Most people board an airplane because they want to travel from Point A to Point B. In fact, Southwest's Purpose Statement defines our goal:
To connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.
However, for a certain group of People, what’s important in their lives isn’t necessarily the destination. For "avgeeks" like myself, a highly-evolved and distinctly intelligent subset of society (okay, we’re nerds in the air), the journey is the big thing!
While it was little-noticed outside the aviation community, Southwest Airlines recently celebrated a milestone in the 45-year history of our airline. On Labor Day, September 5, we retired our last five Boeing 737-500safter more than a quarter of a century of service. And, one special aircraft, N525SW, was selected for a unique distinction.
After a significant amount of logistical planning across several Departments, the plane spent that Monday recreating the itinerary of the first day of service of our initial 737-500 on March 5, 1990. No detail or symbolism was overlooked, as N525SW operated on Labor Day with not only the same routing, it also carried the identical original flight numbers throughout the day.
In following the route of the first -500, our last -500 spent the entire day within the borders of the Lone Star State, operating six segments that covered approximately 2,500 miles. N525SW started and ended the day in Dallas, making appearances in between in Houston (twice), Harlingen, and El Paso. Incredibly, our Corporate Historian, Richard West, showed his Warrior Spirit by riding on every flight. However, true avgeeks are sentimental LUVers of nostalgia as well, and will rarely miss the chance to be a part of the beginning or the end of something symbolic. If you doubt that, you'd be amazed at the thousands of Employees who showed up when we introduced Warrior One, our first 737-800!
So, not surprisingly, the last flight of the last -500 drew the attention of six stalwart Southwest Employee avgeeks. The passenger manifest for Flight #18, from DAL-ELP, and its immediate return as Flight #337 back to DAL, included Revenue Management Market Strategy Senior Analyst Yield Jacob Erlick, Customer Relations Regulatory Compliance Evaluator T. J. O’Keefe, DAL Customer Service Agent Scott Prasse, DAL Inflight Crew Base Coordinator Silvia Prasse, Source of Support Specialist Austin Speaker, and myself. Between the use of Rapid Rewards points and successful non-revving, the six of us joined Richard in Dallas for an early evening departure that allowed us to chase the sunset all the way to El Paso.
Water cannon greeting in El Paso
When we reached the Sun City, the significance of the trip became apparent as we were greeted with the symbolic and traditional water cannon salute by the El Paso Fire Department. And, since us non-revvers had to deplane and get new boarding passes to get back onboard, we discovered that Team ELP, led by Station Manager Bob Jacquemotte, were in full celebration mode in the gate area. Our ELP Cohearts were serving cake, playing games, and distributing souvenirs to Customers. Perhaps the most cherished souvenir (at least for us Employees) was one of the plastic, rectangular numbered boarding passes Southwest used back in the 1990s when the -500s debuted! After a quick farewell serenade by Bob over the PA system in the gate area, we headed down the jetbridge to Flight #337, where Richard was waiting to distribute a commemorative certificate from Southwest CEO Gary Kelly and COO Mike Van de Ven to mark the occasion of the last revenue flight of N525SW. Soon, our Flight Crew, Captain Chad Brooks and First Officer Bree Szatkowski, both DAL-based Pilots, had us airborne en route back to our home at Love Field.
A champagne farewell toast from the last Customers to ride on a Southwest 737-500
The celebration continued, though, as we heard an onboard PA announcement explaining once again the significance of the flight and the fact that everyone (of legal age) would be served champagne! Our three DAL-based and festive Flight Attendants Linda Pannebaker, Patty Parrish, and Amy McConnell, quickly distributed overflowing crystal champagne goblets (well, actually, half-full plastic beverage cups) to all of the adults, and then led us in a cabin-wide toast to our last of the 737-500 workhorses. All too soon, we were pulling up to the gate at Love Field in this LUV jet for the last time. The seven of us hung around for some final photographs and expressions of gratitude to the Crew, and then our Tech Ops folks taxied N525SW across the field to our Maintenance Hangars.
At the end of the last flight, N525SW is parked at the gate at Dallas Love Field
The finality of the event was brought home dramatically to me shortly afterward. By the time I waited for the Employee Shuttle, rode back to HDQ, and got in my car, the guys were already on a mechanical lift, painting over the “Southwest” on the tail of N525SW. However, for seven Dallas Employees, we’ll always be able to say, “we were there when…” and will always cherish our memories of the last flight of the last of the Southwest breed of Boeing 737-500s. Thank you to that fleet of durable airplanes, and a Heartfelt thank you to the Employees who flew them and maintained them for 26 years; you’ve all been a part of Southwest history!
I wonder how many Captains and First Officers have sat in this cockpit over the years?The Customers and Employees are gone--our last Boeing 737-500 is officially retired