Southwest Airlines

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This article is about the United States airline. For other similarly named airlines, see Southwest Airlines (disambiguation).

Coordinates: 32°50′48″N 96°51′40″W / 32.8467°N 96.861°W / 32.8467; -96.861 (Southwest Airlines Headquarters)

Southwest Airlines
Logo (2014-present)
Founded March 16, 1967 (1967-03-16)
Commenced operations June 18, 1971 (1971-06-18)
Focus cities
Frequent-flyer program Rapid Rewards
Fleet size 665
Destinations 93
Company slogan Without a Heart it's just a machine.
Headquarters Dallas, Texas, USA
Key people
Revenue Increase US$ 18.61 billion (2014)[2]
Operating income Increase US$ 2.23 billion (2014)[2]
Net income Increase US$ 1.14 billion (2014)[2]
Total assets Increase US$ 4.27 billion (2014)[2]
Total equity Decrease US$ 6.78 billion (2014)[2]
Employees 47,000 (2013)[2]

Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSELUV) is a major U.S. airline and the world's largest low-cost carrier, headquartered in Dallas, Texas. The airline was established in 1967[3] and adopted its current name in 1971.[4] The airline has nearly 47,000 employees as of December 2014 and operates more than 3,400 flights per day.[5] As of June 5, 2011, it carries the most domestic passengers of any U.S. airline.[6] As of March 2015, Southwest Airlines has scheduled service to 93 destinations across the United States and five additional countries.

Southwest Airlines has used only Boeing 737s, except for a few years in the 1970s and 1980s, when it leased a few Boeing 727s. As of August 2012, Southwest is the largest operator of the 737 worldwide with over 650 in service, each averaging six flights per day.[5]


Early history[edit]

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-200 wearing the original airline while landing in 1975

Southwest Airlines began with the March 15, 1967 incorporation of Air Southwest Co. by Rollin King and Herb Kelleher to fly within the state of Texas.[3][4]

Kelleher believed that by staying within Texas, the airline could avoid federal regulation.[7] Three airlines (Braniff, Trans-Texas and Continental Airlines) started legal action which was not resolved for three years. Air Southwest prevailed in 1970 when the Texas Supreme Court upheld Air Southwest’s right to fly within Texas.[8] The Texas decision became final on December 7, 1970 when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, without comment.[9]

The story of Southwest’s legal fight was turned into a children’s book, Gumwrappers and Goggles by Winifred Barnum in 1983. In the story, TJ Love, a small jet, is taken to court by two larger jets to keep him from their hangar and to stop him from flying. In court, TJ Love’s right to fly is upheld after an impassioned plea from a character referred to as "The Lawyer". While no company names are mentioned in the book, TJ Love’s colors were those of Southwest Airlines, and the two other jets are colored in Braniff and Continental colors. The Lawyer resembles Herb Kelleher. The book was adapted into a stage musical, Show Your Spirit, sponsored by Southwest Airlines and played only in cities served by the airline.[10]

On March 29, 1971 Air Southwest Co. changed its name to Southwest Airlines Co.[4] with headquarters in Dallas. Southwest began scheduled flights on June 18, 1971, Dallas to Houston and Dallas to San Antonio with three 737-200s.[5] The OAG for 15 October 1972 shows 61 flights a week each way between Dallas and Houston Hobby, 23 each way between Dallas and San Antonio and 16 each way between San Antonio and Houston; no flights were scheduled on Saturdays.

Revenue passenger-kilometers, in millions
Year Traffic
1975 480
1979 2,405
1985 8,587
1990 16,024
1995 37,535
2000 67,923
2005 97,097
Source: Air Transport World

Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher studied California-based Pacific Southwest Airlines and used many of PSA’s ideas to form the corporate culture at Southwest. Early flights used the same "Long Legs And Short Nights" theme for stewardesses on board typical Southwest Airlines flights. A committee including the same person who had selected hostesses for Hugh Hefner's Playboy jet selected the first flight attendants, females described as long-legged dancers, majorettes and cheerleaders with "unique personalities." Southwest Airlines and Herb Kelleher dressed them in hot pants and go-go boots.[11]

The New York Times wrote in 1971 that Southwest Airlines President Lamar Muse, "says frankly—and repeatedly—that Southwest Airlines has been developed from its inception around the ideas that have proven to be successful for Pacific Southwest Airlines". "We don't mind being copycats of an operation like that", referring to a visit he and other Southwest executives made to PSA as they assembled their operating plans. PSA welcomed them and even sold them flight and operations training. Muse later wrote that creating the operations manuals for his upstart airline was “primarily a cut and paste procedure” and it is said that “Southwest Airlines copied PSA so completely that you could almost call it a photocopy.”[12]

The rest of 1971 and 1972 saw operating losses. One of the four 737s was sold to Frontier Airlines and the proceeds used for payroll and other expenses. Southwest continued a schedule based on four aircraft but using only three, so the "ten minute turn" was born and was the standard ground time for many years.[13][14]

Wright Amendment[edit]

The Wright Amendment of 1979 is a federal law that governs traffic at Dallas Love Field, the pre-1974 airport in Dallas. It originally limited most nonstop flights to destinations within Texas and neighboring states. The limits began to phase out in 1997 and 2005; in 2006, the amendment was repealed, with some restrictions intact until 2014, but added a restriction on the number of gates allowed.[15]

When airline deregulation came in 1978, Southwest began to plan interstate flights from Love Field, causing groups affiliated with Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, including the city of Fort Worth, Texas, to push the Wright Amendment through Congress to restrict such flights.[16] Under the amendment, Southwest and other airlines were barred from operating or even ticketing passengers on flights from Love Field to destinations beyond the states that border Texas. The Wright Amendment’s restrictions did not apply to aircraft with 56 or fewer seats; Southwest did not use the 56 seat loophole.[17] Southwest's first schedule out of Texas was Hobby to New Orleans about February 1979.

