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Southwest Airlines History

Written by Braedyn Deamer on July 14, 2020 at 1:43 PM UTC

This article should take 8 minutes to read.


I am sure we have all heard of Southwest Airlines at some point in our lives, you know the airline that was thought out on a napkin. I started in the 1960s and has since grown to one of the largest airlines in the world. It began in 1967 by Herb Kelleher with the basic plan of flying planes between San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. Keep in mind that this was before the deregulation of the aviation industry. During this time Braniff, Trans Texas, and Continental Airlines took Air Southwest (What is was called at the time) to court since they did not like their proposed operations and the Texas supreme court ruled in favour of them.

1971 was the year that they renamed themselves to Southwest Airlines which was the same time that Boeing offered to sell them 3 737-200 which the carrier of course bought. Braniff and Texas International (previously Trans Texas) still tried to cease their operations during this time. It was all go this year. They made complaints to the Civil Aeronautics Board which were thrown out so they went back to the courts again and surprise, Southwest Airlines won that case.

On June 18th the first Southwest Airlines first flights took off and completed six roundtrips between Dallas and San Antonio and 12 roundtrips between Dallas and Houston. A one-way fare was as low as $20, which is worth $126 now. Later that year the commenced hourly service between Dallas and Houston with 14 roundtrips being completed and an every other hour service between Dallas and San Antonio which was around 7 round trips a day.

In 1973 we saw the airline industry's deregulation, which was complemented by a price war between Southwest and Braniff. Braniff offered $13 fares on the Dallas to Houston route, Southwest’s most profitable route as they tried to kick them out of the market. As a result, Southwest did the same with their base fare being $13 and a full service being only $26 which also meant they got a bottle of premium liquor which meant they became the biggest distributor of Texas liquor and in 1973 they turned their first profit and still had three 737s in their fleet.
After some lengthy court battles which sought to get them kicked out of the Dallas Love Field, it didn't happen since it is still their major hub. They also added a 5th 737 and commenced operations to Rio Grande Valley. This year also saw them being publicly listed on the American Stock Exchange with the symbol of “LUV” which they still use today. 1976 saw them expand their operations to Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Lubbock, and Midland.

Once 1977 was finished they had ten 737s in their fleet.
The deregulation was the airlines' chance to expand their operations rapidly, and they were given traffic rights for flights between Houston and New Orleans and started flights to Amarillo. They also ordered even more 737s. In 1978 Braniff had settled their difference with Southwest and even leased a 727 to them (the only non 737 aircraft they operated).
Then came along 1979 and brought with it a headache for Southwest. The Wright Amendment was proposed to help limit interstate services from Love Field to the states bordering Texas to redirect traffic to Dallas/Fort Worth International, which you can imagine Southwest didn’t want to do.

In 1981 Southwest talked with Boeing about the 737-300 and if Boeing committed to building the plane they would purchase ten of these new aircraft, and as you can see, they did. By 1982 there were services to Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Kansas City with a fleet totalling 37. By the end of 1983, they had commenced more services to California and started retrofitting its fleet with leather seats and some earth tones. Their fleet hit 46.

1984 was when they took delivery of their first 737-300 and was named “Kitty Hawk”. In 1985 they expanded their services to St. Louis and Chicago Midway. They also added ski-season services to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. With them taking delivery of more aircraft they returned the 727s they had been operating, returning them to an all 737 fleet once again. During this year they acquired Muse Air, and in 1986 they merged with its subsidiary, TranStar.

During the 1980s they continued experimenting with their ticket prices, and they introduced their Senior Citizens programs where it cost just $25 for a one-way fare. During this time they discounted some of their other route ticket prices. In 1987 the airline turned 16 years old and with expansion still being the primary goal they committed to 20 737-500s. In June of that year, they started their frequent flyer program, “The Company Club”.

Sadly in 1987 their subsidiary entered Administration and was to be liquidated. But they still held onto their reputation with some of the lowest customer complaints and with the highest on-time record.

In the 1990s their 737-500s entered services with the airline and saw them welcome their 100th aircraft into the fleet. This decade was focused on expansion, shocking, I know. But they commenced operations in Baltimore which has grown to be a very big base for them today. It helped them expand their services in the Midwest and West Coast. By the end of 1995, they had 224 aircraft in their fleet, and in 1996 they expanded into Florida with services to Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. The airline renamed their program “The Company Club” to “Rapid Rewards” which saw them release the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, Visa Card.

During 1997 Congress enacted the Shelby Amendment, which allowed flight from Love Field to Mississippi, Alabama and Kansas. Also this year they accepted their first 737-700 where they were the launch customer. 1999 saw them expand further in the East Coast and their fleet reached 300 aircraft.

Then came the 2000s and the airline made a firm order for 94 new 737NGs on top of the already existing order of 74. But then came along 2001, which was the year that they were looking strong and were growing very well but then 9/11 occurred and so did the downturn in the aviation industry.

Of course, in 2002 expansions were minimal but they still hit 375 planes and still carried 60 million passengers. In 2003 they added their 60th destination, Philadelphia. In 2004 they hit 400 planes in their fleet. In 2005 they blew 3000 daily flights out of the water and 200 daily flights out of Las Vegas alone. They also started campaigning to overturn the Wright Amendment; however, only Missouri granted them an exception.
In 2006 they started service in Denver, and it quickly became one of their largest bases. They also managed to repeal some of the amendment which meant they could sell tickets and offer connecting and one-stop direct flights across their network from Love Field. In 2007 they had 520 aircraft in their fleet. They only operated in a domestic market, but their passengers wanted to fly internationally with Southwest. So they set up a codeshare agreement with the Canadian carrier, WestJet.

In 2010 they bought the remaining amount of AirTran which meant that they acquired the carrier. At this time, they announced they would add WiFi to all of the aircraft in their fleet. After many reviews, Southwest acquired AirTran fully in 2011, which was the same year they celebrated their 40th anniversary. They also got permission from the Department of Transportation for AirTran to conduct flights to Mexico from Orange County and San Antonio.

In 2011 they also became the launch customer for the 737 MAX and were the largest customer. By the end of the year, they had 698 aircraft in their fleet. In 2012 Southwest and AirTran got one operating certificate which means they will operate under the one name. This was the year that they got hold of their first 737-800 and might have shown it off a little. During this year the airline decided to let go of AirTran’s 717s all 88 of them were subleased to Delta Airlines once again leaving Southwest with an all 737 fleet.

In 2014 the airline finally started their first international service under their own brand. They commenced operations out of Baltimore heading to Aruba. Of course, since then they have commenced operations to Central America and the Caribbean. During this time we also saw the last revenue service of AirTran which departed Atlanta for Tampa.
In 2017 they received their first 737MAX, one of the first in North America and this year we also saw the retirement of their last 737-300. One final thing to complete this mammoth of an article is that in 2019 they commenced their service to Hawaii and from what we can see, their success in this market is still growing rapidly.

It is without a doubt that Southwest Airlines has a vibrant history, and from the beginning, they have a very central focus of expansion which we firmly believe is the sole reason they’re so prominent today. They have turned a profit for more than 47 years something that is very rare in the aviation industry and who knows 2020 might be the year that breaks that, but one thing that is for sure and that is Southwest Airlines has captured everyone's hearts around the globe.