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.