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Southwest Airlines Community

The Kiss Theory...Keep It Simple Southwest

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One would expect simplicity from a Company whose business plan was sketched on a beverage napkin, so allow me to let you in on one of the most basic things Southwest does each and every flight that helps us save time and money, which gives the traveling public consistantly low fares. But first, some background information... Before any aircraft can be allowed to takeoff, a "weight and balance" calculation must be made. Information about the aircraft's empty weight is added together with the weights of the passengers, fuel, cargo and checked baggage along with the location of the baggage and cargo (Is it in the forward cargo compartment or the rear compartment?). At most airlines this information is fed into a massive computer system by numerous individuals from lots of different locations. All of this is then sent electronically to an operations center usually housed at the carrier's main hub where the numbers are "crunched" and then sent via radio to the individual aircraft in the form of text messages or voice data. Pilots use this information to tell them what speeds they are to use for takeoff and to "trim" the aircraft (much like you trim a boat depending on if Beverly and the grandkids are in the front of the boat or sitting in the back); an aircraft is very sensitive to weight and the location of that weight. If the particular airline has a lot of aircraft departing from locations all over the world at about the same time, the computer can be slowed down and the aircraft have to wait their turn to get the information for takeoff. If a last minute change happens, the whole process has to start all over again, and you go to the end of the line. So how does Southwest do this simpler and more cost effectively? For each of our flights, our point person to gather all of the aforementioned information is the Operations Agent. The "Ops Agent" collects the boarding documents in order to get a passenger count, is given bin slips from the Ramp Agents telling him/her how much weight is loaded and where, and receives a fuel slip to show how many pounds of jet fuel has been loaded on the airplane. (Again, weight is what is important to the safe operation of the flight so the airplane cares that there is 31,000 pounds of fuel aboard, not 4,626 gallons.) Until just a short time ago, the Ops Agent literally took a #2 pencil and filled in all of this information on an 8 1/2 x 13 inch form, added everything together, and gave it to the Pilots. The Pilots take a couple of pieces of information from the load sheet, enter it into our onboard performance computer, and in 4-6 seconds have all the information needed for the flight. So instead of a massive and expensive worldwide computer system, we have an Operations Agent armed with a stack of forms, a couple of sharp #2 pencils, and an unbelievable ability to add big numbers really, really fast. Recently the form and pencils have been replaced by a laser printer, but the old standbys are always within reach just in case of a power outage. So the next time you fly the World's Greatest Airline and you notice we are taxiing past other airplanes parked to the side of the taxiway, it might just be because the other guys are "waiting for their numbers."