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The End of an Era for Southwest and the Airline Industry

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An era has ended not only here at Southwest but in the airline industry as a whole.  The current paper timetable that was released on June 28 is our last.  Not only that, as far as we can tell, only Lufthansa will be left with a paper timetable.  In fact, most of the other U.S. carriers eliminated the printed system timetable a long time ago.  We held out as long as possible, but we found that very few Customers were using the booklets, and discontinuing their printing will save us money at a time when every penny counts. Another factor was that the books were growing into the size of small novels when we added additional existing connection opportunities for sale.  There is also an environmental benefit by saving paper and reducing trash.  

 

 

Don’t worry, our schedules can still be accessed easily at southwest.com by clicking on “Travel Tools,” then “Flight Schedules,” or Customers can call our Customer Support and Services number at 1 800 I FLY SWA for flight information.  So let’s take a moment to reflect upon the alpha and omega of Southwest timetables.  The little one at the top is the front and back of our first timetable from June 1971. (I collected this on my first Southwest flight in July 1971.) At the same time, we also put out a more traditional paper schedule with flight numbers, but it is extremely rare.   

Contrast the first timetable with our last one.  For approximately the last ten years, our timetables have featured Employees from just about every area of the Company (that's Brian Bond below), and I have known a good number of these folks.

 

 

As I mentioned, this is really an industry-wide story, and the history of airline timetables is really the history of the airline industry.  Those of you who are regular readers know that I am a huge aviation buff, nerd, geek, etc.  Besides reading books and watching airplanes at the Amarillo Airport, collecting timetables was one of my first steps into the world of aviation, and I wanted to share with you some of those images to illustrate the rich history of schedules.  One of the oldest timetables I own, is from the eve of World War II and is the Jun-Aug 1941 Latin America timetable from Pan American.  The bold art deco cover reflects the ambitions of our first international carrier who besides the service throughout the Western Hemisphere, was also flying from the U.S. to Manila and had just started service from New York to Europe. 

 

 

 

Even during the height of the war, airlines continued to serve domestic passengers and to print their timetables.  The stylized DC-3 of Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA) September 15, 1944 timetable proclaimed the shortest and fastest coast-to-coast service (which still took almost a full day).

 

Until the advent of the jumbo, each airline strived to have the fastest and newest aircraft. 

Just four years later, this TWA timetable brags about 300 mph Constellation service.  Sharp-eyed readers will also see that, with the addition of routes to Europe, TWA has become Trans World Airlines.

 

 

The April 26, 1959 Continental timetable is the oldest one that I collected directly from an airline (well, actually my Dad who brought it home to me).  The ones above were purchased as an adult.  This was Continental’s last timetable before they joined the jet age that summer.

 

 

My collection spans the world and goes behind the old iron curtain.  For me it represents a repository of my dreams.  For the ones that were current when I obtained them, they represent the possibility of traveling to places I had never been, to fly on exotic airliners, or to return to a familiar and favorite location.  The older ones I purchased represent those great airlines and airliners of the past that will never be again.

 

My boxes contain an honor roll of the industry.  Successful carriers like Southwest, Lufthansa, and Alaska share space with carriers like Lot, Aeroflot, and Infterflug (from East Germany).  And there are the once-familiar names that exist no more like Western, Eastern, TWA, PanAm, Swissair, and Canadian Pacific.  But the timetables live on, representing a slice of 20th century achievement.

