Southwest Airlines
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Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines
Logo (2014-present)
IATA ICAO Callsign
FoundedMarch 15, 1967; 53 years ago (1967-03-15) (as Air Southwest)
Commenced operationsJune 18, 1971; 49 years ago (1971-06-18) (as Southwest Airlines)
Operating bases
Frequent-flyer programRapid Rewards
Fleet size730[1]
Traded as
HeadquartersDallas, Texas, U.S.
Key people
Operating incomeDecrease US$3.206 billion (2018)[2]
Net incomeDecrease US$2.465 billion (2018)[2]
Total assetsIncrease US$26.243 billion (2018)[2]
Total equityIncrease US$9.853 billion (2018)[2]
Employees57,931 (2020)[2]

Southwest Airlines Co. is a major American airline headquartered in Dallas, Texas, and is the world's largest low-cost carrier.

The airline was established on March 15, 1967 by Herb Kelleher as Air Southwest Co. and adopted its current name, Southwest Airlines Co., in 1971, when it began operating as an intrastate airline wholly within the state of Texas, first flying between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.[3][4] The airline has nearly 60,000 employees and operates about 4,000 departures a day during peak travel season.[5][6]

As of 2018, Southwest carried the most domestic passengers of any United States airline.[7] The airline has scheduled service to 103 destinations in the United States and ten additional countries. In late 2020, Southwest began announcing a series of expansions to several new airports, such as Palm Springs International Airport, and the return to several previously exited airports such as Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport.[8]


Southwest Airlines was founded in 1966 by Herbert Kelleher and Rollin King, and in 1967 it was incorporated as Air Southwest Co. Three other airlines took legal action to try to prevent the company from its planned strategy of undercutting their prices by flying only within Texas and thus being exempt from various regulations. The lawsuits were resolved in 1970, and in 1971 the airline began operating regularly scheduled flights between Dallas Love Field and Houston and between Love Field and San Antonio, and adopted the name Southwest Airlines Co. In 1975, Southwest began operating flights to various additional cities within Texas, and in 1979 it began flying to adjacent states. Service to the East and the Southeast started in the 1990s.[9]

Destinations and bases


A Southwest 737-700 departing Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

To date, Southwest schedules flights to 105 destinations in 40 states (and Puerto Rico), Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.[10] Southwest does not use the hub and spoke system of other major airlines, preferring the point-to-point system, combined with a rolling hub model in its base cities. Southwest started service to Miami International Airport and Palm Springs International Airport in November 2020, and Montrose Regional Airport in December 2020.[11] Service to George Bush Intercontinental Airport, O'Hare International Airport, Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport, Colorado Springs Airport, Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, Fresno Yosemite International Airport, and Santa Barbara Municipal Airport is scheduled to start in 2021.[8]

Operating bases

Southwest operates crew bases at the following airports.[12]


Southwest Airlines has operated only Boeing 737 jetliners, except for 1979 to 1980 and 1983 to 1985 when it leased and operated a few Boeing 727-200s.[13] Southwest is the largest operator of the Boeing 737 worldwide, with 734 in its fleet.[8]

In October 2020, it was reported that Southwest that it was considering the Airbus A220 as an alternative to the MAX 7 to replace its 737-700s, with deliveries from 2025. The company expects to make a decision in 2021 after evaluating whether the economic advantages of the A220 are sufficient to offset the efficiencies of an all-Boeing fleet.[14]

Passenger experience

Southwest operates using a unique boarding process.

While most U.S. airlines now charge passengers for checked luggage, Southwest continues to permit 2 free checked bags per passenger. Regarding last-minute itinerary changes, Southwest also does not charge any change fees; passengers are permitted to change their flight as late as 10 minutes prior to their flights, and only pay the difference if their new flight is more expensive than the original flight (or receive a credit if the new flight is less expensive than the original flight). In the event of a cancellation, passengers are refunded a travel credit in the amount spent on their ticket, and the credit may be used toward any other Southwest Airlines or Southwest Vacations purchase within a year of the original ticket purchase.

Southwest offers free in-flight non-alcoholic beverages and offers alcoholic beverages for sale for $6 to $7/beverage, with Rapid Rewards members eligible to receive drinks vouchers with their tickets. Free alcoholic drinks are offered on popular holidays such as Valentine's Day and Halloween, provided the passenger is at least 21. Southwest has complimentary 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, which is quite popular among passengers.[15][16][17][18]

According to the Department of Transportation (DOT) 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 passenger boarded of all major U.S. carriers that have been reporting statistics to the DOT since 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.[19]

In 2007, Southwest modified its 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 and choose any open seat on the aircraft.[19] According to a 2012 study by Mythbusters, this is the fastest method currently in use for non-first class passengers to board a plane; on average, it is 10 minutes faster than the standard method used by most airlines of boarding from the back frontward.[20]

In-flight entertainment

A Southwest 737-800 with the Evolve interior and old branding, succeeded by the Heart interior