In 1997 Southwest’s efforts paid off with the Shelby Amendment, which added Alabama, Mississippi and Kansas to the allowed destinations. Southwest began nonstop service between Dallas Love Field and Birmingham, Alabama.[18]

Network expansion[edit]

Southwest just flew to DAL, HOU and SAT until 1975 when it added Harlingen. In 1979 it flew to eleven Texas cities and added its first route out of the state, Houston-New Orleans, around the end of the year. In 1981 it expanded north to Tulsa and Oklahoma City and west to Albuquerque; in 1982, north to Kansas City and west to Phoenix, Las Vegas and California.

Flights to Denver started in 1983 (and ended in 1986), to Little Rock 1984, to St Louis and Chicago Midway in 1985, to Nashville in 1986 and to Detroit Metro and Birmingham in 1987. Eastward expansion resumed in 1992 with Cleveland and Columbus, then Baltimore in 1993. The Pacific Northwest started in 1994 after the Morris Air takeover; Tampa and Fort Lauderdale started in January 1996. East to Providence in 1997, Manchester in 1998, and Islip and Raleigh-Durham in 1999.

Southwest's only route within California was San Francisco-San Diego until it started Oakland in 1989; in the next few years its capacity on the West Coast ballooned.


Southwest hired their first black pilot, Louis Freeman, in 1980. In 1992 he was named the first black chief pilot of any major U.S. airline.[19]

Southwest's Houston Pilot Base opened on June 1, 1984. Houston was their first crew base outside Dallas.[20]

A 737–300 (N648SW) pictured in Southwest's original desert gold livery.

On November 30, 1984 Southwest took delivery of their first Boeing 737–300. Southwest was the launch customer and as of May 2012 is the largest operator of the aircraft type.[21] The first 737-300 was dubbed "Kitty Hawk."[22]

Southwest paid US$60.5 million in stock and cash for Muse Air when Muse was on the verge of collapse in 1985. After completing the acquisition, Southwest renamed MuseAir TranStar Airlines. TranStar became a wholly owned subsidiary of Southwest and operated as an independent airline. Unwilling to compete in a fare war against Frank Lorenzo's Texas Air, Southwest eventually sold TranStar's assets to Lorenzo in August 1987.[23][24]

Southwest moved into their current headquarters in 1990. Previously, the airline was headquartered in the 1820 Regal Row building in Dallas, by Love Field.[25] At that time the headquarters had 256,000 square feet (23,800 m2) of space and approximately 650 employees.[26] The current headquarters facility was built at a cost of $15 million in 1990 dollars.[27] In early 1995 the building received an additional 60,000 square feet (5,600 m2) of space. As of 2006 about 1,400 employees worked in the three story building.[26]

In 1990, the airline registered their aircraft in Houston so they could pay aircraft taxes in Houston, even though the actual corporate headquarters were in Dallas. Southwest was not physically relocating any assets, but Texas state law allowed the airline to choose either Dallas or Houston as the city of registry of their aircraft.[28]

Southwest acquired Morris Air, a competing airline based in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1992, paying US$134 million in stock.[29] After completing the purchase, Southwest absorbed the capital and routes of Morris Air into Southwest's inventory and service, including Morris' Pacific Northwest destinations not previously served by Southwest.[30] One founder of Morris Air, David Neeleman, worked with Southwest for a short period before leaving to found WestJet and then JetBlue Airways, a competing airline.[31]

Boeing 737-200 in Midway Airlines/Southwest Airlines hybrid livery in 1991

On March 16, 1995, Southwest became one of the first airlines to have a website. Originally called the "Southwest Airlines Home Gate", passengers could view schedules, a route map and company information at[32] is the number one airline website for online revenue, according to PhoCusWright. Nielsen/Netratings also reports that is the largest airline site in terms of unique visitors.[5] In 2006, 70 percent of flight bookings and 73 percent of revenue was generated from bookings on As of June 2007, 69 percent of Southwest passengers checked in for their flights online or at a kiosk.[5]

Southwest Airlines gained a reputation for "outside the box thinking" and proactive risk management, including the use of fuel hedging to insulate against fuel price fluctuation. Some analysts have argued against the style of profit-motivated energy trading Southwest did between 1999 and the early 2000s. They suggested that rather than hedging business risk (such as a hedge on weather to a farmer), Southwest was simply speculating on energy prices, without a formal rationale for doing so.[33]

At present, Southwest has enjoyed much positive press (and a strong financial boost) from their energy trading skills.[34][35][36] However, while most analysts agree that volatility hedges can be beneficial,[37] speculative hedges are not widely supported as a continuing strategy for profits.[38]

In March 1996, after the Dallas City Council unanimously voted to allow for construction, the airline began to build a 300,000 square feet (28,000 m2) addition to the existing corporate headquarters at a cost of $30 million in 1996 dollars.[39][40] This occurred after, on Wednesday March 13, 1996, .[41] The airline leased two additional tracts of land, a total of 10 acres (4.0 ha) of space, from the City of Dallas to build a new pilot training facility, a headquarters expansion, and additional parking spaces. A $9.8 million new pilot training facility was built on a 5 acres (2.0 ha) plot of land owned by the city of Dallas; it was scheduled to be completed Spring 1997. With the new pilot training facility built, the old one would be removed and the company would expand its headquarters building on the former training facility site. 120,000 square feet (11,000 m2) of building space, which had a price of $16 million including fixtures, was built, making the headquarters have a total of 436,000 square feet (40,500 m2). The airline also leased 4.8 acres (1.9 ha) from the city of Dallas to build additional parking; 700 spaces were added to the existing 1,200. After the expansion, Southwest had a total leasehold of about 24 acres (9.7 ha) of land, including its headquarters, training facilities and parking. By the end of 1997 the expansion of the facilities at Love Field and several terminal improvements were expected to cost Southwest $47 million.[26]


Repealing the Wright Amendment[edit]

Southwest Airlines logo used 2001-2014
A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737–700 landing at San Jose International Airport, shown in the company's Canyon Blue livery, introduced in 2001 and used until September 2014.

