Of the many quirky images within our archive, a few of my favorites are from a 1973 promotion in Houston featuring a few characters from a local retailer celebrating the opening of a new store. Just like Southwest, the young company wasn’t afraid to make a splash with some creative advertising.
Kids’ Kounty Superfunsuperstore , a big box retailer catering to customers under the age of 12, was in the process of opening a second location. “Kharacters” created by the store included Hugh the Shoe, Connie Cone, Peter Panda, and Dirty Bird. Their visit to Hobby in late 1973 was prominently featured in our Southwest Magazine “Love Events” article later that year.
A few things stand out in this particular photo, primarily the magnetometer Peter Panda is walking through. In the aftermath of D.B. Cooper’s escapades about two years earlier, the FAA had tasked airlines with screening passengers prior to boarding. This was decades prior to the standardized process in place today, so Employees at our Stations were actually the first security screeners. The second detail that caught my eye was the $13.00 displayed on the LUV Machine (cash register) – so apparently Peter Panda chose the lower airfare instead of a bottle of Chivas.
The Superfunsuperstore Kharacters were a big hit in Houston, and although the retailer’s future may not have been as bright as ours, it was a great way to showcase our Fun-LUVing Attitude to our Customers and help pave the way to some of the great brand partnerships we appreciate today.
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An unforgettable fixture of our early cabins was their classic lounge seating. For over 30 years, they could be considered the most sought-after, or avoided, seats on the plane.
Lounge seats could be found in the first and last rows, as well as around the overwing exits. The reversed row of seats made a great place for business travelers to have a meeting “on the fly”, or a family to start off their vacation early with the face to face seating.
When the 737-700s started joining the fleet in 1997, our cabins began their gradual transition the configuration we are accustomed to today, primarily due to new Safety guidelines as well as advancements in technology. In 2001, the Spirit interior was introduced, with all -300/-500 series aircraft changing over to the 122/137 seat cabins when they came in for scheduled Maintenance. On January 17, 2005, the last -200 was retired, along with its aft-facing lounge seats remembered by many for their many years of service.
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Late last week, Bill Franklin, our first Vice President of Ground Operations, passed away at the age of 88. While Bill has been retired for many years, his contributions to our Company were a key factor in the success we enjoy today. As a member of the “Over the Hill Gang,” Franklin came into our young Company to help turn it into a profitable venture in less than three years.
Bill was one of the first Employees hired by Herb and Lamar Muse on March 29, 1971, the same day we changed our name from Air Southwest and began our heritage as a 737 operator when Boeing offered us our three original aircraft. He had previously worked at Trans Texas and Frontier Airlines, and contributed his wealth of experience to write many of our first procedure and operational manuals required by the regulatory agencies prior to offering revenue flights.
Perhaps his biggest contribution to our success was his role in implementing the now-famous ten-minute turn, which came about when Employees determined they could work together to operate a schedule built for four planes with only three when we were forced to sell aircraft N20SW to Frontier so we could stay in business. Their Warrior Spirit not only saved us from bankruptcy in 1972, but also earned us the reputation as one of the most reliable, innovative, and productive airlines in the business.
Bill went on to assume the Chief Operating Officer role in 1978 following Lamar’s departure, and later went on to become President and CEO of TranStar Airline following Southwest’s acquisition of the former Muse Air in 1985. Following the final TranStar flight in 1987, Bill retired after a career that saw Southwest Airlines rise from an almost unheard of commuter airline to perhaps the biggest success story the industry has ever witnessed.
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LUV might celebrate the birth of its first flight on June 18, but the 19 th has its own significance—National Kissing Day.
Whether coincidence or wholly intentional, Southwest has a robust (and well-documented) history of celebrating the kiss. Here’s a glimpse at Southwest’s homages to kissing through the years. Have one of your own? Submit it to our SWA Culture Facebook page, or upload it to your own Twitter account and use the #NationalKissingDay hashtag. Don’t forget to tag @SouthwestAir!
All you need is LUV!
In the mid ‘70s, Marketing Sales Reps helped spread the LUV via the streets of Texas in a fleet of AMC Gremlins and Pacers matching our classic Desert Gold 737s.
Kissing the Boss
Lamar Muse, our first CEO, gets a smooch from two Hostesses in his office at the original Headquarters on the north end of Love Field.
The Boss as KISS
Each Halloween, we look forward to what the next unforgettable character our Fun-LUVing Leader will portray. In 2004, Gary tapped into his glam metal side when he became KISS frontman Gene Simmons for the day.
Kissing the Queen
Herb and Gary join then President Colleen Barrett, our Queen of Hearts, for a kiss under Lone Star One.
