MIAMI Today in Aviation marks the 49th anniversary of the first flight of Southwest Airlines (WN). On June 18, 1971, WN flew from Dallas Love Field (DAL) to Houston Intercontinental (IAH) and San Antonio International (SAT) with three Boeing 737-200.

At that time, only three aircraft comprised the company’s fleet serving three cities. However, weekly scheduled flights rapidly increased to 100 by 1972 as reported in the Official Airline Guide in that year.

Three years to fly


Even though WN was founded in 1967 as Air Southwest Co. by Lamar Muse, Rollin King, and Herb Kelleher to offer services throughout Texas, a name change and an air certificate validity issue came first before any flight would take off.

The carrier went through the Texas Supreme Court in 1970 due to other airlines taking legal actions against WN in relation to nonconformities in federal market regulation.

By the end of the year, the US Supreme Court declined to review the case and the company obtained its air operator certificate from the state of Texas.

Months later, the airline changed its name to Southwest Airlines and established Dallas as its headquarters.

On June 18, it flew for the first time inaugurating two routes: DAL-IAH and DAL-SAT.

Photo: Southwest Airlines’ file.

With only three Boeing 737-200, WN carried 61 flights for DAL-IAH, 23 trips between DAL-SAT, and 16 flights on its SAT-IAT route in its first year.

Famous Boeing 737 fleet


The company was the owner of four Boeing 737 aircraft but decided to operate three, leaving one grounded in 1970.

When WN registered operating losses during 1971 and 1972, it sold all airplanes to Frontier Airlines (F9) to have liquidity for payroll and further expenses.

However, The carrier’s fleet management to serve three cities made WN earn the standard of the “ten-minute turn,” which was further recognized with the later addition of other cities and airports extending beyond Texas.

Photo: Southwest Airlines’ file.

Special 40th anniversary of WN’s first flight


On June 18, 2011, WN donated its introductory Boeing 737-300 to the Frontiers of Flight Museum to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the airline’s first service.

The -300 model started operations in 1984 when the carrier incorporated other Boeing 737 types to carry long-haul operations.

Sometime later, the Dallas-based Museum would transform the aircraft into a premier historical exhibit called The Spirit of Kitty Hawk.

Photo: Frontiers of Flight Museum’s file.

Visitors can go aboard the plane to see the cabin and walk through it. But the experience is enhanced with an interactive exhibition of memorabilia and original art.

In addition, the Spirit of Kitty Hawk features items from the personal collections of WN’s founder, Herb Kelleher, and of the first female president of a major airline in the industry, Colleen Barrett.

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