaint. Southwest Airlines, along with EVERY airline out there, has had to bend over backwards, hop on one foot, rub thier belly and tap thier head to comply with government standards in regard to security.

    NO airline is allowed (meaning: NO AIRLINE IS PERMITTED) to tell a passenger that they are on the watchlist or a selectee. This explains why you were simply told you must check in at the airport.

    This is the trade off for “national security” Deal with it. It is a part of life nowadays. Where have you been since 9/11/2001?

    I can think of a great way not to waste time: educate yourself before you start bellyaching about something that (in light of recent events in Haiti) means NOTHING but a few precious hours of your life.

  30. At least you weren’t flying to the US from Canada – it’s getting pretty crazy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZfbTlYpKYo

  31. KKAustin says:

    Thomas,

    Did you ever get off the list? I’m currently in the same boat as you are they referred me to TSA. I submitted a request for a redress number which is supposed to help but I’m still waiting at this point.