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This month marks the 20 th anniversary of our Oklahoma City Customer Support & Services (CS&S) Center, which took its first Customer call this week in June 1995. Built on 12 acres of the Will Rogers World Airport about a mile north of the main terminal, the OC is home to more than 400 Employees, including 93 who will be celebrating their 20 th anniversary with the Company this year.
In January of 1995, Executive Vice President John Denison joined Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating and Mayor Ronald Norick as they announced plans for the new reservations center (as our CS&S Centers were previously called) which would be 46,000 square feet and have capacity for over 500 Employees. The announcement was made shortly before OKC celebrated 15 years as a Southwest city. Construction began shortly after, which allowed for the first training class to begin on June 2 nd . The first call came in June 5 during a training exercise for the class, and it just so happened to be a caller not too far away in Oklahoma City.
After several training classes had completed, a grand opening celebration was held on July 26 th with a Wild West theme making clever use of its ORC station identifier, the “O.R. Corral.” More than 1,200 Employees attended the celebration, as well as many local and state elected officials who were on hand to celebrate our newest hitchin’ post at the “Big Reservations Ranch.” Even the Governor rode in just like many Boomers and Sooners had during the land run in 1889.
The OC remains one of the largest CS&S Centers among the seven locations throughout the country, with some Employees whose Southwest Stories include many years in other Centers and others just starting in recent months. It’s also where I began my career at Southwest and my home for 3 years, which I’m forever grateful for.
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After being kicked out of the big reservations systems in 1994, Southwest Airlines became the first major airline to offer ticketless travel, about the only way Customers travel today. Both Morris and ValuJet had implemented similar systems, but it was a huge accomplishment for Southwest to be the first major airline to offer ticketless travel from coast to coast. On top of this, the feat was accomplished by a Team of only 40 People over the course of four months!
Southwest's hard work was recognized by the Smithsonian at the Computerworld Smithsonian Awards on June 4, 1996.
The Computerworld Smithsonian Awards were created to honor corporations, organizations, and individuals creating positive changes in society through technology. Our ticketless system did just that by offering electronic record keeping of a Customer’s reservation, eliminating the need to keep up with any paper documents for travel. After only six weeks, more than one million Customers had taken advantage to the system!
Finalists for the award were honored at a ceremony in Washington at the Smithsonian.
Southwest was recognized for our achievements in making travel more convenient and affordable for Customers and for simplifying the process for Employees to assist them. The new ticketless system allowed for Customer Service Agents to search records with just the first few letters of a last name, which helped speed up the check in and baggage process with error rates less than one percent.
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It’s pretty well known that our first three cities were Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, which was referred to as the “Golden Triangle” between the three major Texas cities.
Rollin’s first venture in the airline world, his Wild Goose Flying Service, also operated exclusively within the Lone Star State, but much smaller locations that proved to be unsustainable to for scheduled service on the Beech 18s these flights were operated on. When he met with Herb to discuss its liquidation, the idea of giving it another shot to bigger cities with bigger planes was born, and the rest as we say was history just a few years later when Southwest Airlines finally got off the ground on June 18, 1971.
But there are a few common misconceptions about what that first day’s service was like—we didn’t go into Hobby, and it was actually more of an upside-down V shaped route map instead of the triangle that we usually think of it as. Yes, we did fly to Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, but to get between Houston and San Antonio, one would need to first visit the Big D.
On November 14, 1971, the golden triangle was finally completed when the first Houston to San Antonio took place, and to what would technically become our fourth Station—Houston’s Hobby Airport. For the next six months, we operated from both Intercontinental and Hobby, until all operations were consolidated to Hobby based on how easy it was for Customers to access the former main Houston airport that had been all but closed down after the much larger airport now named in honor of our 41 st President opened to the north of town in two years before.
First Houston Flight
Gate Ribbon Cutting
After we added the 97 th dot to our 2015 route map, Hobby now will serve as a focus city for new international service, but we still fly our original triangle (about 40 times a day) that first made our name more than four decades ago.
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Last week, 360 People squeezed shoulder-to-shoulder into a meeting room at headquarters for one purpose—to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Southwest's Companywide Culture Committee at the group’s semi-annual meeting in Dallas.
In 1990, Colleen Barrett, then Vice President-Administration now President Emeritus, had the vision to start this committee with the purpose of inspiring Employees to own, strengthen, and promote the legendary Culture as the Company grew. In fact, the original committee contained only 48 members whose first undertaking was the coordination of the Company’s 20th Anniversary celebrations.
Fast forward to today; the Committee has now grown to over 350 active and alumni members from various locations and workgroups across the Company. Their original purpose of this committee remains the same; and their vision is to champion a Culture through which everyone knows that he or she matters. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly and Chairman Emeritus Herb Kelleher have been quoted on several occasions saying, “it’s probably the most important Committee at our Company.”
