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The Freedom to Fly--and to Have Fun!

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phl_liberty_bell1.JPGAlthough Southwest's history is miniscule compared to that of our nation, it's important to remember that Southwest was founded 36 years ago on the principle that all Americans deserve the Freedom to Fly at affordable fares.  I think we have done a pretty good job with that goal because, in 1971, the year we were born, only 15 percent of Americans had ever flown on an airline.  Today, that number is close to 80 percent.  No, not all flew on Southwest, but the low-fare revolution that we started is largely responsible. As one who flew regularly before 1971 (I am an airline brat), I can vouch that air travel was much different then.  Yes, it was more luxurious, but it was also very expensive.  The predominant passenger of the time was a white male, middle-aged businessman, and occasionally, his family on vacation-if they were very lucky.  Even today, there are some people who miss the ambiance of the time when you dressed up to fly...but, I doubt they miss the fares. Thankfully, our founders, Herb Kelleher and Rollin King, had the idea to democratize the skies.  Make fares so low that flying would be cheaper than driving, and Texans took to the skies--but America would have to wait a few more years until Congress deregulated routes and fares in 1978.  I admit I was a naysayer back then because I worked for a legacy carrier for 18½ years, beginning in 1976.  All the legacy carriers formed a letter-writing campaign to Congress to stop deregulation, and they used the fear that deregulation would destroy air travel.  Thankfully, the campaign failed because when the rest of the country got a taste of the low fares that Texans were paying that airline travel became the preferred mode of intercity travel by all Americans.  Today, Southwest carries over 98 million Customers annually on our 3,300+ daily flights. There's one other thing Southwest liberated:  And that is the idea that air travel has to be pretentious and stuffy.  While we always take Safety seriously, we don't take ourselves seriously.  (If we did, you wouldn't be reading this blog right now.)  There is absolutely no reason why our Employees can't have fun at work and to share that fun with our Customers.  After all, some of our Customers are as nutty as we are--External Blog Boy and Ding! boy come immediately to mind.  My own epiphany about Southwest came a few years before I joined Southwest when we had a long layover in the Detroit Airport between flights on my old airline.  I noticed that the Southwest Employees were the only ones smiling, talking to each other, and enjoying their work.  It had been years since I had felt like that at work.  I was envious and wished for a change.  My own liberation came a few years later, and I have never looked back.