In late 2004, Southwest began actively seeking the full repeal of the Wright Amendment restrictions. In late 2005, Missouri was added to the list of permissible destination states via a transportation appropriations bill. New service from Love Field to Saint Louis, Missouri and Kansas City, Missouri quickly started in December 2005.[42]

At a June 15, 2006 joint press conference held by the city of Dallas, the city of Ft. Worth, Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, the said parties announced a tentative agreement on how the Wright Amendment was to be phased out. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed Wright-related legislation on September 29, 2006 and it was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 13, 2006. The new law became effective on October 16, 2006, when the FAA Administrator notified Congress that any new aviation operations occurring as a result of the new law could be accommodated without adverse effect to the airspace.[43]

Southwest started selling tickets under the new law on October 19, 2006. Highlights of the agreement are the immediate elimination of through-ticketing prohibitions and unrestricted flights to domestic destinations eight years after the legislation takes effect. Because of the agreement, nationwide service became possible for Southwest; the law also defined the maximum number of gates at Love Field. Southwest controls all but four of the Love Field gates. United Airlines controls two and American Airlines was initially supposed to operate from the other two, however, because of their merger with US Airways, they had to give up the two gates at DAL. Virgin America began leasing the two gates from American on October 13, 2014.[44]

Southwest remains the dominant passenger airline at Love Field, maintains its headquarters, hangars, training centers and flight simulators adjacent thereto and reflects its ties to Love Field in its winged heart livery and its stock exchange ticker symbol (LUV).


In 2008, Southwest contracted with Pratt and Whitney to supply the proprietary Ecopower water pressure-washing system, which allows Southwest to clean grime and contaminants off engine turbine blades while the aircraft is parked at the gate. Frequent use of the Ecopower system is estimated to improve fuel efficiency by about 1.9%.[45][46]

On March 6, 2008, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors submitted documents to the United States Congress, alleging that Southwest allowed 117 of its aircraft to fly carrying passengers despite the fact that the planes were "not airworthy" according to air safety investigators.[47] In some cases the planes were allowed to fly for up to 30 months after the inspection deadlines had passed, rendering them unfit to fly. Records indicate that thousands of passengers were flown on aircraft deemed unsafe by federal standards. Southwest declined comment at the time and US Representative James Oberstar advised a hearing would be held.[47][48]

Southwest paid US$7.5 million to acquire certain assets from bankrupt ATA Airlines in 2008. Southwest's primary reason for making the purchase was to acquire the operating certificate and landing slots at New York's LaGuardia Airport formerly controlled by ATA. While some preferential hiring was indicated at the time of the purchase, the transaction ultimately did not include the purchase of any aircraft, facilities or transfers of employees directly from ATA.[49]

On March 12, 2008, Southwest Airlines voluntarily grounded 44 planes to check if they needed further inspection. The FAA claimed that Southwest Airlines flew almost 60,000 flights without fuselage inspection. Southwest Airlines faced a $10.2 million fine if they violated FAA regulations. There have also been rumors that the FAA knew about Southwest Airlines violations but decided not to fine the airline because it would disrupt their services.[50]

On March 2, 2009, Southwest settled these claims, agreeing to pay the FAA fines of $7.5 million for these safety and maintenance issues. The original fine of $30.2 million – a sum which would have been the largest fine in the agency’s history – was lowered after a year of negotiations. The FAA gave Southwest two years in which to pay the fine.[51]

On July 30, 2009, Southwest Airlines made a $113.6 million bid for bankrupt Frontier Airlines Holdings, the parent company of Frontier Airlines. Southwest planned to initially operate Frontier as a stand-alone carrier, eventually absorbing the airline and replacing Frontier's aircraft with Boeing 737s.[52] Less than one month after submitting its bid, Southwest learned on August 14 that it had lost the initial bidding to Republic Airways Holdings and elected not to counter or pursue the deal further. Southwest stated that its requirement for pilots' unions at both companies to reach a negotiated (not arbitrated) agreement as a condition of acquisition was a key factor in its abandonment of its bid.[53]

On August 26, 2009 the FAA investigated Southwest for installing improper parts on about 10% of its jets. The work was performed by an outside maintenance company. The FAA stated that the parts do not present a safety danger, but the airline was given until December 24, 2009 to replace the parts with those approved by the FAA.[54]


AirTran Airways acquisition[edit]

An AirTran Airways Boeing 737–700 taxiing at Portland Jetport

Southwest Airlines first announced the acquisition on September 27, 2010 and received final approval from the United States Department of Justice on April 27, 2011. On May 2, 2011, Southwest Airlines completed the acquisition of AirTran Airways by purchasing all of the outstanding common stock, corporate identity and operating assets of AirTran Holdings, Inc., the former parent company of AirTran Airways. Southwest Airlines estimates the transaction's value at $3.2 billion and expects onetime costs to integrate the two airlines of $500 million, with cost synergies of approximately $400 million annually. The greatest impact on Southwest was the elimination of a direct low-cost competitor, access to Atlanta, international service and the addition of landing slots at New York-LaGuardia Airport and Washington-Reagan Airport. Southwest obtained a single operating certificate (SOC) from the United States Federal Aviation Administration on March 1, 2012, but expects that full integration of AirTran into Southwest's operations to continue until 2014.

An entity called Guadeloupe Holdings was formed by Southwest and currently acts as a wholly owned subsidiary of Southwest Airlines and holding company for AirTran's current operations and assets. Southwest's organized labor groups have ceded contractual "scope" provisions pending acceptable negotiated seniority integration agreements.[55] Southwest is transition aircraft, routes and employees from AirTran to Southwest on a one-by-one basis until all parts of AirTran have transitioned to Southwest.