Ginger Hardage, Senior Vice President Culture & Communications, has taken the reins on leading this powerful Committee, and on Wednesday gave a tribute to our President Emeritus whose vision and principles continue to guide the committee today. Various committee members then took turns sharing their fond memories of when the Southwest Culture hit home for them.
Through the years, Southwest has been cited and praised for doing things in a non-traditional way, Employees are huggers, not hand shakers; the Company has a record amount of “LUV Couples,” (Employees married to other Employees); and Employees take pride in referring to one another not as Coworkers, but as Family. The mission of Companywide Culture Committee is true to our core values and purpose—to put Employees first.
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This week marks the fifth anniversary of Florida One joining the fleet as our eighth flagship aircraft on April 23 rd , 2010. The 737-700 serves as our high-flying tribute to the Sunshine State and the 4,300+ Employees that call Florida home.
Similar to the other flagship aircraft in the now fleet of 10, Florida One is a 110’ long depiction of the state’s flag. 46 gallons of 16 different colors of paint were used to illustrate the State Seal over the modern Cross of Burgundy.
Florida One was built by Boeing in Renton and then painted, before being briefly “hidden” near Lake Charles, Louisiana in a brown paper wrapping. It was then flown to Tampa where a celebration was held for its reveal. It then began a tour of the other Florida stations for Employees and Customers to get their first glimpse.
Within the next few years, Florida One will receive its scheduled paint refresh and a new Heart specialty tail. Up next will be the new Triple Crown One later this spring, which will be our third specialty bird in the bold new look.
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The aviation industry has “borrowed” many terms and practices from the maritime world, such as how we refer to the right side of the plane as the starboard side, or even the Pilot in Command being known as the Captain, just as he or she would on a boat. And in 1990, Southwest Airlines paid tribute aviation’s maritime heritage with our International Collection of uniform pieces. “Signal Uniforms are friendly reminders that Southwest Airlines was founded on a simple strategy: low fares, lots of flights and loads of fun” was a quote from Herb to describe the new Signal DressWear.
A key element of the attire was three signal letters – S W A – of course, from the International Flag Code. These flags, used by ships at sea to communicate among each other, were commonly seen on luxury liners of years past and were selected to signify our airline as the flagship of Customer Service. Depending on an Employee’s job, different uniform pieces displaying, or perhaps flying, the flags of Southwest were offered.
Mechanics, along with Ramp and Provisioning Agents had slacks, dress shirts, uniform pants, and speedsuites to select from. There were also navy blue blazers and tailored dresses for Employees working above wing (above deck?) along with colorful dress shirts and accessories.
There was also Signal FunWear, borrowing from the more casual uniform pieces introduced in 1986.
Our Signal Ware ship may have sailed, but not the memories. Nor the nautical terminology.
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In addition to opening Chicago Midway on St. Patrick’s Day of 1985, another key Station about 300 miles to the south joined the Southwest system the same morning – St. Louis Lambert International Airport.
At gate 80 in the east terminal building, Herb was joined by several St. Louis area leaders for a ribbon cutting ceremony at our single gate in the new terminal. And just like in Chicago, the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade helped Southwest say hello to our newest destination.
Our initial St. Louis service was 19 flights a day to Chicago, Houston, Kansas City, and New Orleans. And over the past 30 years, it has grown to almost 100 flights a day to 34 destinations.
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On the day when the Chicago River was dyed green in 1985, Chicago-Midway Airport (MDW) received a breath of fresh air when Southwest Airlines marched into town with eight nonstop flights to St. Louis. Today, MDW ranks first in the Southwest system in terms of daily flights.
Back in 1985, Chicago had been on the radar as a new destination for quite some time, but the restrictions of the relatively new Wright Amendment had played a significant role in hampering network development. Following the departure of most other airlines from Midway, the time was right for Southwest to fly in. And we did exactly that, with our favorite Irishman himself at the lead.
More than 100 Employees boarded the first aircraft bound for Chicago to help kick off the new service. Captains Frank Wright and Dick East helped provide the inflight entertainment, with games of trivial pursuit and other antics, while Captain Steve Smith guided the flight into our 11 th state.
Once on the ground, the Employees making the journey donned their green derbies and banners, and took to the streets of Chicago to march in the annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Many of the Employees making the journey up from Texas reported the Windy City living up to its reputation, with the chilly temperatures and howling winds blowing between the skyscrapers making for quite the wait as entry number 77 of 200 in that year’s march. As Herb marched with his army of honorary leprechauns, most from the lone star state, many Chicago natives who were eager to hear their southern accents asked, “Let me hear ya tawk—I can tell you are from Texas.”
