Southwest Airlines has carried more customers than any other U.S. airline since August 2006 for combined domestic and international passengers according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Southwest Airlines is one of the world's most profitable airlines, posting a profit for the 35th consecutive year in January 2008.
Some of the incumbent airlines of the time (Braniff, Trans-Texas, and Continental Airlines) initiated legal action, and thus began a three-year legal battle to keep Air Southwest on the ground. Air Southwest eventually prevailed in the Texas Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld Air Southwest's right to fly in Texas. The decision became final on December 7, 1970, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case without comment. That date is considered by many to be the de facto beginning of deregulation in the airline industry.
The story of Southwest's legal fight was turned into a children's book, Gumwrappers and Goggles by Winifred Barnum in 1983. In the story, TJ Love, a small jet, is taken to court by two larger jets to keep him from their hangar, and then to try and stop him from flying at all. Taken to court, TJ Love's right to fly is upheld after an impassioned plea from The Lawyer. While no company names are mentioned in the book, TJ Love's colors are those of Southwest Airlines, and the two other jets are colored in Braniff and Continental's colors. The Lawyer is designed to resemble Herb Kelleher. The book was adapted into a stage musical, Show your Spirit, sponsored by Southwest Airlines, and played only in towns serviced by the airline.
Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher studied California-based Pacific Southwest Airlines extensively and used many of the airline's ideas to form the corporate culture at Southwest, and even on early flights used the same "Long Legs And Short Nights" theme for stewardesses on board typical Southwest Airlines flights.
The airline adopted the first profit-sharing plan in the U.S. airline industry in 1973. Through this plan and others, employees own about 10 percent of the company stock.
The airline is about 87 percent unionized. The pilots are represented by the Southwest Airlines Pilots' Association, a union separate from the much larger ALPA union.
The start of service in June 1971 was accomplished with three 737-200 aircraft; a fourth was added in September of the same year.
Over time, Southwest has added improved 737 variants but has stayed within the Boeing 737 family to hold down operating costs. Because this technique simplified training, maintenance, and ground operations, it revolutionized the industry's approach to building aircraft fleets.
In January 2005, Southwest retired its last 737-200, the oldest type in its fleet. To celebrate "putting the -200s to bed", selected employees donned Southwest pajamas for an early morning flight to celebrate the final landing at Dallas Love.
Southwest turned its first annual profit in 1973, and has done so every year since — a record unmatched by any other commercial airline. Southwest has used financial techniques such as fuel hedging to bolster its profitability and counteract many of the fiscal disadvantages of operating an airline.
By 1979 Southwest flew to all of the cities they currently serve in Texas, along with Beaumont. Interstate service began to New Orleans in 1979, and Albuquerque in 1980. Oklahoma City and Tulsa were added shortly thereafter. In 1981 Southwest co-launched the 737-300 with USAir. In 1982 the first expansion beyond the Texas area took Southwest to the West Coast, adding Phoenix, Las Vegas and San Diego. In late 1984 the 737-300 was placed into service. Chicago Midway and St. Louis service began in March 1985, spreading low-fare service into Midwest markets.
Southwest hired its first African-American pilot, Louis Freeman, in 1980. In 1992, he was named the first African-American chief pilot of any major U.S. airline.
Southwest Airlines earned a reputation for being very aggressive and proactive about containing fuel costs as a key to maintaining profit margins.
In 2000, Southwest said it had "adjusted its hedging strategy" to "utilize financial derivative instruments... when it appears the Company can take advantage of market conditions." Additionally, the company hoped to "take advantage of historically low jet fuel prices." SEC statement Southwest's decision proved to be a prescient and, for a time, an extremely profitable effort.
To lock in the low historical prices Southwest believed were occurring at that time, Southwest used a mixture of swaps and call options to secure fuel in future years while paying prices they believed were low. The company also stated that with this new strategy, it faced substantial risks if the oil prices continued to go down, but they did not. Previously, Southwest had been more interested in reducing volatility of oil prices. Now, they hoped to reap large gains from oil price appreciation.
In 2001, Southwest again substantially increased its hedging in response to projections of increased crude oil prices. The use of these hedges helped Southwest maintain its profitability during the oil shocks related to the Iraq War and later Hurricane Katrina.
