Skip to main content

Southwest Airlines Community

Flashback Fridays: A Look at Southwest Airlines' 17th Year

Aviator C

This week, our friends over at AirTran are completing their 17th year, and I thought it might be interesting to “flashback” to what Southwest was like on our own 17th birthday back in 1988.  We began the year with 75 aircraft and 5,765 Employees.  (AirTran currently has 138 aircraft and about 8,000 employees.)  The year previous, we had opened two new cities, Birmingham and Detroit Metro.  When 1988 dawned, our frequent flyer program, the Company Club was six months old, and like any new year, hopes were high.

We didn’t waste any time in opening the year by announcing that we had become the Official Airline of SeaWorld of Texas on January 5, 1988.  SeaWorld California would join the partnership in May.  The first Shamu debuted on May 23 to celebrate the partnership.  (A few years later, it would participate in the opening of Baltimore/Washington, above.) 

On March 7, we introduce Fun Pack mini-vacations, which were among our first air/ground package offerings.  Previously on February 8, the Company Club began a bonus program where Members only needed five roundtrips through the end of the year to earn an Award.

Also in March, we announced a major increase in the number of flights to be flown on April 3 with additional nonstop flights between Dallas and New Orleans, a nonstop flight from Phoenix to New Orleans, additional one-stop service from Phoenix to Albuquerque, Houston Hobby, Ontario, San Diego, San Francisco, and Tulsa, and a nonstop from San Antonio to Los Angeles.  The growth continued with Phoenix gaining 23 additional departures, a flight increase of 25 percent, on June 2.  Compare 1988's first quarter load factor of 51.6 percent with our recently announced 2010 third quarter load factor of 80.9 percent. 

I think the event of the year that was most typical of Southwest occurred on April 22.  To ease our smoking Customers (remember when Passengers smoked on airline flights?) into new federal regulations prohibiting smoking on flights of two hours or less duration, we distributed 200,000 lollipops over the next few days.  This had to be a (perhaps, intentional?) homage to Telly Savalas’s Kojack character. 

With the addition of close-in Detroit City Airport to our route map on July 6, Southwest now operated almost 900 daily flights to 27 airports in 13 states.  Herb and Detroit Mayor Coleman Young (above) cut the ribbon to inaugurate Detroit City service. 

On the same day at Houston Hobby, we added the six former TranStar gates on Concourse C to our nine existing Concourse A gates, thus creating a layout that would perplex Houston’s connecting Customers for years to come as they had to reclear security while going from one concourse to the other.  The new Hobby concourse that was completed in the last few years finally removed this inconvenience. 

On September 30, the LUV Classic golf tournament raised almost $36,000 for the Dallas Ronald McDonald House.  In comparison, this year’s classic raised $600,000 for Ronald McDonald Houses in Dallas, Detroit, Ann Arbor, and St. Louis. 

Then on November 15, 1988, we broke ground for our current Headquarters Building, and a few days after that on November 29, the Houston Maintenance Base opened. 

Our 17th year was very similar to that of a human teenager.  Like most kids who finish high school and enter the adult world at age 18, Southwest kind of “grew up" too during our 18th year.  We would open what is now our current Bay Area anchor, Oakland, and Southwest would become a major airline under the Department of Transportation measurements as our annual operating revenues exceeded $1 billion.  We most often look at our landmark birthdays, the tenth, 20th, and 30th, but oftentimes, those in-between years offer much significance.