But even with the frigid conditions, a little Southwest Spirit (and perhaps a little Wild Turkey) helped warm up the Windy City to our legendary service that has now grown to more than 250 departures a day.
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Although our first Specialty Plane in a livery other than our unmistakable Desert Gold didn’t join the fleet until later in the decade, a select group of Employees instrumental in the success of our young Company were honored by having their name affixed to the nose of one of our birds. And that’s exactly what happened 31 years ago this week when N96SW was dedicated as the Fred J. Jones.
Fred Jones was an original Employee hired as a Mechanic by Jack Vidal (our first Vice President of Maintenance) about a month before our first flight in 1971. “He worked in the cold; he worked in the dark; he scrounged for parts; he improvised tools; he worked for low wages when we started; and he got the job done no matter what the circumstances.” said Herb.
At the posthumous dedication ceremony held on March 3, 1984, Fred’s wife and son joined Jack Vidal and Herb to unveil the 737-200 named in his memory. Herb spoke to his memories for Fred, as did Jack when sharing a personal story about one of the President and Chairman of the Board’s (Herb) visit to the hangar. Herb called ahead one night asking if it would be ok to visit the shop, to which Fred was happy to oblige, as long as it was brief and didn’t detract from the various mechanical tasks at hand. And sure enough, being the talker that Vidal noted Herb to be, it was Fred that had to be the one to eventually tap the President on the shoulder to thank him for his visit and respectfully ask to depart so that the night crew could get back to fixing planes.
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One of the smallest subfleets of aircraft within our family of 737s celebrates its silver anniversary this week. For the second time in our history, Southwest became the launch Customer for a new aircraft series when we took delivery of our first 737-500 on the last day of February, 1990.
At just over 97 feet, the -500 was about 10 inches longer than the -200s that were gradually departing the fleet, and incorporated the new CFM-56 engines and other technologies that helped make the -300s more than 20% more efficient. They were also significantly quieter, which helped comply with some of the most restrictive airport noise regulations around the system that we served at the time.
Our new -500 saw its first day of revenue service on March 5, 1990, and members of the media gathered with Employees that morning to be one of the first to ride on our new 122 seat LUV jets. Starting off as Flight 1 in Dallas, our first -500 made a trip around Texas (quite similar to where they are most commonly seen today) to Houston, Harlingen and El Paso, before returning to Love Field for the evening.
The prototype -500, also known as PU001, was the first off the assembly line in Renton as was used by Boeing for the FAA certification process. Once complete, the aircraft was delivered to Southwest in April as N501SW, which also happened to be Shamu Three.
While the number of sightings of our -500s around the system become more of a rarity, it won’t be long before Southwest becomes another Boeing launch Customer again in 2017 with the MAX 8. It will mark the fifth time a new 737 series becomes part of the family, continuing a legacy of improving our efficiency while also offering our Employees and Customers a safe and comfortable way to connect People with what’s important in their lives.
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Just as the roadway leading up to Love Field (Herb Kelleher Way) is named in honor of the man who helped put it on the map, the expressway going into the ballpark a few miles to the west bears the name of another north Texas legend – Nolan Ryan. Both Herb and Nolan are hall of famers in their own right, and both helped build their organizations to greatness. And in February 1989, Nolan helped lend his notoriety to Southwest when he became our official cargo spokesman, or perhaps a more fitting title, chief pitchman. For many years Ryan had lent his voice to speaking on behalf of Southwest and our growing cargo program. Both his fastball and our shipments make their way across the plate fast and accurate, although the freight in the bins of our 737s usually travel a little further and were met on the other end by a “catcher” wearing a slightly thinner mitt.
In recognition of Ryan’s efforts to help Southwest reach Major (airline) status a few months after signing on, Herb offered the Major League pitcher a gift to show his appreciation. “I wanted to give Nolan something that would really mean something to him, so I gave him a baseball that I autographed.”
When it came time for Nolan to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, a special flight was arranged in his honor to take the strike-out king and his party of 80 from Love Field to New York with stop in Houston to pick up a few additional guest, including the Lt. Governor of Texas. To help celebrate the accomplishment, the aircraft was christened as Nolan Ryan Express, a dedication that it still wears today.
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This Valentine’s Day marks the 30 th anniversary of our partnership with the Ronald McDonald House Charities. It’s a relationship that has existed for 30 years in its official capacity, but a cause near and dear to the hearts of many Stations, Departments, and Employees. In fact, before it became our primary charity in 1985, Employees were cooking monthly dinners at the Ronald McDonald House in Houston. In the first year alone, Southwest donated $10,000 to each of the 20 houses across the cities we served at the time.