The purchase adds 25 additional destinations previously not served by Southwest including cities in Mexico, the Caribbean and Atlanta, Georgia, an AirTran hub and at the time, the largest U.S. city not served by Southwest. On October 10, 2011, USA Today reported that Southwest will work to no longer bank flights in Atlanta as AirTran did.[55] AirTran 737 aircraft are in the process of being converted to Southwest's livery and evolve interior.

On February 14, 2013, Southwest began codesharing with AirTran. It took the first step on January 26, 2013 by launching shared itineraries in five markets. Southwest continued to launch shared itineraries with 39 more markets beginning February 25, 2013. In April 2013, shared itineraries were expanded to all Southwest and AirTran cities (domestic and international).[56] The airlines were fully integrated on December 29, 2014.[57]


For the tenth year in a row, Fortune magazine recognized Southwest Airlines in its annual survey of corporate reputations. Among all industries in 2004, Fortune has listed Southwest Airlines as number three among America’s Top Ten most admired corporations.[58]

On December 13, 2011, Southwest placed a firm order for 150 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, becoming the launch customer for the type. First delivery is expected in 2017.[59]

In January 2012, Southwest Airlines expressed interest in serving Mexican and South American destinations out of Hobby.[60] On May 30, 2012 Houston's city council approved Southwest's request for international flights from Hobby.[61] Southwest agreed to invest at least $100 million to cover all costs tied to the Hobby upgrade, which includes designing and building five new gates and a customs facility. Construction at Hobby is expected to take two years, with international flights likely beginning in 2015.[62]

On April 11, 2012, Southwest introduced the 737–800 to the fleet. It seats 175 passengers as compared to the regular 143-seater 737-700. The first 737–800 was called "Warrior One"[63] in salute of the Southwest Employees’ Warrior Spirit.

On May 5, 2014, Southwest announced that it has chosen Amadeus IT Group to replace its current domestic reservation system. Southwest already operates its international reservation system with Amadeus. The new domestic reservation system is expected to take a few years before it is implemented. When completed, Southwest will operate one reservation system by Amadeus.[64]

In September 2014, Southwest introduced new branding, including a new livery and logo.[65]

On October 13, 2014, the Wright Amendment restrictions at Dallas Love Field were repealed and Southwest expanded service at Love Field to include cities outside the previous location restrictions.[66]

Throughout 2014, Southwest expanded service at Reagan-National in Washington D.C. and LaGuardia Airport in New York City through slot acquisitions from the American Airlines/US Airways merger.[67]

In early 2015 it was announced that the airline had been fined a record $1.6m by the US Department of Transportation for tarmac delays on 2 and 3 January 2014 when 16 Southwest Airlines aircraft were delayed at Chicago Midway Airport due to severe winter storms.[68]

Corporate identity[edit]


The company has employed humor in its advertising. Slogans include "Love Is Still Our Field", "Just Plane Smart", "The Somebody Else Up There Who Loves You", "You're Now Free To Move About The Country", "THE Low Fare Airline", "Grab your bag, It's On!" and "Welcome Aboard". The airline's current slogan is "If It Matters To You, It Matters To Us".

A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737–700 with blended winglets (N741SA) pictured on the tarmac at Chicago Midway International Airport wearing the airline's original desert gold livery.

In March 1992, shortly after Southwest started using the "Just Plane Smart" motto, Stevens Aviation, who had been using "Plane Smart" for their motto, threatened a trademark lawsuit.[69][70]

Instead of a lawsuit, the CEOs for both companies staged an arm wrestling match. Held at the now demolished Dallas Sportatorium (the famed wrestling facility) and set for two out of three rounds, the loser of each round was to pay $5,000 to the charity of their choice, with the winner gaining the use of the trademarked phrase. A promotional video was created showing the CEOs "training" for the bout (with CEO Herb Kelleher being helped up during a sit up where a cigarette and glass of whiskey (Wild Turkey 101) was waiting) and distributed among the employees and as a video press release along with the video of the match itself. Herb Kelleher lost the match for Southwest, with Stevens Aviation winning the rights to the phrase. Kurt Herwald, CEO of Stevens Aviation, immediately granted the use of "Just Plane Smart" to Southwest Airlines. The net result was both companies having use of the trademark, $15,000 going to charity and good publicity for both companies.[71]

Honor Flight Network[edit]

Southwest Airlines is the official commercial airline of the Honor Flight Network.[72] Honor Flights are dedicated to bringing aging and ailing veterans to visit the national monuments in Washington, D.C., devoted to the wars in which they served.[73]

Corporate affairs[edit]


Southwest Airlines headquarters in Dallas

The Southwest Airlines headquarters is located on the grounds of Dallas Love Field in the Love Field neighborhood of Dallas, Texas.[5][74]

On September 17, 2012, Southwest broke ground on a new Training and Operational Support (TOPS) building.[75] The TOPS Building is across the street from its current headquarters building. The property includes a two-story, 100,000-square-foot operations building that could withstand an F3 tornado. It also includes a four-story, 392,000-square-foot office and training facility with two levels devoted to each function. The new facilities will house 24-hour coordination and maintenance operations, customer support and services, and training. BOKA Powell was the project architect. Manhattan Construction is the general contractor. The project is scheduled for completion in late 2013, with occupancy beginning in 2014.


As of December 2014, Southwest Airlines has nearly 46,000 employees.[76]

Gary C. Kelly is Chairman, President and CEO of Southwest Airlines. Kelly replaced former CEO Jim Parker on July 15, 2004 and assumed the title of "President" on July 15, 2008, replacing former President Colleen Barrett. In July 2007, Herb Kelleher resigned his position as Chairman. Colleen Barrett left her post on the Board of Directors and as Corporate Secretary in May 2008 and as President in July 2008. Both are still active employees of Southwest Airlines. Kelleher was President and CEO of Southwest from September 1981-June 2001.[77]

In contrast to competitor JetBlue Airways, where only the pilots are unionized, Southwest maintains its profitability and low-fare, low-cost business model while being heavily unionized. The Southwest Airline Pilots' Association, a union not affiliated with the Air Line Pilots Association, represents the airline's pilots.[78] The Aircraft Maintenance Technicians are represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).[79] Customer Service Agents and Reservation Agents are represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union (IAM). Flight Dispatchers, Flight Attendants, Ramp agents and Operations agents are represented by the Transport Workers Union (TWU).