All Southwest Airlines aircraft are equipped with Wi-Fi, free streaming live television, free movies, free streaming music from iHeartRadio, and free app messaging. 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 Global Eagle Entertainment'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.[21][22] As of November 1, 2018, live in-flight TV, movies, messaging (iMessage and WhatsApp) and real-time flight tracking information via Wi-Fi are available for free to all passengers, with full Internet access available at a fee for regular passengers and free to A-List Preferred Rapid Rewards members.[23]

Evolve interior

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 115 737-800s have the Evolve interior.[24] Though not originally planned, because of space saved, Southwest was able to fit an extra row of seats on its planes. All Boeing 737-800s have the Boeing Sky interior, which features sculpted sidewalls and redesigned window housings, along with increased headroom and LED mood lighting.[25]

Heart interior

On June 20, 2016, Southwest introduced its newest interior, called the Heart interior. It includes the widest seat to fit a Boeing 737 that provides additional space for passengers and also includes a new galley.[26] The seat is being delivered on all new 737-800s and 737 MAX aircraft.[27] All current Evolve-equipped 737s will be retrofitted with new bulkheads and bold blue seat cushions to match the look of the Heart interior.

Rapid Rewards

Southwest first began to offer a frequent-flyer program on June 18, 1987, calling it The Company Club. Unlike many competitors' programs that were based on miles flown, The Company Club credited for trips flown regardless of distance.[28] Southwest Airlines renamed its frequent flyer program Rapid Rewards on April 25, 1996.[29]

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.[30]

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. Since October 18, 2019, Rapid Rewards points don't expire, as long as the member is alive.[31] It also adds more options to use points.[32][33][34][35]

Corporate affairs


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][36] Chris Sloan of Airways Magazine stated it is "as much a living, breathing museum and showcase for the "culture that LUV built" as they are corporate offices."[37]

On September 17, 2012, Southwest broke ground on a new Training and Operational Support (TOPS) building.[38] The TOPS Building is across the street from its current headquarters building. The property includes a two-story, 100,000-square-foot Network Operations Control (NOC) building that can withstand an EF3 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 house 24-hour coordination and maintenance operations, customer support and services, and training. The project was completed in late 2013, with occupancy beginning in 2014.

On June 2, 2016, Southwest broke ground on its new office and training facility known as Wings. The newest addition to the corporate campus is composed of a 420,000-square-foot six-story office building, and a 380,000-square-foot adjoining structure called the LEAD (Leadership Education and Aircrew Development) Center which serves as the new pilot training facility. The LEAD Center has the capacity to house and support 18 flight simulators. It is designed to be expanded to accommodate up to 26 simulator bays. The building opened on April 3, 2018.[39]

On August 16, 2019, Southwest announced an expansion of the LEAD Center to accommodate eight additional simulators for future operational and training demands.[40] On January 2, 2020, it was announced that Southwest would be purchasing an additional 3 acres (1.2 ha) of land adjacent to its Wings and LEAD facilities.[41] No additional details were disclosed.


As of September 30, 2020, Southwest Airlines had 57,931 active full-time equivalent employees.[8]

Gary C. Kelly is chairman 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 2008, Herb Kelleher resigned from his position as chairman. Colleen Barrett left her post on the board of directors and as a corporate secretary in May 2008 and as president in July 2008. Kelleher was president and CEO of Southwest from September 1981 to June 2001.[42]

On January 10, 2017, Southwest announced changes to the company's executive leadership ranks with Thomas M. Nealon named as president and Michael G. Van de Ven named as the airline's chief operating officer.[43]

Approximately 83% of Southwest employees are members of a union.[44] The Southwest Airline Pilots' Association, a union not affiliated with the Air Line Pilots Association, represents the airline's pilots.[45] The aircraft maintenance technicians are represented by the Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association (AMFA).[46] 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).

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company launched voluntary separation and extended time off programs. On July 23, 2020, Southwest Airlines reported that approximately 16,900 Employees volunteered to take an early retirement or long-term leave from the company.[47] Approximately 24% were pilots and 33% flight attendants.[48]

Impact on carriers

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 a high level of employee and aircraft productivity with low unit costs by reducing aircraft turn around time particularly at the gate.[49] 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), India's IndiGo, Australia's Jetstar, a subsidiary of Qantas (although Jetstar now operates three aircraft types), Philippines's Cebu Pacific, Thailand's Nok Air, Mexico's Volaris, Indonesia's Lion Air and Turkey's Pegasus Airlines. Although Southwest has been a major inspiration to many other airlines, including Ryanair, AirAsia, Lion Air, and Jetstar, the management strategies, for example, of Ryanair, AirAsia, Lion Air, and Jetstar differ significantly from those of Southwest.[49] All these different management strategies can be seen as means of differentiation from other competitors in order to gain competitive advantages.[50]


The company has always employed humor in its advertising. Former 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 "Low fares. Nothing to hide. That's TransFarency!"[51]

A Southwest 737-800 in the Heart livery at BWI Airport

In March 1992, shortly after Southwest started using the "Just Plane Smart" motto, Stevens Aviation, which had been using "Plane Smart" for its motto, advised Southwest that it was infringing on its trademark.[52][53]

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 his 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 Wild Turkey 101 whiskey was waiting) and distributed among the employees and also 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.[54]

Accidents and incidents

Southwest Airlines accidents and incidents include four deaths: one accidental passenger death inflight, two non-passenger deaths on the ground, and one passenger death from injuries he sustained when subdued by other passengers while attempting to break into the cockpit of an aircraft.