37 Comments
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The paper timetables are exceptionally handy when one is at the airport and needs to change plans and reroute due to flight delays or cancellations. It also is handy for advance trip planning in that it provides a better overview than the website. WN suspended paper timetables a few years back, then returned them. Hope you repeat the process. Michael J. Simons
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To paraphrase General George Patton, "I'll drink to that--one aviation buff, nerd, geek to another"... Nice collection!
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I totally understand and appreciate the reasoning behind retiring the printed schedules, with the cost savings and opportunity to help our environment. I think Southwest already has its fares at the lowest possible rates for their customers, so I fully understand looking for other ways to cut costs in this economic environment. That's just good business! I wonder if it's possible to update the online version more frequently and, therefore, keep it more up-to-date than the printed schedules were for our customers. I had a couple of occasions where the printed flights I selected were no longer available due to scheduling changes. Also, I hope customers will have access to the online version at the airport -- perhaps at SWA kiosks or Customer Service desks. SWA NANA Cheryl Hamill GRAB YOUR BAGS!  IT'S ON! No better time to join our Rapid Rewards Program and take advantage of the benefits flying Business Select! Check it out at http://www.southwest.com
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I remember when Southwest would mail me each new schedule as it came out. This was probably the late 80's and/or early 90's. I also remember when the schedules had prices in them. One price for departures M-F between 8:00 and 5:00 (6:00?) and another price for evening and weekend flights.
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How about an iphone app with all of the connections for when we can't connect to www.mobile.southwest.com? (which still needs some work..)
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I didn't even know paper timetables existed until now! Thanks for the interesting post 🙂
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I haven't looked at a paper schedule in about 10 years so it is no surprise this is being elimated since you can get the schedule in many other ways. Phone, Internet, PDA, etc. I feel that paper schedules are a waste of money and paper. The money Southwest saves will hopefully go towards making Southwest profitable again which will give us all lower fares.
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I'm dissappointed that this is Southwest's first blog post since one of your planes developed a hole in the roof mid-flight. You guys missed the opportunity to blog about it and provide more info to your customers about what happened and the investigation. Daniel
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Have the middle eastern and Asian carriers stopped publishing paper schedules? As of last December, you could still get one from Emirates and Korean. As for me, I donated my timetable collection to the SFO aviation museum. Anyone who would like to look at them can contact the museum at http://www.sfoarts.org/about/alm.html
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Michael J. Simons: m.southwest.com has the schedules now.. it's pretty simple to get the schedule wherever you are now.. 🙂
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Having a timetable available without requiring an internet connection is extremely helpful when traveling on a lark, or trying to reroute yourself. On southwest.com under Travel Tools, you can download the available schedules for a single market in PDF. But you never know where you are going to end up. I have several suggestions to reduce the inconvenience some people will experience with this change. The easiest change is you should be able to download the entire flight schedule as one PDF document. Another helpful change would be an email subscription list where anytime Southwest publishes a new schedule, it is automatically emailed as a PDF attachment to you, so you don't have to keep up with schedule and holiday changes. A final idea that would require more resources is to create iPhone / Blackberry / Android apps that store all available flight schedules and make it searchable much like in Travel Tools, but on your phone. In the end though, getting rid of paper flight schedules is a great win for the environment.
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I will miss the WN timetables. I always liked the biographical blurb on the front. Even when you are at the airport nowadays most travelers have a iPhone/Blackberry etc to pull up schedules on weather days etc. Before WN became available in Sabre every agent in the agencies I worked at had a schedule on their desk. Andrew
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Now my 1000 plus airline timetable collection will come to a screeching halt. Who knows, they could either be valuable or end up in the recycle bin. Brian, on the cover of the WN timetable to be their last could end up a very popular fellow in a way he never expected. I will very much miss the paper schedule with Southwest, as well as with all of the airlines. Bon Voyage
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Brian: From above: "Not only that, as far as we can tell, only Lufthansa will be left with a paper timetable. " You're a bit off, there's DOZENS of non-US carriers that still produce printed timetables 2 or more times per year. Dan
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Sad to see them go but I completely understand. Most people use only a few pages of that big book. I guess it is time for a Blackberry or IPHONE.
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Brian -- I know that you publish in PDF format on your web site, but would it be possible to publish in an application similar to what other airlines use? (http://www.goldenware.com/eTimetable.php) I certainly appreciate the PDFs, but you have to publish them for each schedule change and using an application such as the GoldenWare app (which I use extensively for SkyTeam) would be extremely valuable! Thanks in advance for your consideration! -Bob