Impact on carriers[edit]

Southwest has been a major inspiration to other low-cost carriers, and its business model has been repeated many times around the world. The competitive strategy combines high level of employee and aircraft productivity with low unit costs by reducing aircraft turn around time particularly at the gate.[80] Europe's EasyJet and Ryanair are two of the best known airlines to follow Southwest's business strategy in that continent. Other airlines with a business model based on Southwest's system include Canada's WestJet, Malaysia's AirAsia (the first and biggest LCC in Asia), Qantas's Jetstar (although Jetstar now operates three aircraft types), Philippines's Cebu Pacific, Thailand's Nok Air, Mexico's Volaris and Turkey's Pegasus Airlines. Although Southwest has been a major inspiration to many other airlines, including Ryanair, AirAsia and Jetstar, the management strategies, for example, of Ryanair, AirAsia and Jetstar differ significantly from those of Southwest.[80] All these different management strategies can be seen as means of differentiation from other competitors in order to gain competitive advantages.[81]

Lobbying Texas rail[edit]

Southwest has fought against the development of a high-speed rail system in Texas.

In 1991 a plan was made to connect the Texas Triangle (HoustonDallasSan Antonio) with a privately financed high speed train system which would quickly take passengers from one city to the next. This was the same model Southwest Airlines used 20 years earlier to break into the Texas market where it served the same three cities.

Southwest Airlines, with the help of lobbyists, created legal barriers to prohibit the consortium from moving forward and the entire project was eventually scuttled in 1994, when the State of Texas withdrew the franchise.[82]


Southwest Airlines destination map

As of March 2015, Southwest Airlines has scheduled flights to 94 destinations in 41 states, Puerto Rico and abroad, the newest being San José, CR (SJO) on March 7, 2015. Southwest has announced plans to increase its city count to 96 so far in 2015. Southwest does not use the "hub and spoke" system of other major airlines, preferring the "point-to-point" system.

Top cities[edit]

Southwest plane at LAX gate
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, California
Southwest Airlines top served cities (as of September 2014)[83]
City Daily departures Number of gates Cities served nonstop Service began
Chicago-Midway 235 39 64 1985
Las Vegas 215 28 56 1982
Baltimore-Washington 184 25 58 1993
Dallas (Love Field) 190 16 50 1971
Phoenix 163 24 48 1982
Denver 159 22 56 2006
Houston (Hobby) 146 18 44 1971
Atlanta 124 31 42 2012
Los Angeles (LAX) 113 15 24 1982
Orlando 110 22 40 1998

Airline partnerships[edit]


In 1997, Southwest and Icelandair entered into interline and marketing agreements allowing for joint fares, coordinated schedules, transfer of passenger luggage between the two airlines in Baltimore and connecting passengers between several U.S. cities and several European cities.[84] The frequent flyer programs were not included in the agreement. This arrangement lasted for several years but ended when Icelandair's service to BWI ended in January 2007.[85]

In a departure from its traditional "go it alone" strategy, Southwest entered into its first domestic codesharing arrangement with ATA, which enabled Southwest Airlines to serve ATA markets in Hawaii, Washington, D.C. and New York City.

At the time of ATA's demise in April 2008, the airline offered over 70 flights a week to Hawaii from Southwest's focus cities in PHX, LAS, LAX and OAK with connections available to many other cities across the United States. The ATA/Southwest codeshare was terminated when ATA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 3, 2008. Southwest ultimately acquired the operating certificate and some of the landing rights of ATA in the ensuing proceedings.[86]

On July 8, 2008, Southwest Airlines signed a codeshare agreement with WestJet of Canada, giving the two airlines the ability to sell seats on each other's flights.[87] Originally, the partnership was to be finalized by late 2009, but had been postponed due to economic conditions.[88]

On April 16, 2010, Southwest and WestJet airlines amicably agreed to terminate the implementation of a codeshare agreement between the two airlines.

Southwest signed its second international codeshare agreement on November 10, 2008, with Mexican low-cost carrier Volaris. The agreement allowed Southwest to sell tickets on Volaris flights.[89] However on February 22, 2013, the connecting agreement was terminated. It was said to be mutual between the airlines. Most industry experts believe that the expansion of the subsidiary of Southwest, AirTran Airways, into more Mexican markets, as a main reason for the termination of the agreement.[90]

After acquiring AirTran Airways in 2011, Southwest began a codeshare agreement with AirTran on February 14, 2013. The agreement ended after AirTran became fully integrated into Southwest on December 28, 2014.



As of March 2015, the Southwest Airlines fleet consists of the following aircraft:[91][92]

Southwest Airlines fleet
Aircraft In service Orders Options Passengers Notes
Boeing 737-300 127 137
Some retrofitted with electronic flight decks and winglets
In the process of being retired[93]
Boeing 737-500 12 122 In the process of being retired
Boeing 737-700 441 20 37 143 Orders convertible to -800 series
Boeing 737-800 92 28 175 All to be retrofitted with Split Scimitar Winglets[94]
Boeing 737 MAX 7 30 TBA Scheduled to enter service in 2019[95]
Boeing 737 MAX 8 170 191 TBA Scheduled to enter service in 2017[96]
Total 672 250 228

Southwest is the world's largest operator of the Boeing 737, was the launch customer of the 737-300, -500 and -700, and will be the launch customer of the 737 Max 7 and 8.[97]

After completing the purchase of AirTran Airways, Southwest Airlines added AirTran's existing fleet of 737-700 aircraft to its fleet. However, the 717s acquired through AirTran were not added to Southwest's fleet. Instead, they were phased out and are being transferred to Delta Air Lines until the end of 2015.[98][99]

