Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV) is a major U.S. airline and the world’s largest low-cost carrier, headquartered in Dallas, Texas. The airline was established in 1967 and adopted its current name in 1971. The airline has 44,831 employees as of December 2013 and operates more than 3,400 flights per day. As of June 5, 2011, it carries the most domestic passengers of any U.S. airline. As of July 2014, Southwest Airlines has scheduled service to 89 destinations in 41 states, Puerto Rico and abroad.
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 550 in service, each averaging six flights per day. In May 2011 Southwest acquired AirTran Airways, with integration of the carriers expected to be complete by December 28, 2014. On March 1, 2012, the company was issued a single operating certificate, technically becoming one airline.
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.
Kelleher believed that by staying within Texas, the airline could avoid federal regulation. 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. The Texas decision became final on December 7, 1970 when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case, without comment.
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.[
On March 29, 1971 Air Southwest Co. changed its name to Southwest Airlines Co. with headquarters in Dallas. Southwest began scheduled flights on June 18, 1971, Dallas to Houston and Dallas to San Antonio with three 737-200s. 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
When airline deregulation came in 1978, Southwest began to plan interstate flights from Love Field, causing groups affiliated with Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, including the city of Fort Worth, Texas, to push the Wright Amendment through Congress to restrict such flights. 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. 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.