Southwest has had nine accidents, including two aircraft hull losses. The airline was considered among the ten safest airlines in the world in 2012.[55]

Southwest Airlines incidents and accidents, by date
Flight Date Aircraft Location Description Casualties
1455 N668SW The aircraft overran the runway upon landing at Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport, now called Hollywood Burbank Airport, Burbank, California, injuring 44.[56] The accident resulted in the dismissal of the captain. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair. 44 injuries
1763 N798SW In flight The aircraft was flying from Las Vegas, Nevada, to Salt Lake City, Utah, when 19-year-old Jonathan Burton attempted to storm the cockpit in an apparent case of air rage. He was restrained by six to eight other passengers and in the confusion, died of asphyxiation. One death; one minor injury
1248 N471WN Chicago, Illinois The aircraft overran the runway during landing at Chicago Midway International Airport in heavy snow conditions. A six-year-old boy died after the car he was in was struck by the aircraft after it slid into a street. Passengers on board the aircraft and on the ground reported several minor injuries. One death (on ground); several injuries
2294 N387SW In flight The flight from Nashville International Airport to Baltimore-Washington International Airport was forced to divert to Yeager Airport in Charleston, West Virginia, after a hole formed on the top of the aircraft's fuselage near the tail, resulting in depressurization of the cabin and deployment of the oxygen masks. The aircraft landed safely.[57] None
812 N632SW In flight above Arizona The crew of the flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport to Sacramento International Airport were forced to declare an emergency and divert to Yuma International Airport after a hole appeared in the top of the aircraft fuselage. The aircraft landed approximately 40 minutes after takeoff from Phoenix.[58] Two minor injuries
345 N753SW The flight from Nashville International Airport to New York's LaGuardia Airport after touched 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."[59] The aircraft 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.[60][61] Damage to the 13-year-old aircraft was substantial.[62] The captain was fired, and the aircraft was ultimately scrapped.[63] Ten minor injuries
3472 N766SW In flight above Florida The flight from Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport to Orlando International Airport suffered an uncontained engine failure while at cruising altitude. The engine cowling suffered major damage, with the inlet being completely torn off. Fragments from the engine also caused a gash in the fuselage. The 16-year-old Boeing 737-700 diverted and landed without further incident at Pensacola International Airport. Passengers say that they "heard a loud boom and smoke trailing from the left engine, and saw metal flapping after the smoke cleared."[64] None
1380 N772SW In flight above Pennsylvania The flight from New York-LaGuardia to Dallas made an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport after the left engine suffered an uncontained engine failure and debris smashed a passenger window. The resulting depressurization pushed a passenger partially out of the window, causing critical injuries which led to her death.[65][66][67] One death; eight minor injuries[68][66]
1392 N401WN[69] Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, Austin, Texas Shortly after landing at Austin, a pilot on board N401WN[69] arriving from Dallas Love Field reported seeing someone on Runway 17R; subsequent investigation with an airport operations vehicle found the body of a man on the runway, having seemingly been struck by the aircraft during or shortly after it touched down. One ground death, no fatalities to passengers or crew

Controversies and passenger incidents

On June 22, 2011, a March 25 recording of an in-flight transmission of Southwest pilot James Taylor apparently unintentionally broadcasting a conversation with his first officer 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 and temporarily suspended without pay and received diversity education before being reinstated. Taylor also sent an e-mail apology to all of Southwest's employees, especially the crew members who were criticized.[70][71][72]

On September 26, 2017, a woman was removed from a Southwest flight after claiming to have a life-threatening allergy to dogs, two of which were present on the aircraft with one being a certified service animal, and having to be removed by law enforcement after failing to follow the instructions of airline staff. After learning about the woman's allergy, Southwest employees requested that she prove her condition with the correct documentation. When she failed to do so, staff asked her to exit the aircraft multiple times. She refused, which prompted law enforcement to step in and remove the passenger. The interactions between the woman and the officers were recorded and posted online to many social media platforms and gained much attention.[73][74]

On December 29, 2017, a family was removed from a flight from Chicago Midway Airport to Santa Ana, California, because of an unconfirmed lice accusation. The family did not have lice after all and was re-accommodated on a flight two days later. Southwest claims to have refunded the full fare. The family claims that the airline never compensated them for the interruption to their trip.[75]

In October 2019 a Southwest flight attendant filed a lawsuit against the airline, claiming that two pilots had livestreamed footage from a camera hidden in the plane's toilet to an iPad and that one of the pilots had admitted that such cameras were a "top-secret security measure" installed in all the airline's 737-800 planes.[76] Both Southwest and the pilot union state this never happened, and that it was a "poor attempt at humor" and the video viewed was previously recorded by the pilot which he shot of himself fully clothed.[77]

In February 2020, a report conducted by the Transportation Department inspector general found that Southwest was flying airplanes with safety concerns and that the Federal Aviation Administration was failing to properly oversee the airline.[78]

See also


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