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40 Years in 40 Days: Class of 1982

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Don’t judge me by my next statement until you read to the very end!  It’s hard to admit, but I wasn’t thrilled when I became a Southwest Employee in August 1982.  

Let me explain.  

I had been working for Braniff International Airways for several years prior to joining Southwest.  I loved my job at Braniff because I could fly all over the world, and I never seemed to have any trouble getting on a flight.  Yes, I know that should have been a clue, but I was much younger then, and I certainly didn’t understand the “business” side of an airline.  And I don’t recall anyone ever trying to teach me.  So, it was quite a jolt to me when Braniff filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on May 12, 1982, ending 54 years of service.  Braniff flights were suddenly grounded and passengers were forced to disembark.  All employees were without jobs.  An over-aggressive expansion plan, escalating fuel prices, and fierce competition caught up with Braniff.  Many dreams were shattered, including mine.

I applied at Southwest because my boss at Braniff knew a former employee who had joined Southwest years earlier, and he had an opening.  I desperately wanted my airline career to continue.  At the time, Southwest only flew to 19 cities with 37 aircraft and approximately 2,900 Employees so I thought I was “stepping down” when I was hired.  Can you imagine my audacity?!

Well, friends, I can say “stepping down” never felt so good.  I feel like I’ve been soaring to greater altitudes for the past 29 years.  And, yes, I quickly learned that you don’t judge an airline by its number of destinations!

I began my Southwest career in Maintenance, typing purchase orders for aircraft parts using a typewriter.  After ten months, I transferred to become the Executive Assistant for the Vice President of Inflight, who was also an attorney.  He handled much of Southwest’s legal work.  We only had one Crew Base then, and I sat between the Pilot lounge and the Flight Attendant lounge.  It was so amazing because I got to know so many of our wonderful Pilots and Flight Attendants.

In March of 1985, I found my calling.  Colleen posted a position for Manager of Employee Communications, and I got the job.  It was such a proud accomplishment for me to start this department.  My first assignment was actually covering the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Chicago when we began service that month.  Our Employees, along with Herb and Colleen, marched together and handed out Southwest tickets along the parade route.  I loved my new job and have been in some phase of Employee Communications ever since.

My experience at Braniff taught me that it’s important to understand the “business side” of things, and that’s what I want for every Southwest Employee.  We are so fortunate to have such incredible Leaders who “teach” us what it takes to be successful.  We have so many communication channels that keep us in the know.

As much as I love the art of communication, I treasure the art of creating magic moments for our Employees.  And I’m so blessed to have worked on so many memorable events all the way from our 20th Anniversary to our 40th Anniversary.  From Messages to the Field to Awards Banquets to airplane unveilings, it’s all been so special to me.

I will never forget working on our 500th aircraft delivery, which coincided with our 36th Anniversary.  We took 36 Employees, who had served our country, to accept delivery and returned home to quite the Southwest celebration.  With tear-filled eyes, a Green Beret told me this was the welcome home he never received when he returned from Vietnam.  That’s what the magic is all about at Southwest Airlines!  It’s all around us.  Cherish our great Company so we can continue to create everlasting memories for years to come.

1 Comment
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Great article on a great airline! I have always been so impressed with Southwest Airlines and how they communicate with the public!