The year was 2011 and I had just met a wonderful woman who would later become my wife. One summer morning, I received a phone call that would change my life forever. I learned that my longest running friend had passed away, and I was asked to bear the pall at his funeral. Never before had it been so obvious to me that we don’t get a lot of time on this planet. I kept thinking of all the things he had never gotten the chance to do. Then one morning, as I was lying in bed, a passing thought inspired me to make a promise to myself. I decided I would do something I’ve always wanted to do every year on my birthday—essentially crossing an item off my proverbial bucket list. It sounds easy enough, but keeping a promise to yourself is more difficult than it sounds. Still, I was going to give it a shot.
The following August, I boarded a Southwest flight bound for Memphis. I spent my birthday touring Sun Studios and Elvis Presley’s Graceland. A year later, I jumped on a Southwest flight to Phoenix, drove north a few hours, and then hiked down the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Each year since has held another adventure and time after time, Southwest has helped me get there. It’s been seven years, and so far, I’ve been able to keep this promise.
Back in 2011, I had no idea I’d eventually become a Southwest Employee, but I knew it was my favorite airline. I would always giggle when Flight Attendants would get creative with announcements and one year, an Employee actually sang “Happy Birthday” to me. I’d always thank the Pilots for a safe flight and I was continuously surprised by how many would engage me in conversation. As an aviation buff, this simple gesture always made me happy. It was this kind of service that turned me into a loyal Southwest Customer.
Fast-forward five years to 2016. One fateful October morning, I walked into Southwest Airlines Headquarters and embarked on a new career in a new city. As part of the onboarding process, the Company teaches New Hires about their humble beginnings. In 1971, the tiny Texas-based airline purchased three airliners and started service to three cities: Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. It was a route they affectionately called the “Texas Triangle” after a sketch our Cofounders made on a cocktail napkin. From there, the Company blossomed into one of the world’s most admired companies operating a fleet of over 700 aircraft.
The infamous cocktail napkin that marked the birth of Southwest Airlines.
As I was learning all these factoids, I came to a simple realization. Anyone could foreseeably eat breakfast in Houston, lunch in San Antonio, and dinner in Dallas with the help of Southwest. It would be a great day trip! I really liked the idea and couldn’t stop thinking about it. I stashed it in my mental file cabinet under “Eating the Texas Triangle”. I figured I would try it someday. That day finally arrived in August 2018.
I was standing at the gate before 7:00 a.m. ready to board Flight #3 to Houston (HOU). It was there that I met Operations Agent Charles with over 19 years of experience. He and Ramp Supervisor Kendell took a photo with me. Charles said in almost 20 years, it was the first time he had his picture taken at work.
As I boarded the aircraft, I met Flight Attendant Marsha. This amazing lady has been with Southwest for over 30 years and she speaks fluent French, enough to convince me anyway. After landing, I thanked the Crew and made my way to Dunkin Donuts. I ordered my birthday breakfast—two cake donuts and an iced coffee, a combination that always makes me happy. One meal down, two to go!
After wandering around for a bit and getting birthday greetings from a few other Southwest Airlines Employees, I met Todd and Bonita from HOU Ground Operations. They stopped what they were doing to pose with me and tell some stories. I couldn’t believe how many great People I’d met already… and my trip was just beginning. There were still two flights to go!
Upon boarding the Boeing 737-700 bound for San Antonio, Oakland-based Pilots Jennifer and Ryan invited me on to the flight deck for a quick picture. After that, I met Carmen, one of our newest Flight Attendants. This was her second trip with Southwest, and she already felt like Family. Welcome to the Team, Carmen!
We landed in San Antonio and while I really wanted to stay and talk to the Crew, it was approaching noon and my stomach was growling. I made my way to La Gloria and ordered their signature molcajete, a traditional Aztec stew served in a stone bowl. If you ever have a layover in San Antonio, make sure you try this place! It’s a hidden gem for Texas travelers.
With a full belly, I headed to gate A13, where I met Operations Agent John, who has worked for Southwest since 1983. I got to chat with him and Customer Service Agent Regina on the jet bridge. This birthday was going great—two meals down and one to go.
As I boarded the flight back to Dallas, I met Steve, one of the friendliest guys in the sky. He was a hoot and made the time fly (no pun intended). As we touched down in Dallas, I realized this adventure was quickly coming to an end. However, I knew I still had to eat dinner, and what better way to finish off the Texas Triangle than with a meal from Whataburger and some fries. Yeehaw!
As I sat down to eat my third meal of the day, a trio of Flight Attendants was seated at the adjacent table. They noticed my Southwest badge and we started chatting. These three were on ground time, headed to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA), but they were kind enough to pose for a picture and make my dinner something to remember. Thank you Carly, Kristen, and Carolina for the Hospitality.
I called out a handful of Southwest Employees by name, but these are just a few of the great People I met on this journey. There were so many more I failed to mention. This trip solidified a hypothesis I made long ago: an airline is not about planes, ticket counters, or airports. It’s about People. Southwest is made up of great People.
As my birthday story concludes, many folks may wonder why I would take a day off work just to spend it sitting in airports, essentially hanging out with my Coworkers. I admit the idea sounds rather odd when phrased that way. To me, this simple trip represented something different. It was about doing something to say I did it. It was about remembering a dear friend. It was about bonding with just a few of the 60,000 People I have the privilege to call Cohearts. It was about celebrating another year of life and looking forward to the future. Most importantly, though, it was about keeping that promise to myself.
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I grew up in Omaha. I still have family there and go back to visit often. So great to see this article. The Omaha zoo is one of the hidden gems of the midwest. It's a great weekend trip for a family.
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