Mourning the Loss of Herb Kelleher

During discussions over drinks in 1966, Herb Kelleher and a friend sketched the rough plan for Southwest Airlines on a cocktail napkin - and it became the formula for the most successful air carrier in history. They began with one simple notion: if you get your passengers to their destinations on time, at the lowest possible fares, and make darn sure they have a good time doing it, people will fly your airline. Over the last 30 years, Kelleher has built Southwest Airlines from a three-airplane cut-rate carrier serving three Texas cities into a company that serves 57 cities with 32,000 employees and more than 350 aircraft. Southwest revolutionized the air carrier industry through innovative management and a strong dedication to customer satisfaction. It has become the only United States air carrier to post a profit annually since 1973. The company features low-fare, no-frills air service with frequent flights of primarily short routes. Costs are kept down by the exclusive use of Boeing 737 aircraft, which allows for low maintenance costs and quicker turnaround times for flights, and by an emphasis on ticketless travel. In May 1988, Southwest was the first airline to win the coveted Triple Crown: Best On-time Record, Best Baggage Handling, and Fewest Customer Complaints. The airline has been awarded this Triple Crown more than thirty times since then. Fortune magazine named Southwest Airlines the “Best Company to Work for in America” in 1997, and Kelleher himself was named Chief Executive of the Year in 1999. Kelleher passed away on January 3, 2019, at the age of 87.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

Subscribe to our E-Newsletter

Get Social with SDASM