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Flashback Fridays: Forgotten Corners of Southwest's History

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As promised, I am sharing more photos of the recent “find” that I “unearthed.”  Actually, I opened a drawer and looked in a file, but the sense of discovery is the same.  I hope these photos will be reminders of some forgotten corners of our history.

 

First, let’s start with a Flight Attendant (actually, at the time, a Hostess) uniform of which many of you are probably unaware.  Above, we see that our Flight Attendants had an alternative to hot pants for colder weather with the 1974 uniform designed by recently deceased Dallas designer Randy Randazzo, Jr.  The October 1974 issue of Southwest Airlines Magazine introduced the new uniforms and stated that the long pants, long sleeve blouse, and jackets were “for those 35-degree and below days.”  Since the northernmost city we served at the time was Dallas, there would have been few days with temperatures cold enough to meet that requirement, which explains why the long pants have been long forgotten.  Incidentally, even though the main part of the cold weather uniform doesn’t feature Mr. Randazzo’s trademark polka dots, the scarf does.  Also note that the aircraft has the “wide-bodied” look overhead bins and our original seat covers.

 

Moving back about a year from the previous photo, we are in the middle of the great $13 Fare War with Braniff.  In 1973, our one-way fare to Houston was $26.  Early that year, Braniff cut the fare by half to $13 on its flights between Love Field (DFW Airport hadn’t opened yet) and Houston Hobby (Braniff had moved some Dallas service from Intercontinental to Hobby).  Southwest was in a quandary:  We couldn’t lower our fares to $13 without going out of business, but if we kept them at $26, we would lose all our Customers to Braniff and also go out of business. Braniff would win either way with Southwest out of business.  So, we changed the rules of the game (kind of like what Captain Kirk did with the Kobayashi Maru test), and gave Customers a different choice.  They could pay the $13 fare, or they could continue paying $26 and receive a fifth of premium liquor or a nice ice bucket.  Since most passengers expensed their travel, they paid the $26 fare and took home the liquor.  Our President at the time, Lamar Muse, wrote in a newspaper ad that we weren’t going to be shot out of the sky for a “lousy $13.”  And, we weren’t.  Customers saw that Braniff’s only intention was to put us out of business, and for a time, Southwest was the largest liquor distributor in Texas.  This confrontation marked the turning point of Southwest’s history because we were able to solidify our standing in the market with our Customers.  The photo above was taken during the sale, and we see a Customer clutching a copy of Lamar’s ad, and the Gate Agent is offering him a fifth of Chivas or an ice bucket.  In spite of the poor quality of the photo, we have a second historic significance because this is one of very few interior shots that I’ve been able to find of our original North Concourse gates.

 

On our Tenth Anniversary, June 18, 1981, we dedicated The Winning Sprit aircraft to our Original Employees.  The first aircraft to wear this name was N68SW, a 737-200, and it made a special flight with all of our Original Employees onboard.  Above is the arrival in Dallas, and we see all of the Employees posed around the aircraft.  That’s Cofounders Herb Kelleher and Rollin King standing on the air stairs, and Colleen Barrett is holding roses in the middle of the front row between the woman in the white dress and the man in the dark suit.  The Tenth Anniversary is a great point in time to look at our Originals because, to a large degree, the first decade of Southwest was their accomplishments.  In those ten years, Southwest had survived determined competition in the skies and in the courts, expanded beyond Texas, signed on to be the launch Customer of a new 737 variant, the 737-300, and had gained a national reputation as an airline different than all the rest. 

 

The photographer pulled smaller groups of Employees from specific work Teams for photos, and I wanted to share the photo above because it shows Herb (far left) and Rollin (center) with the “Over the Hill Gang,” our first three Officers whose operating experience ensured Southwest’s survival through the dismal early years.  When Southwest was new, Bill Franklin (between Herb and Rollin) was in charge of Customer Service, including Flight Attendants, Reservations, and Ticket Counters.  Don Ogden (right of Rollin) was in charge of the Operation—Pilots and Dispatchers, and Jack Vidal (on the far right) was in charge of Maintenance.  This photo really marks the curtain call of this group of men working together.  Don Ogden had already retired as Vice President Flight Operations earlier in 1981, and while he remained on the Board until 2006, Rollin would step back from his day to day role with the Company.  In 1985, Bill Franklin would head Southwest’s subsidiary TranStar as President.  Jack Vidal, who received employee #4 under our current system, retired in 1995.  Herb, of course, would remain Chairman, CEO, and President until 2001, and as Chairman until 2008.

 

And, yes, I admit to an obsession with Southwest’s “rolling stock.”  In the recent March 30, edition of Flashback Fridays, I ran a photo from 1976 of the new AMC Gremlins and Pacers in Southwest livery that were used by our Marketing folks to make sales calls.  As the image above shows, we had Southwest-decorated Gremlins much earlier than 1976.  I count at least 11 Gremlins in this photo that dates from 1972, and there’s not a Pacer to be found.  Why do I say 1972?  The Flight Attendants lined up next to the cars are wearing the original uniforms that lasted until September 1974.  The aircraft is the first N23SW, the only 737 we operated with a main cabin cargo door (and it was the last non-advanced -200 that we received directly from the factory).  We operated N23SW from September 1971 until September 1974.  Those dates help narrow the timeframe, but I think these are 1972 Gremlins because the front bumper changed in 1973.  (Trust me, the last thing I want to become is a “Gremlin Geek,” and this is more than I care to know about Gremlin styling differences.)

 

I have more recently uncovered gems to share, so stay tuned.

Update:  I just found that the Gremlin photo was taken at an event to show our support for Houston Hobby Airport, and it was published in the June 1972 issue of our original inflight magazine, Southwest Airlines Magazine.