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This is good thinking. I find that electronic schedules, particularly in an era when so many have smart phones (or at least mobile-web-enabled ones), are much more convenient. Personally I like the United & Star Alliance electronic timetables. This might not be necessary because Southwest has an *EXCELLENT* mobile website, IMO. While on the topic of United, they also have the full timetable available as PDF, if I need that "document" feel. While I don't find system-wide timetables are practical for any day-to-day use, they are great for "window shopping." If many people complain, maybe southwest can set up some kind of mechanism to automatically create PDFs from the same schedule data and let customers print them out on their own paper.
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Hey everyone thanks for your comments: Daniel Barton, please see the news section of the blog here--there are at least four posts about the event. Dan, psa 188, you are probably right about foreign carriers still publishing timetables, especially in that have poor Internet infrastructure. That's why I wrote "As far as we know." To those of you who will miss having a timetable handy while traveling, we did a recent poll and only two percent of our Customers used the paper timetables, and if you read Anonymous 10:26 and Ashley B, theit comments bear this out. Some of you left suggestions for ways to distribute our electornic schedules, and those will be shared with our Marketing Leadership.
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I've sadly had to stop collecting printed timetables. I started collecting 40 years ago. The PDF versions are okay but not all airlines have them. Purchasing timetables for the era I want (the1969 and earlier) requires a loan! The prices are absurd. I collect for the pleasure of seeing the schedules, not because I think of it as an investment. My collection isn't for sale. I have them, along with my other airline items, set up for donation to an airline museum in my will. CHERYL HAMILL: Not sure what you mean by having the schedules up-to-date. I know the schedules are produced for specific periods as short as one day. DANIEL: The blog did mention the incident on 2294 in the news section. COLIN GEHBART: The entire Southwest schedule is available for download as a PDF. Pick "--Retrieve All Cities--" (the default) before clicking the retrieve schedule button. My complaint with the system-wide PDF schedule is that every other page is blank. Don't know if this has to do with my version of the PDF reader (I have the latest version available) or what but it is annoying to have a document that's nearly 700 pages long but actually contains data on only half of those pages. I haven't noticed this problem with the schedules for individual cities.
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Brian-- As a fellow sked collector, I mourn the demise of the WN timetable, although I had been expecting this for some time. I have to laugh at the "Don't worry, our schedules can still be accessed easily at wouthwest.com..." line, since in my experience NOTHING online EVER comes "easily"! But then, I'll always be a dyed-in-the-wool Luddite. I will always hate computers and everything connected to them. Oh well, got to drive over to TUS today and clear them out of the 'final issue'! Since "nobody uses them anymore", I'm sure no one will care if I take them all for my collection (and to sell at airliner shows in future years)!
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David, I know what you mean about prices, even for timetables from the 1980s! When I first seriously got into the hobby about 35 years ago, there was a store on the near northside of Chicago called Owen Davies Bookseller. It was in an old house, and every room was jammed with file cabinets of airline and railroad timetables. I bought a bunch of timetables from the 1950s for a couple of dollars each. They would also do mailorder, and I sent them a list of wants, expecting to get a reply back with the amount to send them. Instead they sent the actual timetables with an invoice!
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Well, I just got back from TUS and grabbed six more copies of the final WN timetable. I didn't 'clean them out', though, as I said I was going to. Guess I felt guilty. Anyway, now I have 9 copies, as I have always grabbed three copies of each new issue when it comes out: Two to actually look through and/or use for travel planning, and one which goes, unopened and (hopefully) un-fingerprinted, into the schedule archive. The archive consists of 11 file boxes of 'post-deregulation' (1980 to present) schedules, and two file drawers full of the 'crown jewels'--pre-1980 schedules going all the was back to 1932 (American Airways and Transcontinental and Western Air [T&WA]). Additional file drawers are stuffed full of other airline ephemera such as route maps, "Welcome aboard" packets, safety cards, annual reports, etc. Oh, and let's not forget the old OAGs (Official Airline Guides), which back in the pre-1970 era were basically a bound collection of schedules from all US and Canadian airlines. I have three (1940, 1956, and 1961), and they are a great 'snapshot' of the industry at a particular point in time. Would love to get more, but, as Brian mentions above, they are pricey. I do intend, as always, to search for a few more old schedules at next week's Airliners International convention in Orlando, but I am buying far fewer examples of airline stuff than I was 20 or even 10 years ago. Guess my collection is just about complete! One thing I've always wondered is why airlines don't offer a printed schedule by paid subscription. It would be wonderful for us collectors, and I'd gladly pay the cost to receive a "real" schedule four times or so per year. It wouldn't even have to show connections: Just direct flights with maybe a numerical-order flight routings section at the end. That would be wonderful!