Newer Boeing 737-300 variants are retrofitted with electronic flight decks and blended winglets to reduce operational costs. The retrofits make the 737-300s operationally compatible with the 737-700 and support the airline's move to embrace the Global Positioning System enabled Required Navigation Performance system.[100][101]

Southwest added the Boeing 737-800 to its fleet on April 11, 2012. The aircraft has 175 seats, 38 more than the former largest plane in Southwest's fleet.[102] All -800s include the Boeing Sky Interior, with the 8300-series -800 planes also being equipped with ETOPS equipment.[103]

On December 13, 2011, Southwest placed a firm order for 150 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, becoming the launch customer for the type. First delivery is expected in 2017.[59] All 737 MAX 8 aircraft will include the Boeing Sky Interior.[59]

On May 15, 2013, Southwest became the launch customer for the Boeing 737 MAX 7 aircraft and now has 30 MAX 7 aircraft on order. The first delivery is expected in 2019.[104]

Fleet gallery[edit]

Historical fleet[edit]

Southwest Airlines fleet history
Aircraft Introduction Retired Replacement(s) Notes
Boeing 727–200 1979 1987 Boeing 737–200 Leased from Braniff International and People Express Airlines
Boeing 737–200 1971 2005 Boeing 737–700 Southwest's first aircraft type


Original desert gold livery, used until 2001

Southwest's original primary livery was desert gold, red and orange, with pinstripes of white separating each section of color. The word Southwest appeared in white on the desert gold portion of the tail. On the original three 737-200s, from June 1971, on the left side of the plane, the word Southwest was placed along the upper rear portion of the fuselage, with the word Airlines painted on the tail N21SW. On the right side, the word Southwest was on the tail, but also had the word Airlines painted on the upper rear portion of the fuselage.N20SW.

Canyon blue livery used from 2001 to 2014

Southwest introduced the canyon blue livery on January 16, 2001, the first primary livery change in Southwest's [then] 30-year history. Spirit One was the first plane painted in the canyon blue fleet color scheme. The second livery replaces the former primary color, desert gold, with canyon blue and changes the Southwest text and pinstripes to gold. The orange and red stripes continued to be used. The pinstripe along the plane was drawn in a more curved pattern instead of the straight horizontal line separating the colors in the original. For aircraft equipped with blended winglets, the blended winglets were painted to include the text Southwest completed repainting its entire fleet with the new Canyon Blue livery in early 2010; however, The Colleen Barrett Classic (N714CB), The Herbert D. Kelleher One (N711HK), & The Metallic Gold One (N792SW), which are Boeing 737–700 aircraft, retain the original desert gold livery. However, these classics do not have the black paint printed on the nose of the plane and do not have the number one heart on it.

Heart livery used 2014-present

A new livery, named "Heart" and developed with firms GSD&M, Lippincott, VML, Razorfish, and Camelot Communications, was unveiled on September 8, 2014.[105] The new livery uses a darker shade of blue. The orange stripe on the tail is changed to yellow, both the red and yellow stripes are now enlarged in reverse pattern, and the belly of the aircraft is now in blue and features a heart, which has been a symbol for Southwest during its 43-year history. Additionally, the pinstripes are changed to a silver-gray and the Southwest text, now white, has been moved to the front of the fuselage. Lettering is in a font custom designed by Monotype, Southwest Sans. The engines now feature the airline's web address,

Special liveries and decals[edit]

Some Southwest aircraft feature special liveries or are named with special decals. Southwest gives these aircraft special names, usually ending in "One". All special liveries painted prior to Spirit One originally wore the standard Desert Gold, red and orange colors on the vertical stabilizer and rudder. Subsequent special liveries feature tails with the canyon blue livery. All earlier specials, with the exception of Triple Crown One, have been repainted with the Spirit livery tail. Aircraft painted in special liveries have white painted blended winglets with the exception of Warrior One which added the split scimitar winglet in May 2014.[5]