Before our ten year anniversary, more than 200,000 family members of seriously ill children who sought medical treatment in the area benefited from a home-away-from-home at one of the 75 Ronald McDonald Houses across the US, Canada, Australia, and Holland. It was a perfect way for Employees across our system to help Share the Spirit between “The House that Love Built” and “The Airline that Love Built.”
As our Company continues to grow, so does our partnership Classic, now one of the largest charitable golf tournaments in Dallas. The tournament is one of our most recognized Celebrations in support of the Ronald McDonald House. Last year we hit new heights with our sponsors when we passed the $15 million mark in total donations as a result of the LUV Classic tournament.
Currently we serve 69 houses in 61 cities with various volunteer activities performed by Employees every year. We know our Employees look forward to sharing their Servant’s Hearts with the “House that Love Built” for another 30 years.
Playroom at Ronald McDonald House
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In addition to a famous marmot from the western half of Pennsylvania emerging from his burrow on the second day of February in search of his shadow, there is another four-legged creature in our Company’s history that also shares the special day. Back in 1998, a committee of Frontline Employees, along with Colleen, renamed Groundhog Day as Bin Hog Day to help kick off a campaign intended to promote awareness of our new carryon baggage policy.
As our load factors grew throughout the ‘90s, it became evident that the overhead bin space shared by everyone was becoming a premium. In addition to contributing to delays, it was also against FAA regulations to exceed the capacity limitations of any onboard stowage compartment. So with the help of Employees throughout the Company, a new approach was adopted to enforcing the policy with the help of a pesky packer known as the Bin Hog.
With the help of our friends at marketing agency GSD&M, a friendly blue pig packed to the gill with just about everything (minus the kitchen sink) running with his yellow plastic boarding pass served as the mascot of the campaign. Jetway posters, luggage tags, and buttons worn by Employees helped encourage everyone “Don’t Be A Bin Hog!”
The Bin Hog may not adorn the sizing boxes at our gates today, but it’s still important for us all to do our part helping the boarding process and on-time departures. After all, we’re still the home of Bags Fly Free!
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Some of our most recognizable television spots from the past have tied into our favorite sport, and in some cases, the big game itself. And providing friendly, reliable, low-cost travel to games around the country is something our Customers have counted on Southwest for since just a couple years after the first game was played.
In 2006, we even offered a lucky Customer and ten of their best friends the trip of a lifetime to see it in person.
In 1999, our Fort Lauderdale Station hosted a plane “Pro Tow” which featured more than 20 NFL players in town for Super Bowl XXXIII at Pro Player Stadium. Two Teams composed of both players and Employees competed to see who could pull a 737-700 50 feet in the quickest time. Big Brothers/Big Sisters was the beneficiary of the Blue Team’s win, and was presented with a giant check for $2,500.00.
In recognition of our 10th year of NFL sponsorship, and also being the Official Airline of the Super Bowl, a chance to win a trip to Super Bowl XLI when it returned to South Florida eight years later. The lucky winner would go on to see the Colts topple the Bears by 12 points, but also have the chance to meet NFL players and celebrities such as ESPN’s Chris Berman.
We’ve also brought a little of our LUV for the sport onboard over the years. Several of our inflight products, like our legendary stir sticks and cocktail napkins, showed off our passion for pigskin.
This year we’ve added even more nonstop flights into Phoenix for the big game. Be sure to check out Mark Milligan’s post from last week about the FUN Network Planning had when scheduling this year’s extra segments.
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When Southwest's Founder Herb Kelleher was in search for an aircraft to start an airline with back in 1971, Boeing offered him a deal that was hard to pass up – a handsome discount off the list price along with 90 percent financing on one of their relatively newest aircraft line, the 737-200. And for the next 34 years, that series of aircraft would go on to not only help Southwest survive, but prosper. So of course when it came time for the final -200 to retire from service, a proper sendoff was in order. And that’s exactly what it received ten years ago this month when a coast-to-coast pajama party was held aboard N95SW in January 2005.
The party began just after 8am when N95 arrived into Dallas along with 95 lucky Employees onboard who were selected from a special contest. They all donned their PJs with TJ and Spirit Jr, and took part in a champagne toast along with a pillow fight.
For the final journey, several of the Crew members also had a history with the bird itself. Captain Jim Rice returned to the flight deck of the same aircraft he picked up from the Boeing factory in Seattle when it was delivered in 1983. Captain Jeff Kilponen, who flew the first revenue flight, joined him in the right seat. And in the cabin, Karen Amos, who was also on N95’s delivery flight, served the last of more than five million bags of peanuts with Judy Johns and Fran Chance.
