Specialty planes decorated as State Flags, painted in Classic colors, or painted like a giant killer whale are common here at Southwest Airlines. I always love seeing one come in for a landing. The Flagship planes are, of course, the easiest to spot, but there are a few planes that simply have a name signed on the sides of the planes’ noses. These are part of the Signature Series, which include “The Herbert D. Kelleher,” “The Rollin W. King,” “The Donald G. Ogden,” “The Fred J. Jones,” “The Jack J. Vidal,” and “The June M. Morris.” I’m starting this two-part series with the Southwest Airlines Founders’ planes: “The Herbert D. Kelleher” and “The Rollin W. King.” “The Herbert D. Kelleher” Even before Southwest Airlines was Southwest Airlines, Herb earned his right to have a plane named after him. Starting in 1967, Herb fought to take Air Southwest off the ground. After many legal battles, and far less sleep, Herb gave Southwest the victory and the right to fly. In March 1971, Air Southwest became Southwest Airlines just in time to begin service in June 1971. However, that did not stop the other airlines from trying to keep us from flying. Herb continued his legal battles up to June 17, 1971, only a day before our inaugural flight. Without Herb’s skill as an attorney, Southwest would never have gotten off the ground and accomplish all the Company has over the years. Herb continued to be involved with the Company after its inauguration. Starting in 1978, and over the next three decades, he held the positions of President, CEO, and Chairman of the Board of Directors—sometimes holding all three positions at once. In 2008, he was named Chairman Emeritus. On October 31, 1978, Herb was the first Employee to be acknowledged with a plane with his name signed on the side. Imagine his surprise when he arrived at the hangar and noticed a huge red cloth covering the aircraft’s nose. Initially, he thought it had been damaged and wondered why in the world he was coming out to look at it. But then, his concern became happiness when the red cloth was removed, displaying a pristine nose with the writing, “The Herbert D. Kelleher.” Herb’s wife, Joan, and their four children, greeted him for the ceremony and each were presented a model replica of “The Herbert D. Kelleher” plane. "The Rollin W. King” The second plane dedicated to an Employee was our 22nd plane and the first 737-200 to be completely owned by Southwest Airlines. It was dedicated to our Cofounder, Rollin King. Notably, the plane’s number was N-67. The number matched the year that Rollin came to Herb with the idea of starting a low-cost airline that would transport people between Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston. Rollin was with Herb throughout the arduous four years it took to get Southwest Airlines off the ground. The Rollin W. King plane was dedicated to Rollin on December 3, 1980 for all his hard work with the Company. During his time at Southwest Airlines, Rollin served as a Pilot, Executive Vice President, and Director. In addition to his duties as a Special Advisor, which was his role at the time of the plane’s delivery, he served on the Board of Governors of the Southwest Outward Bound School in New Mexico. After 1981, he limited his role within Southwest, but continued to serve on the Board of Directors until 2006 when he retired. Joining Rollin King at the dedication ceremony was his wife and children. Rollin was also surrounded by a number of original Employees, including Herb and supporters of Southwest during the early years. These two great men established the foundation of Southwest Airlines, which has grown impressively over the last 42 years and now serves 85 cities across the United States. Herb and Rollin did not do it alone, but their hard work and dedication helped take us to where we are now. Next week we will take a look at the four remaining Signature planes.
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For the next several weeks we’ll be publishing what we consider to be the “Best of” Brian’s Flashback Friday posts. The first one that we’ve selected reflects a subject and practice of Southwest Airlines that still elicits respect and awe from airline insiders and the traveling public alike. Hope you enjoy this remarkable “Quick-turn” rerun. How cool is this? We have our first Flashback Friday on our new blog platform this week. I thought it might be a good time to illustrate a Southwest tradition. Many of you know the story of the Southwest Airlines “ten-minute turn.” In 1974, we had purchased our fourth aircraft which was to have flown half the time on scheduled flights and the rest on charters. The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) ruled that we were ineligible to operate interstate charters, so in effect we had an extra half airplane, a luxury we couldn’t afford, so we sold it to the original Frontier. But half that airplane was dedicated to scheduled flights. We needed that revenue, but not at the cost of an underused airplane. Bill Franklin, our then Vice President of Ground Operations, came up with the solution: We would turn our flights at the gate in ten minutes.
To me, the ten-minute turn represents the very best of Southwest Airlines because it was a simple solution; a solution that only cost inspiration, perspiration, coordination, and cooperation—from Employees and Passengers alike. It also shows how we have responded to challenges when faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. And on a more prosaic notion, it exemplifies the importance of productivity. I found some 35mm slides from the late 1970s that look as though they were taken to illustrate one of our turns. By the time these photos were taken, our Airport Employees were masters of the turn. In the first photo above, the plane taxis into the gate, and the Provisioning truck and the belt loader are waiting to pull up to the aft part of the aircraft. The airplane is 737-2H4 N26SW, delivered to us in July 1975. I think all the slides in this post were taken in the same session, but different aircraft may have been used. .