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This is truly a sad day. Frequent fliers value printed timetables more than the airlines realize, and Southwest was one of the few who listened to their passengers and brought them back after the first time you discontinued them. You're right that they've grown extremely large in the last few years... most airlines that still publish timetables have cut back to direct/nonstop only. American and United's timetables slimmed down dramatically in the late 1990s before they were discontinued altogether. Perhaps that's an option for Southwest, although so many of your flights are one- or two-stop that it wouldn't be of much use, I suppose. Between 9/11, last summer's fuel spike and the current economic downtown, many international carriers have suspended timetables - Alitalia, Iberia, Olympic, Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines and South African have all stopped in the last 18 months. There are still plenty of airlines that publish schedules, although almost all of them are in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, Aegean Airlines, Tarom, Austrian Airlines, Japan Airlines, ANA, Korean Air, Cathay Pacific, Vietnam Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, just to name a few.
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I had hours of fun, searching your timetable for unique nonstops such as Ontario, CA to Nashville, TN and those rare flights which traveled every day of the week. Usually they were out of LA. I will download the entire schedule, and follow Brian Lusks posts to find out what's new.
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mga707 The OAGs are fantastic, but their prices shot up even higher than timetables. I was lucky in that my dad would bring home old ones when his airline was ready to throw them away--when you were using them to sell tickets, the last thing you wanted was a past-date timetable around the office. I always preferred the timetable edition to the "Quick Reference" edition (which is what most modern timetables are or were). It was fun to follow the arrows for each flight up and down the page , and some airlines would draw arrows to a flight several columns away. I did go back and purchase several OAGs, and my oldest is a 1946 edition. Another place to find old airline schedules is in the Official Guide of the Railways. Besides the interest in those timetables, the Official Guide had a section of airline timetables (plus steamship info). Until a couple of years ago Offical Guides were relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to OAGs, but like all transportation ephemera, their prices have skyrocketed. As far as a subscription timetable, the price would probably be out of reach just to cover the administrative costs. The OAG is still selling subscriptions to their twice monthly editions, but the rate is $879 for the twice monthly edition and $549 for a once-a month edition.
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i think i might fly SW still
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I feel as torn as a Muse Air timetable I rescued from a travel agent's shredder. As a computer nerd I relished the arrival of the searchable, customizable electronic timetables a decade ago, particularly the KLM version which animated their flights and those of their partners on a customizable map. As a history buff I get angry everytime I see another data set expires. Southwest timetables have indeed become small books (I reserve the term "novel" for airlines whose actual departures and arrivals bear no resemblance to the printed times). Furthermore, Southwest connects nearly every city with all other cities on its system almost every day of the year, making date-based on-line searches a reasonable task. For airlines with less frequent flights, a printed timetable, or a web-based facsimilie, would make a trip between Kuala Lumpur and Khabarovsk far easier to plan. Once a surly airport agent refused to sell me a ticket, insisting that my destination had no airport. A timetable effective that day helped me prove that bi-weekly flights to that airport would commence the next morning. Many flag carriers continue to publish Japanese editions of their timetables long after the demise of other editions, so, to all you "Flugplan fanatics," out there, whenever a friend tells you of his/her upcoming visit to Tokyo or Osaka, beg them to visit the city air terminals, or domestic airports, to help you augment your endangered collection. Speaking of Lufthansa timetables, I have one from every decade dating back to the 1920s, in many languages, including Chinese and Hebrew, except I have never seen, not even in German museums, any example from the 1940s. Mr. Lusk, even though I dread the news, I really aprreciate reading about your knowledge and passion.
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FlugplanFanatic@SFO makes an excellent point - not all airlines have reasonable networks for on-line searching, and a printed document is still easier to read at a glance than an electronic one. I must admit, in this day of hub services, it may be enough in most cases to simply know (A) an airline serves the desired origin and destination cities and (B) there is a hub through which connections can be made. Regarding current airlines still printing timetables, I have it on good authority that the list of current (Summer 2009) printed timetables includes examples from not only Lufthansa, but at least a dozen Asian carriers. Some only print Japanese editions of their system timetables today, while others (Asiana and EVA Air among them) print both "home country" editions and a Japanese edition. Meanwhile back in the U.S., is anyone aware of any airline still printing timetables? I'm aware of San Juan Airlines having a Bellingham-only schedule in 2008, but aside from WN they'd be the only candidate I can think of. If there's a positive side to this development, it's that it has led Mr. Lusk to share some of his collection and his knowledge with us. Although my collection contains numerous obscure and historically interesting timetables, I have never seen the inaugural Southwest timetables and for that alone you deserve our thanks. I'm aware this is a WN blog so it may not be appropriate to carry on discussions too much further on the topic, but thanks for triggering such wonderful memories for all of us. I didn't realize there were so many timetable collectors out there!
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I neglected to include my name with my post (responding to FlugplanFanatic@SFO), for which I apologize - I had no intention of withholding my identity. And as Lt. Columbo would say, "One more thing..." A printed document has no substitute when one is trapped somewhere without easy Internet access, and still needs to look up flight options. That's why I subscribe to one of the commercial timetables and faithfully retain each month's issue in my carry-on.
