- Southwest Airlines is not to be confused with Southwest Air Lines, a former Japanese airline that is now known as Japan Transocean Air; or Air Southwest, a low-cost British airline.
Southwest Airlines, Inc. Template:Nyse, based in Dallas, Texas is the largest domestic airline in the United States, as measured in number of passengers carried. It is known as a "discount airline" compared to its domestic rivals and has been profitable every year since 1973.
Southwest Airlines was founded by Rollin King and Herb Kelleher on June 18, 1971. Its first flights were from Love Field in Dallas to Houston and San Antonio, short hops with no-frills service and a simple fare structure, features that became the basis for Southwest's popularity and rapid growth in the coming years.
After the opening of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in 1973, Southwest was the only airline to continue operations at Love Field. When airline deregulation came in 1978, Southwest began planning to offer interstate service from Love Field, but a number of interest groups affiliated with DFW Airport, including American Airlines and the city of Fort Worth, pushed the Wright Amendment through Congress to restrict such flights. Southwest remains the dominant passenger airline at Love Field, and is barred from ticketing passengers beyond the region immediately surrounding Texas.
Despite the restrictions on its home base, Southwest proceeded to build a successful business on flying multiple short, quick trips into the secondary airports of major cities, using only one aircaft type (the Boeing 737-2H4 and on occasion, Boeing 727-200 Aircraft leased from People Express).
Over time, Southwest has added aircraft models but has stayed with the Boeing 737 family to reduce operating costs.
The experience of flying on Southwest is quite different from that of most other U.S. airlines. Tickets must be bought from the airline itself, and can't be purchased through a travel agent or through common online venues like Orbitz or Travelocity. The airline's tickets can be bought over the phone or online at the website which features Web only fare discounts. Extra Rapid Rewards (the airline's version of a frequent flier program) credits used to be awarded for online booking, but this policy was eventually terminated in early 2005. Customers are not assigned seats; rather, they are assigned to a "boarding group" depending on their check-in time (earlier check-ins get to board earlier), and are left to find their own seats on the plane. Meal service is less than on historically full service airlines, with shorter flights receiving just a single small snack and soft drink, and longer flights meriting a "Snack Pack" of prepackaged goods. In the post-9/11 era these meals in a bag typically exceed the food served on full-service airlines like United or American. Although there is no video entertainment, Southwest is known for colorful boarding announcements and crews that burst out in song.
For all the leanness in comforts, which helped it pass through the post-9/11 travel slump as one of the few profitable major American airlines, Southwest manages to maintain excellent customer satisfaction ratings. Its employees are generally well-known for their friendliness, which is often attributed to a unique "love-based" corporate atmosphere that made chairman and founder Herb Kelleher a celebrity in the business world. However, concerns attributed to labor unrest and complaints by the Transportation Workers Union (TWU) representing Southwest flight attendants were reportedly a factor in the recent resignation of Kelleher's hand-picked replacement as CEO. Jim Parker resigned in July 2004 and was replaced by Chief Financial Officer Gary Kelly.  The President of Southwest is former corporate secretary Colleen Barrett, who has been with the company since day one. Southwest's CFO is Laura Wright.
Southwest has also been a major inspiration to other low-cost airlines, and its business model has been repeated many times around the world. Europe's easyJet and Ryanair are two of the best known airlines to follow Southwest's business strategy in that continent, while Canada's WestJet is using Southwest's modus operandi in that country. New Zealand's Freedom Air and Thailand's Nok Air are another examples of airlines that are based on Southwest's system.
One of the reasons for profitability is Southwest's reliance on fuel hedging. Almost since its inception, Southwest has purchased fuel options for years in advance to smooth out fluctuations in fuel costs. Southwest substantially increased its hedging in 2001 in response to projections of increased crude oil prices. The use of these hedges helped Southwest maintain its profitability during the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the oil shocks related to the Iraq War and later Hurricane Katrina. As of 2005, Southwest is currently paying 50% of the market price for its fuel; however, that number will increase as hedges from 2001 and 2002 expire and new hedges at higher prices take effect.