Southwest Airlines special liveries[106]
Name Year Description Registration Photo
2,000th 737NG & 5,000th 737 produced 2006 Southwest received both the 5,000th 737 produced (February 13, 2006) (N230WN) and the 2,000th "Next Generation" 737 produced (July 27, 2006) (N248WN). The 2,000th "Next Generation" 737 is marked as such in its livery, though the 5,000th 737 is not similarly marked on the outside. It does have a placard stating that it is the 5000th 737 on the upper part of the inside entry door frame. 2,000th (N248WN), 5,000th (N230WN)
35th Anniversary Combined the original primary livery with the current canyon blue livery. N238WN
500th 737 2007 Southwest received their 500th 737 on June 28, 2007. This aircraft is marked to honor this milestone. N281WN
Arizona One 1994 The flag of the state of Arizona applied across the aircraft. N383SW Arizona One at PDX.jpg
California One 1995 The flag of the state of California applied across the aircraft. N609SW Southwest "California One" Livery.jpg
Charles E. Taylor One 2007 Named in honor of Charles E. Taylor, the first aviation mechanic, who built the first aircraft engine that the Wright Brothers used on their flyer. N289CT
Colleen Barrett Classic/Heroine of The Heart 2008 Named in tribute to Colleen Barrett, the company's former Executive Vice President. N714CB is painted in Southwest's original livery and N266WN wears a special decal in honor of Colleeen Barrett. N714CB, N266WN
Colorado One 2012 The flag of the state of Colorado is painted across the aircraft. This aircraft is also the 5,000th 737 produced. N230WN
Florida One 2010 The flag of the state of Florida applied across the aircraft. N945WN Southwest Florida 737.jpg
The Fred J. Jones 1984 In honor of Fred J. Jones, one of Southwest's original employees.[107] Signature on the nose. It later became Southwest's only 737–200 to be painted in the Canyon Blue livery when it was applied in 2001. The aircraft was retired in 2005 and replaced in the same year with a 737–700 with the same signature on the cone. The replaced aircraft is also the first 737 Next Generation that was manufactured without eyebrow windows above the cockpit. N201LV
Green Plane 2009 Served as a test plane for new environmentally responsible materials and customer comfort products. When combined, the initiatives equated to a weight savings of about five pounds per seat, saving fuel and reducing emissions, along with adding recyclable elements to the cabin interior and reducing waste. The plane also included a decal rendition of the Southwest corporate logo in green on the side of the plane. N222WN
Heart One & Two 2014 First two planes painted in the new Southwest Heart livery. 737-800's with split scimitar winglets. N8642E & N8645A
The Herbert D. Kelleher One 2008 Named in honor of Herbert D. Kelleher, the company's former CEO and Chairman and painted in Southwest's original livery. N711HK
Illinois One 2008 The flag of the state of Illinois applied across the aircraft. N918WN Southwest Airlines Illinois One Livery.jpg
Jack Vidal One 1995 First flew on February 27, 1995. It was delivered to Southwest on March 10, 1995. N601WN
The June M. Morris 1994 In honor of June Morris (founder of Morris Air), Signature and Morris Air logo on the nose. Signature and logo removed for Canyon Blue repaint. N607SW, Original, Canyon Blue
Lone Star One 1990 The flag of the state of Texas applied across the aircraft. N352SW Southwest 737 Lonestar One.jpg
Maryland One 2005 The flag of the state of Maryland applied across the aircraft. N214WN Southwest Maryland 737.JPG
Metallic Gold One 2007 The last aircraft delivered to Southwest in the original livery. N792SW
Nevada One 1999 The flag of the state of Nevada applied across the aircraft. N727SW
New Mexico One 2000 The flag of the state of New Mexico applied across the aircraft. N781WN
Nolan Ryan Express 1998 Commemorative sticker dedicated to famous Texas pitcher Nolan Ryan who is MLB's all-time strikeout leader with 5,714 strikeouts. N742SW
Penguin One 2013 To commemorate the 25th year of Southwest Airlines' partnership with SeaWorld, an aircraft was painted with penguins and advertisements for SeaWorld. It was repainted to standard Southwest livery following the end of Southwest's partnership with SeaWorld.[108] N280WN N280WN 21Mar14a.jpg
Shamu 1988 Two aircraft were painted to look like an Orca, with advertisements for SeaWorld.1 It was repainted to standard Southwest livery following the end of Southwest's partnership with SeaWorld.[108] N713SW confirmed repainted in Heart livery on March 3rd departing PDX source: N713SW, N715SW Southwest 737-3H4 N334SW BWI Shamu.jpg
Silver One 1996 25th Anniversary aircraft. Originally polished bare metal, it was later painted silver for easier maintenance. It was then re-painted with a silver metallic paint. This aircraft also featured silver seats, which were replaced to conform with the rest of the fleet for simplicity. Silver One also featured silver heart shaped drink stirrers. Most recently Silver One was repainted in the fleet standard Canyon Blue theme due to the silver paint looking dingy and the company felt it did not fit the company's cheerful, bright personality. The Silver One nose logo remained but the interior was replaced with the fleet standard blue and tan. N629SW (Original, Silver Paint, Canyon Blue)
Slam Dunk One 2005 Basketball superimposed on side of aircraft and a different NBA team logo on each overhead bin in the cabin, recognizing Southwest's partnership with the National Basketball Association. On October 11, 2010 Southwest Airlines and the National Basketball Association ended their partnership and the aircraft was repainted to standard canyon blue livery. Source: Dallas Morning News Aviation Blog (N224WN). N224WN
The Spirit of Hope 2004 Dedicated to the Ronald McDonald House. Overhead bins are covered in artwork from kids at a Ronald McDonald House in Washington State. N443WN
The Spirit of Kitty Hawk 1984 Livery and title introduced the first three Boeing 737–300 aircraft to the Southwest Airlines fleet. N300SW is the oldest −300 in the fleet, followed by N301SW and N302SW N300SW, N301SW, N302SW
Spirit One 2001 30th Anniversary aircraft, first aircraft in canyon blue paint scheme N793SA
Sports Illustrated 2009 A large decal of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition Cover Model Bar Refaeli adorns the fuselage of N922WN. However on June 16, 2009 this aircraft was photographed in full canyon blue on a photo posted on[109] N922WN
Tinker Bell One 2008 Includes the logo of the Tinker Bell movie and a sticker featuring the phrase "Powered by Pixie Dust". However on April 2, 2010 this aircraft was photographed in full canyon blue, and later with the "Free Bags Fly Here" sticker just above the cargo door to promote Southwest's Bags Fly Free campaign. N912WN
Triple Crown One 1997 Livery dedicated to the employees of Southwest, in recognition of Southwest receiving five Triple Crown airline industry awards (best on-time record, best baggage handling, and fewest customer complaints). The overhead bins in Triple Crown One are inscribed with the names of all employees that worked for Southwest at the time, in honor of their part in winning the award. N647SW Southwest Triple Crown.jpg
Warrior One 2012 Named in salute of the Southwest Employees' Warrior Spirit, and was the first Boeing 737–800 to enter Southwest service. It will keep the Southwest Spirit livery. N8301J
  • ^1 The first aircraft to be painted in the "Shamu" scheme was N334SW (1988), a 737–300 and it was later followed by N507SW (Shamu II) and N501SW (Shamu III), both 737-500s. Subsequent to the retirement of Southwest's 737-200s, the 737-500s began to stay within a smaller geographic area formerly operated by the 737-200s and as such, Sea World was no longer getting the optimal national exposure from these two aircraft. Two 737–700 aircraft, N713SW and N715SW, were repainted as the new Shamu aircraft and both N501SW and N507SW were repainted in canyon blue colors. In 2013, N334SW was retired, leaving two Shamu aircraft. The artwork on the nose of each aircraft states "Shamu" plus the overhead bins on the aircraft display ads for Sea World.

