DALLAS — Located adjacent to Dallas Love Field is the headquarters of Southwest Airlines, the nation’s fourth-largest airline. The carrier employs nearly 45,000 people to transport 133.2 million passengers annually (in 2013) on more than 3,600 daily flights to 96 destinations in six countries.
It’s a massive operation, and behind it all sits the Training and Operational Support (TOPS) complex at its Dallas headquarters campus. Every new Southwest employee, of which there were 1,521 last year, passes through this building, and a select few continue to call it home. And for one toasty September day, it was home to the Airways crew as well.
The $120 million, 492,000 sq ft, LEED-certified TOPS building opened in December 2013, and it provided the first centralized training location for all departments. While it is not designed to accommodate things like in-depth maintenance training, it is at least one stop on the road for every new employee, and while in training, all employees are housed in a single location in order to build a spirit of community and cooperation.
Some new hires, such as ramp operators, spend as little as five days undergoing basic training here, while cabin crew require a much more intensive five-week stint. In fact, there is a typically a new flight attendant class starting every week, and the program enjoys a 90 percent training success rate.
The training facility consists of 36 customizable classrooms and a number of mock-ups, allowing up to 1,000 employees to train on any one day for a wide variety of
situations. Every part of the passenger experience, both routine and extraordinary, from check-in to boarding to an emergency landing can be simulated onsite with a high degree of realism. And if ever you hear the call bell ring four times on a Southwest flight, you can rest assured that the crew knows how to handle the situation, all thanks to this facility and its 737-300 cabin trainer.
The rest of the space is intended to be as open and airy as possible, while the décor offers both corporate pride and a little tongue-in-cheek fun. And after all this training is completed, and new employees have had their fill of Southwest’s “Warrior Spirit,” they move on for practical training in their respective posts. That is, after a pit stop at the Freedom Shop on the way out, of course—no new airline employee can go without a bit of swag.