See full article: Southwest Airlines destinations
Southwest is one of the few airlines to depart from the more traditional "Hub-and-Spoke" flight routing system. It still has notably large operations in certain airports. These include Baltimore/Washington International Airport, Chicago's Midway Airport, Houston's Hobby Airport, New Orleans International Airport, Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport, Nashville International Airport, Oakland International Airport, and Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Southwest also has large operations at Orlando International Airport and Tampa International Airport, where it handles a large amount of tourist traffic to various cities throughout the eastern United States. Currently, Southwest serves 60 cities in 31 states.
As part of its effort to control costs, Southwest tries to utilize secondary airports which generally have lower costs but may be less convient to travellers than the major airports at some destinations. Southwest flies into Love Field in Dallas, Midway Airport in Chicago, Illinois, BWI Airport near Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, DC, and Oakland International Airport in the Bay Area, rather than the more expensive DFW International, O'Hare International, Dulles International, and San Francisco International airports, respectively. Southwest does, however, fly to some larger airports in major cities, such as LAX, Phoenix, and Philadelphia. Notably, it does not serve any of the three main airports in the largest market in the country, New York City. The nearest airport it flies to is Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip, New York which is located almost two hours' travel time from the city center.
|City||Daily Departures||Number of Gates||Nonstop Cities Served||Service Established|
|Los Angeles (LAX)||120||12||21||1982|
|Dallas (Love Field)||117||14||12||1971|
Since the 1990s, Southwest have been running a television ad campaign based on the phrase "Wanna get away?". The commercials present comical situations in which people find themselves wanting to "get away." Most ads are accompanied by the sound clip "[ding] You are now free to move about the country"
|Boeing 737-500||25||Short haul / domestic|
|Boeing 737-300||194||Short haul / domestic|
|Boeing 737-700||211||Medium haul / domestic|
Southwest has been the launch customer for two of the three of the Boeing 737 variants it currently operates. Southwest's fleet has an average age of about 9 years, and fly an average of about 7 flights per day. Some have said that Southwest's "leanness" extends to seating on its 737 fleet. Passengers it deems "overweight" are told they must purchase an additional seat in order to board. However, this policy is no different than the policy at Southwest's competitors. Southwest's seats are no more narrow than any other operator of 737s in the US. JetBlue, United Airlines and a few other competitors operate the A320 series, which does tend to have slightly wider seats. However, the overall comfort level of Southwest's seating is a matter of taste. Due to Southwest's unusually generous seat pitch and leather seats, many travelers find their seating superior to that of other US domestic airlines.
Some Southwest planes feature special themes, rather then the normal livery. These theme planes have been given special names, usually ending in "One". Some of the most well-known examples are:
- Shamu One/Two/Three: The three airplanes are painted to look like an Orca, with advertisements for SeaWorld.
- Arizona One: The flag of the state of Arizona applied across the airplane.
- California One: The flag of the state of California applied across the airplane.
- Lone Star One: The flag of the state of Texas applied across the airplane.
- Maryland One: The flag of the state of Maryland applied across the airplane.
- Nevada One: The flag of the state of Nevada applied across the airplane.
- New Mexico One: The flag of the state of New Mexico applied across the airplane.
- Silver One: 25th Anniversary airplane.
- Slam Dunk One: Basketball superimposed on side of aircraft, recognizing Southwest's partnership with the National Basketball Association.
Incidents and accidents
- Southwest Airlines homepage
- SWABIZ - Southwest Airlines Corporate Travel homepage
- Wright Amendment Repeal Page
- The Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association (SWAPA)
- The Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants Union (TWU)
- Yahoo! Profile
- Should Airlines Be Funny?, a column evaluating Southwest's use of in-flight humor.