Photographers, Southwest Airlines & Pre-Boarding

It seems that once a week, if not more often, a photographer emails me, Tweets more or calls me asking about Southwest Airline’s preboarding for photographers and credentialed media.


While the link to Southwest Airlines’ preboarding may no longer be on their website, the policy still very much exists, and is great for ensuring a photographer’s gear is properly stowed in the overhead bin, rather than praying for bin space after other passengers have boarded.


So, for those of you needing the exact wording of Southwest Airlines’ preboarding policy for photographers and videographers, copy and print the following



To accommodate the special requirements of photographers and videographers, Southwest will make the following exceptions to carryon baggage and preboarding policies.

  • The Federal Aviation Administration has mandated a new carryon policy for all airlines that limits Customers to one bag and one, smaller personal item. All credentialed news media utilizing Southwest Airlines will be required to adhere to the new carryon policy; there will be no exceptions to this federal requirement.
  • All news media are reminded that because of enhanced security measures in place, only ticketed media will be allowed access beyond an airport’s security checkpoint.
  • Media cameras will be exempt from the sizing box restriction imposed on other carryon luggage. However, the equipment will count as the passenger’s personal item. Also, if the camera is to be secured in a seat, a ticket must be purchased for that seat.
  • Preboarding privileges will be extended to photographers and videographers to ensure that the camera equipment is stowed properly. Photographers and videographers will be allowed to preboard after Customers with disabilities, unaccompanied minors, or other Customers needing assistance. The request to preboard must be made at the time of check-in at the gate when a boarding pass is obtained. Preboarding privileges will be extended as long as the media Customer has checked in before the preboarding process has begun.

In 1998, Southwest revised its carryon baggage and preboarding policies to improve the operation’s efficiency and to enhance Customers comfort. As part of these revisions, any camera not meeting the carryon size requirements would have to be checked as luggage or a ticket would have to be purchased so that the camera could be secured in its own seat on the aircraft. These requirements simply didn’t work. Based on the vast feedback the airline received, Southwest further refined its policies to meet the needs of the working news media.

If you have any questions about Southwest’s policies regarding carryon baggage or preboarding, please call the Public Relations Department at 214-792-4847 or send us an e-mail at


Remember not to abuse this privilege. If you’re going on vacation with a camera on each shoulder … get in line like everyone else. Abusing Southwest Airline’s courtesy, as I have seen done in the past, can cause the airline to eliminate the media preboarding policy.  Also … once you board, do not sit in an exit row, not only is it not allowed, its also really bad karma.


For those who live in an area where no credentialing is available, such as where I live, a gate agent may ask to actually see your gear or for a business card. I have been using a National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) ID  Card with no problems, but make sure you are who you say you are … gate agents see everything everyday and can spot those who aren’t who they say they are a mile away.


For those that need more help in this area … just drop me an email.


Happy Flying!





  1. John,

    Legitimate professional photographers, and that term has many definitions, traveling with gear that needs to be stowed ahead of general boarding are generally allowed to ‘media preboard.’ Talk to the gate agent, if you have a business card and a case loaded with pro-gear they’ll almost always afford you the courtesy.

    This is not an official policy, but I have heard this from both photographers and people at SWA.

    Happy Flying!


  2. I took a SWA flight on 11/12/12- 11/16/12 and was allowed preboard after the normal Disabled, unaccompanied minors. They moved children to after Group A it seems as an effort to make those people pay for the pre-board upgrade.

    I had my camera backpack/gear and monopod and had no issues.

    If you want to sit together, they want you to pay for it.

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