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A Fond Farewell to the 737-300


As Southwest prepares to wave goodbye to our very last 737-300s next week, I've been thinking about everything the -300s allowed us to do as a Company—we've grown, prospered, and spread LUV from sea to shining sea. Our last planned 737-300 revenue flight will be from HOU to DAL on Friday, September 29. After that, we can usher in a new era with the 737 MAX.


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As our Company looks forward, it's also important to remember our history. Southwest's first 737-300 took to the Texas skies on December 17, 1984, which was the 81st anniversary of the Wright Brother's first flight in Kitty Hawk, NC, and flew our original Texas Triangle: Dallas-Houston-San Antonio-Dallas. I would have loved to attend Southwest's party the night before—special guests Bob Hope and Chuck Yeager were both present! The 737-300 had better economics, more seats, less noise, and greater range than our older, venerable 737-200. Southwest had big plans for our shiny, new flagships.


Consider this: when our first 737-300, dubbed "The Spirit of Kitty Hawk" (N300WN), flew the triangle, we served 23 cities, flew around 60 nonstop routes, and extended from California to Chicago.


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Looking at it now, our 1985 route map seems so small—nobody was satisfied with it. Southwest had much more LUV to share, places to go, and routes to fly. With the -300's fully-loaded range of 2,100 nautical miles trumping the -200's max range of 1,100 nautical miles, we clearly had the ammunition to support that growth. While our -200s put Southwest on the map, the -300s enabled us to make that map wow-worthy.


And wow, did we grow! New markets like BNA-PHX, DTW-PHX, and STL-PHX became possible with the -300's capabilities. We added new Stations to the east and west of our Texas home almost every year and added noise-sensitive airports like BUR and OAK because of the quieter engines. We even flew east to establish the "Beast of the East," which is BWI, in 1993. All of that expansion was due to the influx of shiny new -300s with lower noise footprints, impressive economics, and greater range.


In 1994, we acquired Morris Air. This brought us a number of former Morris -300s and new cities in the west like TUS, SNA, PDX, SEA, GEG, BOI, and SLC. Over half of these destinations were not -200 friendly. After the acquisition, we began to connect Morris' former network with the Southwest Network.


Farewell -300 3.jpgAs time went on, Southwest's route map quickly became quite impressive. If you look at our network for year-end 1995 and compare it to early 1985, it's clear that the -300s allowed our Company to grow. We even became a "major" airline as defined by the Department of Transportation!


Our (then) Golden Girls kept coming, and we kept growing. Herb Kelleher once said the -300s came new from the factory at Boeing already full, and, as always, he was right! Every day, we flew more Customers. At one point, we accepted deliveries of 30 or more -300s per year—this allowed some impressive growth spurts, many of which could not have been flown with a -200. For example, Florida began in 1996, and the big Nashville expansion to the West Coast occurred in 1997. We connected many other dots across our network during this time too.


By the end of 1997, Southwest had one of the largest fleets of 737-300s on the planet. Yet, something new was on the horizon. The "Next Generation" 737 series, beginning with the 737-700, was delivered to Southwest at the end of 1997. As the -700s, and later the -800s, received many of the new routes and glamour, the -300s continued to perform their duties perfectly. Even though they were no longer the newest, they were perfect for short and medium-haul markets and connected our east and west coast transcons.


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Recently, I flew DAL-HOU on a -300 to connect to CUN, and 85 people from our flight were connecting to international destinations on a -700 or -800 aircraft. The beautiful -300 airplanes work in perfect harmony with the rest of the Southwest fleet and have enabled us to have a route map that, on the -300 fleet's retirement day, will look like the map pictured here. And, yes, I work in Network Planning, but it still takes my breath away!


After the Classics officially retire on September 29, we will introduce the Southwest 737-MAX 8 to the world on October 1 by flying our original Texas Triange, DAL-HOU-SAT-DAL, exactly as N300WN, The Spirit of Kitty Hawk did almost 33 years earlier.


It will be a sunrise, sunset moment for the 737-300s and the MAX. At Southwest, we will remember the -300 fleet for providing us reliability and revenue, but I will add one more descriptor: respect. I respect that the Classics enabled us to evolve from the 1985 route map to our map today.


We LUV our retiring Golden Girls, and we are so excited welcome the MAX into our Southwest Family.