Upon arriving at hangar C, the party continued with hundreds of more Employees who came out on the cold winter morning to hear from Herb, Colleen, and Gary, also in their robes and ready to help put the -200 to bed.
At the end of the party, one last toast was made to N95 and the 53 other 737-200s that served in the fleet and helped establish Southwest Airlines as the world’s largest operator of the aircraft line that not only helped put us on the map, but will also take us into the future.
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Just before Valentine’s Day of 1992, Southwest Airlines brought a little LUV to Cleveland, our first destination in the Buckeye State.
Our first two flights from Cleveland served Chicago and St. Louis, with fares as low as $39 each way. Customers could even bring a friend along at no charge during the “Friends Fly Free” campaign which coincided with our inaugural flights.
Service began in the B concourse from gates 19 and 20, and 40 Employees new to the Station. At a ceremony welcoming the first Customers, a giant “Southwest Loves Cleveland” banner greeted them, where they also took place in a champagne toast.
Cleveland also served as a test location for our first international connectivity program in 1997. Working with Icelandair, Customers were offered an opportunity to purchase a ticket to Reykjavik, Iceland, via connecting service in Baltimore. It wasn’t a codeshare in the traditional sense, but more of a tactical marketing experiment on two of our more than 2,200 daily flights.
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This month marks the 20th year of Southwest becoming the first major airline to offer electronic, or ticketless, travel on every flight systemwide. It's something we’ve all become accustomed to today, but it was a revolutionary change in the way we do business.
The ability to issue ticketless itineraries came about following our departure from the major reservations systems owned by competing legacy airlines and adaptation of Basic SABRE. Prior to the change, Customers would need t0 produce their paper ticket at the gate in exchange for a boarding pass. At one point, the ticket was as simple as a basic cash register receipt, issued at the ticket counter from one of our classic LUV Machines.
Our ticketless travel program was initially rolled out in several Texas markets in the summer of 1994, followed by all 321 of our daily intra-California flights later that fall. Using a credit card to make their reservation, the six-character alphanumeric confirmation number and a photo ID were the only items required for travel, and could be purchased as little as one hour before departure.
After only a few months of offering a ticketless option on all 1,800 daily flights, more than 35% of Customers were already using the new service. It was also a gateway to another Southwest first – direct online ticketing via our “Home Gate” at iflyswa.com, a nod to our phone number (1-800-iflyswa), later that year.
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On Sunday, the final revenue flight using a Citrus call sign will take place aboard the aircraft that defined AirTran Airways, the Boeing 717. Not only was AirTran the largest operator of the 717, it was also the launch customer when it took its first delivery in September 1999.
The 717 was actually the second name of the aircraft, with the original name being the McDonnell Douglas MD-95 up until Boeing acquiring the company in 1997. It was the final commercial airliner to undergo final assembly at the historic Long Beach, California assembly plant, following a legacy of DC-9 based airliners that first took flight almost 50 years earlier. At one point there was even a plan to establish a second line at Love Field in the former Braniff hangar on the east side of the field.
The first 717 was welcomed into the AirTran family on September 23, 1999. It was the first time a low cost carrier was the launch customer for a new aircraft line, and helped modernize AirTran’s fleet of mostly DC-9s that rolled off the same production line many years earlier. The first aircraft, fleet number 703, departed Long Beach for Orlando and Atlanta prior to entering revenue service the next month. A total of 156 717s were built prior to production ending in 2006, with 88 eventually finding a home at AirTran.
For Sunday’s flight, a very special 717 will help commemorate the brand. The 51st 717, registered as N717JL, is planned to operate Flight 1. This was the only aircraft in the AirTran fleet with a registration outside of its traditional numbering structure, with the letters paying tribute to Joe Leonard, who was CEO of the company at the time and played an instrumental role in the airline’s success.
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One of my favorite Southwest holiday images is that of an odd-looking 737 with “a nose that glows.” Back in the fall of 1981, a rather strange looking -200 had recently joined the fleet as a short-term lease from Belgium’s Trans European Airways.
The standard “Southwest” name was affixed to the vertical stabilizer, but otherwise the aircraft retained the multiple shades of blue and white instead of the standard desert gold which the other 25 aircraft in the fleet at the time wore.
In support of the Salvation Army, Maintenance Planner Larry Worley and Mechanic Jimmy More designed a special image for the otherwise bland front end of the aircraft. Rudolph One provided a holiday greeting, and also carried Santa and his elves around the system. Calendars, games, and books were also sold by Employees, with all proceeds going to the Salvation Army.