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Indeed, it is an end of an era, and I am very sorry that WN is discontinuing its paper timetable. Thank Go other airlines are still publishing paper timetable whichh I found extremely handy and reflects a great deal about the company. Companies as Cyprus Airways, Aegean Airlines, Emirates and a number of other airlines still publish paper timetables. If the paper timetables proved to be unreliable due to the frequent change of schedules and the quick flexibility of airlines to adapt to a rapid changing world , PDF timetables are equally unreliable, The Singapore Airlines summer 2009 and the 1 world alliance PDF timetable are living proofs. It is equally bad that Sky team alliance has not any PDF timetable and renown airlines such as Korean Airlines, Air New Zealand, Thai International, TAP-Air Portugal to name a few do not publish on line PDF timetables ,
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Arthur Na (aka Lt. Columbo) I agree. It has been surprising, but gratifying to hear from all the timetable collectors here and at some other sites. Don't worry about limiting conversation, as long as it is on timetables it is welcome on this post. FlugplanFanatic--nice handle, by the way! You open up a big additional area of timetable collecting--timetables in languages other than English. I have one PanAm timetable in Spanish but that is it, except for a few that are "bilingual" having been printed in both English and the carrier's native language. I would imagine the hobby will become similar to railroad timetable collecters that had their supply of new timetables closed down in 1971 with the birth of Amtrak (which, by the way, still publishes a paper timetable) that eliminated railroad-operated passenger trains (with a few notable exceptions like the Southern, Rio Grande, and Rock Island).
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Railroad timetables are a depressing reminder of where airline timetables may be in a few years...but perhaps they will not go so quietly into that night. As Christian and others have pointed out, many airlines still print them, and in fact this summer I've been able to secure a few examples from Asia. Korean Air, by the way, *does* publish a PDF of their schedules but it's difficult to find. You need to go to their web site, and click on "PC Timetable". Then you can download the domestic and international versions. I'll say this - at least Southwest publishes PDFs, even if in some cases it's one PDF file per day, with revisions every week. :-) What I find odd is that in places like Europe, where a recent survey says 30% of EU residents have NEVER been on the Internet, so many airlines don't publish timetables. Now maybe that says "If you can't get on the Internet you shouldn't fly", but that just doesn't seem like good business. And another thing about timetables - often a local station will print timetables when the rest of the company doesn't. Examples include USA 3000's Cleveland station, which printed a city schedule when few (if any) other stations had them, Qantas' North American office which printed a North American timetable when the printed system timetable had disappeared several years earlier, and the Singapore Airlines Japan station which still prints a system timetable (Japanese edition) when the rest of the airline no longer has them. One question...what's a typical print run of timetables? A few years ago one airline was advertising their quarterly timetables and it gave their print runs, but I don't remember what it was now, whether it was 500 copies or 50,000 or 5 million, but it was 5 something.
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Perhaps it will be of interest that the trend toward elimination of airline system timetables began with Republic Airlines in 1984. They noticed that the thick system timetable was primarily used by airline employees and passengers already in flight who wanted to recheck a connection. Not really worth the cost, which was about $1 a copy even back then. So they substituted a very basic folder showing only city codes and no constructed connections. It was labeled "employee timetable" just to ward off public complaints, but frequent fliers adapted to it very quickly. The "employee" term was then dropped. When Northwest acquired Republic, they soon adopted the same format. Although the paper version disappeared a few year ago, the format survives as a PDF download in the very last Northwest timetables currently in effect. United tried to make the same transition in 1986 but employees raised a ruckus and the big thick book was restored. Isn't it ironic that economical WN held on to this costly luxury for another 23 years!
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This is to Brian Lusk, Excellent article on SWA timetables, I enjoyed it very much. Could you possible email me at the address above, I have a Southwest timetable question. Thanks, Steve
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Re Lufthansa timetables - for obvious reasons, they were out of action for most of the 1940s, but timetables were printed in at least 1940 and 1941. (Pictures can be seen at http://timetableimages.com/ttimages/dlh.htm)
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I know I'm a year late -- but -- does anyone have the SWA printed flight schedule showing the flights for August 10, 2009? I am trying to retrace a trip, and would really like to be able to verify the times of certain flights that day. Hope someone out there still has one!
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Brian, I'm a year late in finding this blog post -- due to curiosity about why every SWA location has been "out" of timetables every time I've traveled over the past year. Like others, I'm sorry to see the printed timetable go - it had versatility that has yet to be duplicated in the various electronic options available. For many road warriors, despite being equipped with Blackberry, laptop, and other computer age necessities, a Southwest paper timetable was usually packed in the briefcase for reference. Your mention of Owen Davies, the famous Chicago transportation paper dealer, brought back memories. Their willingness to undertake mail order transactions with a junior high student in the mid-1960s made me a lifelong customer until the store closed, and helped to cement my interest in public transportation. If indeed the Southwest "book" has seen its last issue, thanks for writing a fitting epitaph for an interesting and colorful aspect of aviation history.