I had always wondered how our Company’s International Air Transport Association (IATA) identifier WN came to be.
AirTran’s FL was logical, with its Florida roots and “Citrus” radio call sign, and classics such as Pan Am’s PA certainly made sense. But why WN for Southwest? Perhaps “Why Not” is the best answer.
This question was one that I had since first attending FLY class at the beginning of my career here. When I asked a certain Facilitator I was told it was due to Colleen’s fondness for Willie Nelson. Although this made for a wonderful Southwest urban legend, I was a little hesitant to accept it. The first question I asked to my predecessor (Brian Lusk) was to see if he could confirm or deny this. Within about two minutes of sending my e-mail I received a response that, although he too found this humorous, it was not the case. The truth of the matter is thelogical IATA identifier SW was already taken. But that didn’t mean that we wouldn’t try for it anyway.
Our Company of today was not the first to take to the skies under such a name. There was actually another Southwest elsewhere in the world—Southwest Air Lines, now known as JTA (Japan Transocean Air Co, IATA code NU), operated under the name from 1967 to 1993 in Okinawa, Japan.
However, it wasn’t JTA who beat us to the punch; SW had been retained by Air Namibia from the African nation of Namibia. At one point in their history, Air Namibia operated as South West Air Transport. Although their name had changed, their IATA identifier of SW remained the same. In the 1980s, Herb wrote to Air Namibia to see if they may be interested in some sort of an exchange. Although he imagined they might desire some form of payment, the $10,000,000.00 they responded with seemed unimaginable and out of the question.
Another attempt was made in 1990 when then Southwest Intern John Chaussee (now Director of Airport Security) was tasked with negotiating a deal with the newly independent nation of Namibia following their adoption of a constitution separating the nation from many years of German and South African influence. John, as a young attorney, met with staff from the newly formed government at the United Nations in New York as they had not yet established an official embassy in Washington. The offer, once again involving a monetary commitment, also included assistance with aircraft parts. Once this was shared with their leadership back in Namibia, another astronomical financial demand was returned. Although several other negotiations took place thereafter, Southwest Airlines and Air Namibia were not able to come to acceptable terms and the conversation ceased.
Even though our IATA identifier may not be as logical as one may hope, think of all the fun you can have with what it stands for. How about Warrior Nation? Or maybe West Nightingale? What’s your favorite story?
A special thanks to John Chaussee, Ron Ricks, Herb, and Colleen for sharing their stories on the topic.