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As we commemorate the 111 th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight over Kitty Hawk, our very own Kitty Hawk will also celebrate an anniversary of its own. Thirty years ago this week, N300SW, the first Boeing 737-300 to enter revenue service, was welcomed to the Southwest Family with a star-studded event.
When explaining how the timing and name for the aircraft came about, Herb said, “In one of our planning sessions with our advertising agency, someone noted that the 737-300 was as quiet as a kitten and as quick as a hawk. Later, we realized our event coincided with the date of the Wright Brothers’ historic flight and then kitten-hawk analogy took on even greater significance.”
At a dinner gala on December 16, 1981, at the Loews Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Brigadier General Chuck Yeager was the featured guest and was accompanied by displays and decorations covering aviation history from the Wright Brothers, all the way through space flight. Also a surprise at the event was comedian Bob Hope, who was escorted by two Southwest Flight Attendants.
On the morning of December 17, 1981, at exactly 10:35 a.m., Flight 300 aboard N300 departed Dallas for Houston, and then on to San Antonio before heading back to Dallas and completing our original triangle route map. More than 2,000 Employees and local dignitaries came to see the flight off. On board, Flight Attendants dressed in black tuxedos served champagne to the 90 Customers along for the journey.
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Last Sunday, the final AirTran 737 revenue flight took place between Baltimore and Las Vegas as flight 1003.
It marked the conclusion of 10 years of service aboard the aircraft that provided the range for AirTran to expand service from a predominantly East Coast network to one that could travel to the West and beyond.
Although the original AirTran Airways that began operations in 1994 operated a small fleet of Boeing 737-200s, the -700s joined the fleet in 2004. The goal was to complement the fleet of all 717s at the time, which will continue to serve AirTran through the final flight later this month.
In addition to being the final revenue 737 for AirTran, it was also the Captain’s final journey as he approaches retirement. Captain Lee Nall served as Pilot in command for the final flight. The next afternoon, he climbed into the left seat one last time to fly aircraft 317 up to Paine Field, the birthplace of its bigger Boeing brothers, where it will spend the next month or so undergoing its transition to the new Heart livery and Evolve interior.
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Based on our original establishment as a shorthaul, high frequency, intrastate airline, most of our flights in our first 25 years of service were usually no more than an hour or two long, which fit perfectly within the capabilities of our 737-200s and -300s. As the launch Customer for Boeing’s -700 series aircraft, an opportunity presented itself to take our average trip length of 425 miles a little further with the longer range capabilities of the next generation fleet.
On Thanksgiving Day of 1998, an experiment took place to see just what a flight might look like that took Customers from one side of the United States to the other. Coast to coast, or transcontinental, flying fit well within the capabilities of our new -700s but was something new to many aspects of our operations. Basic logistical questions, such as where all the trash might be stowed, needed to be answered.
The first transcontinental flight took place between Oakland and Baltimore aboard aircraft 719, one of the newest aircraft in the fleet at the time. It departed just after 7:00 a.m., and like many early morning flights, most Customers grabbed a few extra minutes of shut-eye for the first portion of the flight. A return voyage back to Oakland followed, with the afternoon and evening travelers participating in several onboard activities that even included a poem writing competition, with the winning entry bringing some to tears when read over the PA system later in the trip.
Our first transcontinental dispatch release
After each leg of the trip, Customers were offered the chance to take a brief survey about their experience, which were collected by our friend Bill Owen from Network Planning who was onboard to study how things went. They were then rewarded with their choice of Wild Turkey or a smoked turkey as a thank you for taking part in what was then the longest revenue flight in our Company’s history. The experiment didn’t go unnoticed by the completion, either—when tidying up the cabin after the trip, a business card from our friends on the other side of the Metroplex was found in one of the seats.
With the demands of the industry and traveling public evolving over the past decade, so has our service. While we still offer our legendary “golden triangle” flights between the first three dots on the route map, the average trip length has almost doubled. Multiple daily trips between cities such as Baltimore and Los Angeles are now the norm. And when the 737 MAX joins the Southwest family in 2017, we’ll once again revolutionize the industry with even greater capabilities, such as retaining operational compatibilities that allow us to keep costs low by maintaining a single aircraft type, while still offering our Employees and Customers alike a comfortable and enjoyable travel experience.
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When Southwest came to “Beautiful Downtown Burbank” in 1990, the average fare was almost $200 to intra-California destinations such as Oakland. As a way to introduce our brand to the market, our first promotion offered Customers the chance to travel for much less than half the traditional rate by offering cash back at the gate.
With ads stating “Fly Southwest to Oakland and get $127 Cash Back at the Gate,” our $59 fare was a great way to kick off the new service. And the fine print—"just pay us the ridiculously high regular coach fare of $186 from Burbank to Oakland, and we’ll give you $127 cash back at the gate, each way.” It was a simple enough idea that helped introduce our new way of flying to a location recently vacated by a legacy airline.
