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Flashback Fridays: 30-Year-Old Workdays

Aviator C

One thing I’ve learned while exploring our archives is that we have a lot of photos of people, but very little photos of processes.  That’s not surprising because of our Culture of placing the Employee first, but it does cause some historical gaps.  Recently for a video project, we were looking for photos of our old plastic boarding passes in use.  For so many years, we just took that procedure for granted, so there was no impetus to make photographs.  Fortunately we found several shots in a feature about the Employees in one of our Stations.  The same lack of visual documentation applies to other routine parts of our operation.  The photographs in this Flashback Friday are of a similar vein as the boarding pass photos.  They were taken for other uses, but still reveal some great historical tidbits.

The photo above is taken at the Dallas Operations office here in Dallas, and there is a reason that the Employees appear to be triumphant as they point at the flight board.  This photo originally appeared in the November-December 1978 issue of our Employee magazine, LUVLines, and the caption explains the reason for the joy.  On October 16 of that year, the morning shift at the station dispatched all 28 flights ontime.  Shown in the picture are Operations Agents (left to right) John Witt, Keith Guthrie, Don Overturf, and Bob Debenport with Chief Operations Agent Bob DeVoe on the far right.  Granted, this isn’t a huge historical landmark, but its importance is that it reveals a slice of daily life for the Dallas Station.  The chalkboard lists all of the day’s departures from Dallas.  The first numerical column is the flight number, then the ship number, gate, departure time, ontime status, Captain, and then remarks.  In the remarks box is the planned takeoff weight of each flight, then a square for the initials of the Operations Agent assigned to the flight, and in the next box, some kind of numerical entry (a notation on the fuel?).  Flight #5 has a departure time of 4:00 a.m., which is considerably earlier than any of our current flights.  Another point of interest is that already at this early date in Southwest’s history, the board doesn’t show any of the three original aircraft in service.

If you didn’t have the corresponding LUVLines story from 1976 for the photo above, you could still determine, based on the items/information in this photo, that it was taken at Hobby Airport in Houston between February 11, 1975, and March 1, 1977.  Why Hobby and why those dates?  You can’t see it with the blog-size photos, but the board depicts flights only to Dallas, San Antonio, and Harlingen.  Since Hobby is an original city and Harlingen was our fourth city, it has to be Hobby because Houston isn’t shown as a destination on the board.  We started service to Corpus Christi, our fifth city, on March 1, 1977, so there would have to be flights showing for Corpus if it was after the latter date.  Note the trash cans attached to the board that is serving as boardmail collection boxes.  The fact that Hobby has a mail box threw me off a bit in identifying the photo, but then I figured out that the Hobby “box” is for intra-station mail.  At this time, it appears that Hobby has two gates, 1 and 3.  Although this specific photo didn’t appear in the article about Houston Operations, another photo would appear to identify the Employee as Operations Agent Sam Haney. The LUVLines reporter visited the station on July 27, 1977.

My own airline career began about the time of these photos, and as the photos show, blackboards and chalk were an essential tool of commercial aviation.  In all of our stations, my original airline had boards very similar to those above.  Today of course, all of this information is computerized, which is a blessing when retrieving information, but we have lost something too.  Thirty or so years from today, future historians won’t find visual records like these showing a slice of our daily operation. 

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