Products and services[edit]

Southwest experience[edit]

Southwest operates using a unique boarding process

Southwest offers free in-flight non-alcoholic beverages and offers alcoholic beverages for sale. Southwest has complimentary peanuts or pretzels on all flights, and most flights have free Nabisco snacks. Southwest is known for colorful boarding announcements and crews that burst out in song.[110][111][112] The singing is quite popular among passengers.[113]

Southwest maintains excellent customer satisfaction ratings; according to the Department of Transportation Southwest ranks number one (lowest number of complaints) of all U.S. airlines for customer complaints. Southwest Airlines has consistently received the fewest ratio of complaints per passengers boarded of all major U.S. carriers that have been reporting statistics to the Department of Transportation (DOT) since September 1987, which is when the DOT began tracking Customer Satisfaction statistics and publishing its Air Travel Consumer Report.

Prior to 2007, Southwest boarded passengers by grouping the passengers into three groups, labeled A, B and C. Passengers would line up at their specified letter and board.[114] In 2007, Southwest modified their boarding procedure by introducing a number. Each passenger receives a letter (A, B or C) and a number 1 through 60. Passengers line up in numerical order within each letter group.[114]

In-flight entertainment[edit]

After completing a testing phase that began in February 2009, Southwest announced on August 21, 2009 that it would begin rolling out in-flight wi-fi Internet connectivity via Row 44's satellite-broadband based product. Southwest began adding Wi-Fi to its aircraft in the first quarter of 2010. The airline began testing streaming live television in the summer of 2012 and video on demand in January 2013. All 737-700s and -800s are now equipped with Wi-Fi, streaming live television, Beats audio and video on demand.[115][116]

Passengers board a new 737-800 jetliner with the new Evolve Interior at Sacramento International Airport

Evolve interior[edit]

On January 17, 2012 Southwest introduced a plan to retrofit its fleet with a new interior. Improvements include a modern cabin design, lighter and more comfortable seats made of eco-friendly products, increased under-seat space, new netted seatback pockets to provide more knee room, a new fixed-wing headrest and improved ergonomics. All Boeing 737-700s and -800s and 78 737-300s have the Evolve Interior.[117] Though not originally planned, because of space saved, Southwest was able to fit an extra row of seats on its plane.

Rapid Rewards[edit]

Southwest first began to offer a frequent-flyer program on June 20, 1987, calling it The Company Club. Unlike competitor's programs which were based on miles flown, The Company Club credited for trips flown regardless of distance.[118] Southwest Airlines renamed its frequent flyer program Rapid Rewards on April 25, 1996.[119]

The original Rapid Rewards program offered one credit per one-way flight from an origin to a destination including any stops or connections on Southwest Airlines. When 16 credits were accumulated in a 24-month period, Southwest awarded one free round-trip ticket that was valid for 12 months.[120]

On March 1, 2011, Rapid Rewards changed to a points system based on ticket cost. Members earn and redeem points based on a three-tier fare scale multiplier and the cost of the ticket. Changes also included no blackout dates, seat restrictions or expiring credits. It also adds more options to use points.[121][122][123]

Incidents and accidents[edit]

Southwest Airlines has never had any passengers on board die as a result of a crash. Southwest Airlines incidents include 2 deaths (1 non-passenger death on the ground, 1 passenger homicide in the air) and 8 accidents (including 2 aircraft hull losses). The airline was considered amongst the 10 safest in the world in 2012.[124]

Southwest Airlines incidents and accidents
Flight Date Aircraft Location Description Injuries
1455 March 5, 2000 Boeing 737-300 Burbank, California The aircraft overran the runway upon landing at Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport, now called Bob Hope Airport, Burbank, California, injuring 43.[125] The incident resulted in the dismissal of the pilots. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair. 43 injuries
1763 August 11, 2000 Boeing 737 In flight Passenger Jonathan Burton broke through the cockpit door aboard Southwest Airlines Flight 1763 while en route from Las Vegas to Salt Lake City. In their own defense, the other passengers restrained Burton, who later died of the resulting injuries.[126] 1 death
1248 December 8, 2005 Boeing 737-700 Chicago, Illinois The aircraft skidded off runway after leaving Chicago Midway International Airport in heavy snow conditions. A six-year-old boy died in a car struck by the plane after it skidded into a street. Passengers on board the aircraft and on the ground reported several minor injuries. The aircraft involved, N471WN, became N286WN after repairs. 1 death (on ground); Several injuries
345 July 22, 2013 Boeing 737-700 N753SW New York, New York The flight from Nashville International Airport crash landed at New York's LaGuardia Airport after touching down hard, nose-gear first. "[T]he nose gear gave away so violently that the jet's electronics bay was penetrated by the landing gear with only the right axle still attached."[127] The Boeing 737 traveled 633 metres (2,077 ft) down the runway with its nose scraping, generating a shower of sparks, coming to rest slightly off the runway. Of 150 people on board, 10 were treated for minor injuries at local hospitals.[128][129] Damage to the 13-year-old aircraft is substantial[130] and it was written off according to and Southwest Airlines 2013 Annual Report to Shareholders and the captain was fired.[131] 10 minor injuries


On June 22, 2011, a March 25 recording of an in-flight transmission of Southwest pilot Captain James Taylor apparently unintentionally broadcasting a conversation with his co-pilot was released to the press. The conversation was peppered with foul language directed at gay, overweight and older flight attendants. According to Southwest, the pilot was reprimanded, temporarily suspended without pay and received diversity education before being reinstated. Captain Taylor also sent an e-mail apology to all of Southwest's employees, especially the crew members who were criticized.[132][133][134]

On July 22, 2014 a family was asked to leave a Southwest flight because a father tweeted about a rude gate agent. As an A-List flyer he is generally entitled to board a flight early. He was told this time that his children could not accompany him. When he tweeted his dissatisfaction he and his family were pulled off the flight and told that unless he deleted the tweet the police would be called. Southwest has since offered an apology.[135]

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