From the gate area at Love Field, we see both Provo trucks restocking the galleys, and the belt loaders are moving bags on and off the aircraft. The Provisioning Crew has finished the front galley and lowered their truck to the ground. The Agent is driving back from the aircraft.
While the truck pulls away, the Ramp Agents are loading the last cart of bags into the forward bin.
Once the cargo bins are buttoned up and the entry doors closed, the flight is on its way. The Provo Agents restock their truck and get ready for the next flight—the location of this appears to be the North Concourse. As I said earlier, quick turns require the coordination of everyone involved. While we still turn our flights quicker than almost anybody, we get asked why we did away with the ten-minute turns. Remember, I said earlier that Passengers were also a significant part of a ten-minute turn. On a ten-minute turn, we began pushback as soon as the last Passenger was in the cabin, not necessarily in his or her seat. Back then, we had government approval to push the aircraft while folks were settling in. Even today, on peak travel time flights between Dallas and Houston, you will see longtime Customers grabbing the very first seat they come to. Old habits last a long time, and one of those habits is aircraft productivity.
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As an Intern working with Southwest Airlines’ archives, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Brian Lusk. He was a fantastic mentor and an even better friend. I admired Brian’s writing style and, like all of you, will miss his unique take on Southwest Airlines’ history. I wrote this installment of Flashback Fridays before Brian’s untimely passing, and I hope that he’d be proud of my special archival finds this week. Bowling is one of my favorite sports. So I couldn’t believe it when I came across a “Bowl-A-Rama” in the Southwest Airlines’ archive. This occasion was for a charity event in 1993. For those of you who don’t know, Herb is not afraid of being in the media spotlight. In fact, he especially likes having the opportunity to give back to the community in the process. In 1993, Paramount Pictures and the cast from their 1990s TV show Wings challenged Southwest Airlines to a bowling competition. Herb and the cast of Wings competed in a one-game match to benefit Angel Flight. This non-profit organization consists of private pilots who provide free air transportation for patients needing to travel to and from medical facilities. The victor of the one game battle presented a $10,000 check, donated by AMF Consumer Products, to the Angel Flight Charity organization.
In addition to the bowling battle, there was also a competition to see who could raise more money for Angel Flight. If Southwest raised more money thanWings before the event on November 13, 1993, then Herb would have a “walk-on” role in a future Wings episode. Southwest raised $30,000 and was victorious, and Herb’s sitcom television debut became history.
These “LUV Bucks for Herbie” pictures above were the raffle tickets sold by Southwest Employees for the fundraising effort that allowed Southwest to beat the Wings crew. Employees could purchase the “Herbie Bucks” for $1 and write a note of support to Herb on the back. Herb would then read these letters before going off to battle. By selling these Herbie Bucks to both Employees and their friends and family, Southwest Employees proved once again that they have huge hearts (and, that we LUV to win).
From L to R, unidentified non-SWA bowler, Herb, Tonda Ferguson Before his big day, Herb needed to warm up his bowling arm. Here we have a picture of him practicing at a local bowling center in Dallas, where his training seemed quite intense. This photo clearly depicts his rigorous training day with his personal trainer and his assistant. I can only assume that he improved tremendously during the course of this practice session.
Wings cast from L to R: Tony Shalhoub, Rebecca Schull, Steven Weber, Thomas Haden Church, Crystal Bernard, Tim Daly, and Farrah Forke.
Southwest bowlers from L to R: Cheryl Hoban, Ginger Hardage, Herb Kelleher, Margaret Shannon, Linda Rutherford, and Kevin Krone. Being able to bowl with both Herb and the cast of Wings must have been an unforgettable experience. In the first photo we have the cast of Wings, and in the second, the Southwest bowlers. The shirts they’re wearing make a great fashion statement, and one of them can currently be found in the Southwest Airlines’ archive.
Since Southwest had raised more money than Wings, Paramount Pictures kept its promise and allowed Herb to have his walk-on roll on the show. In this photo, Herb is standing with Joe Hackett (actor Tim Daly) in front of Sandpiper Air (the fictitious airline from the TV show). Herb can be seen briefly in the episode titled “Exclusively Yours” that premiered on February 14, 1994. One of the things that I’ve noticed during my internship is that Southwest participates in some great charitable activities, and it’s also very clear that those events can still be lots of fun. This particular event “treasure” was exciting for me to discover due its connection to both bowling and television, but the bonus was that I also learned more about the Angel Flight organization. Southwest has supported our communities since the very beginning. Through the decades, Southwest has believed in doing the right thing, and it always comes from the heart. Today, we give to our communities with our time and monetary donations, and also by supporting global and national nonprofit organizations, championing our own Southwest Airlines giving programs, and encouraging individual Employees and community members to volunteer and advocate for the causes they believe in most. I’m proud to work for such a great Company, and I am honored to have worked for such a great man. Brian Lusk will forever be in our hearts.
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