Herb cutting the ribbon, along with airfare, at Burbank
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Ten years ago this month, Southwest Airlines teamed up with Texas grocer H-E-B to help feed those in need with a program titled “Flight to Fight Hunger.”
Landing in six Southwest Cities, a new 737-700 carried more than 1.2 million pounds of food to 18 food banks supplying more than 350 charities throughout the state thanks to the efforts of the two Texas legends.
In celebration of H-E-B’s 100th anniversary, a special logo was affixed to both aircraft N490 and an H-E-B delivery truck. At a ceremony in Houston, Colleen joined H-E-B Chairman and CEO Charles Butt to christen both vehicles, parked nose to nose, both filled with food.
"The Employees of Southwest Airlines are delighted to help H-E-B celebrate such a landmark occasion,” said Colleen. "H-E-B's people, its leaders, and the values it brings to a community have become legendary in our great state, and it is definitely a role model."
After being loaded in Houston, our special plane departed for Dallas, and then on to Austin, where a marching band from Del Valle High School joined a large group of volunteers to unload the deliveries that filled nearly 2,400 grocery carts.
Later in the day, the same aircraft made additional stops in Corpus Christi, Harlingen, and San Antonio. With the assistance on the ground from an additional 28 H-E-B trucks, the donations were able to go even further to additional cities such as Abilene, Lubbock, and beyond.
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Similar to the way AirTran Airways helped introduce Southwest to Atlanta in 2012, Morris Air paved the airway to the Pacific Northwest during the year following their becoming part of our family in late 1993.
And, as part of that expansion, Seattle—the birthplace of our Boeings—became our 39th station when it landed on our route map in the summer of 1994.
In addition to being home to some great coffee and music genres that put Seattle on the recording artist radar in the early ‘90s, it also has a rich heritage in both the nautical and aeronautical worlds. To help celebrate this legacy, the annual Seafair takes place each summer featuring the best from both the sea and air.
During the nearly month-long festival shortly after our first flights, Employees marched in a downtown Seattle parade to help introduce Southwest to the Emerald City.
The Grand Marshal for the parade was a familiar face from Texas, baseball legend Nolan Ryan, who happened to also be our unofficial “pitchman” for Cargo. Following Nolan’s carriage was a classic trolley filled with new Station Employees. Also accompanying the procession was the Light Brigade—Employees from Headquarters marching with their illuminated marshaling wands.
A separate float provided a new look to our classic 737s, with a desert gold aircraft featuring a nose similar to many legendary seaplanes of years past, helping to support the “Flights of Fantasy” theme.
Even TJ LUV made the trip to Seattle to march in the parade and greet the crowd.
Later during that year’s Seafair celebration, our Marketing department also hosted guests at the hydroplane race on Lake Washington to help introduce our new service of eight daily flights into SeaTac, which has now grown to over 40. Twenty years later, Seattle remains a summer travel favorite to Employees and Customers alike.
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Twenty-two years ago this month, our Maintenance (now Technical Operations) Department grew by 25 percent when the hangar doors of our fourth base (Phoenix) welcomed their first Boeings in October 1992.
The 125,000 square-foot facility was built to expand our ability to keep our aircraft and ground service equipment in top-of-the-line order, while also representing our commitment to what was then our largest station in the Southwest system. And, of course, we welcomed the addition to the family in classic Southwest style.
In a groundbreaking ceremony in January 1992, Jack Vidal, our original Vice President of Maintenance, helped move the first shovels of dirt and pointed out to the visiting dignitaries what would be home to the new $10 million facility. Herb was there to offer a “blast” of assistance, as well.
At an event later that year in October, Arizona dignitaries, including Mayor Paul Johnson and Senator John McCain, joined Herb for a special sneak preview of the new base. In the spirit of friendly competition, even America West Airlines new Chairman Bill Franke was in attendance to welcome Southwest to the neighborhood, only a few hundred feet away from their own hangars, at a time when our daily 135 departures were quickly catching up with AW’s 168.
Employees wore their nautical-themed attire representing the flags of SWA, which complemented the cruise ship that welcomed guests into the mezzanine.
And, although it’s pretty hard to see clearly, the photo above appears to be a package of nuts (not the salted variety, but the metal kind that pair with bolts) that bears the sentiment that one would have to be “Just Plane Nuts to Miss our Maintenance Facility Sneak Preview."
Today, our Phoenix Technical Operations base is home to almost 400 Employees, all dedicated to keeping our fleet Safely flying and to maintaining every piece of ground equipment that meets those aircraft on the ground.
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