According to an annual report, here is the company's fuel hedge for forward years ("approximate" per barrel basis, as of mid-January): 2007 is 95% hedged at $50/barrel; 2008 is 65% hedged at $49/barrel; 2009 is over 50% hedged at $51/barrel; 2010 is over 25% hedged at $63/barrel; 2011 is over 15% hedged at $64/barrel; 2012 is 15% hedged at $63/barrel.
According to its 2006 Annual Report, Southwest paid low prices for fuel thanks to the benefit of fuel hedges:
These are well below market rates, which Southwest factors into its low operating costs. However, this below-market oil cost will not continue forever; executives have said that Southwest faces increased exposure to the raw oil market every year. This is not a good sign for the airline, which is also facing tough competition from US legacy carriers that have lowered costs through bankruptcy. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly has decided to slow the airline's growth as a response to this cost.
Some analysts have argued against the style of profit-motivated energy trading Southwest did between 1999 and the early 2000s. They suggested that rather than hedging business risk (such as a hedge on weather to a farmer), Southwest was simply speculating on energy prices, without a formal rationale for doing so.
At present, Southwest has enjoyed much positive press (and a strong financial boost) from its energy trading skills. However, while most analysts agree that volatility hedges can be beneficial, speculative hedges are not widely supported as a continuing strategy for profits.
All of Southwest's 737-700s have blended winglets. Additionally, Southwest began installing blended winglets on up to 90 of its 737-300 aircraft beginning in mid-January 2007, with AAR of Indianapolis, Indiana, accomplishing the work. The first modified aircraft, N368SW, resumed service on February 22, 2007.
In 2008, Southwest contracted with Pratt and Whitney to supply the proprietary Ecopower water pressure-washing system, which allows Southwest to clean grime and contaminants off engine turbine blades while the aircraft is parked at the gate. Frequent use of the Ecopower system is estimated to improve fuel efficiency for Southwest and other customers by about 1.9%.
Southwest.com is the number one airline web site for online revenue, according to PhoCusWright. Nielsen/Netratings also reports that Southwest.com is the largest airline site in terms of unique visitors. In 2006, 70 percent of flight bookings and 73 percent of revenue was generated from bookings on southwest.com. As of June 2007, 69 percent of Southwest passengers checked in for their flights online or at a kiosk.
On March 6, 2008, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspectors submitted documents to the United States Congress, alleging that Southwest allowed 117 of its aircraft to fly carrying passengers despite the fact that the planes were "not airworthy" according to air safety investigators. In some cases the planes were allowed to fly for up to 30 months after the inspection deadlines had passed, rendering them unfit to fly. Records indicate that thousands of passengers were flown on aircraft deemed unsafe by federal standards. Southwest declined comment at the time, and US Representative James Oberstar advised a hearing would be held.
On March 12, 2008, Southwest Airlines voluntarily grounded 44 planes to check if they needed further inspection. Federal Aviation Administration claims that Southwest Airlines flew almost 60,000 flights without fuselage inspection. Southwest Airlines could be facing a $10.2 million fine if they violated FAA regulations. There have also been rumors that the FAA knew about Southwest Airlines violations but decided not to fine the airline because it would disrupt the service of Southwest.
After the opening of Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Airport, which was the original name of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in 1974, Southwest was the only airline to remain at Love Field.
When airline deregulation came in 1978, Southwest began planning to offer interstate service from Love Field. This caused a number of interest groups affiliated with Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport, including the city of Fort Worth, to push the Wright Amendment through Congress to restrict such flights. Under the restrictions of the amendment, Southwest, and all other airlines, were barred from operating, or even ticketing passengers on flights from Love Field to destinations beyond the states immediately surrounding Texas. In effect, to travel through Love Field, a passenger and luggage would have to deplane and fly on a separate ticket, on a separate aircraft.
The Wright Amendment's restrictions did not apply to aircraft configured with 56 or fewer seats. In 2000, Legend Airlines attempted to operate long distance business-class flights using older DC-9s with 56 seats, but did not have the resources to survive American's legal and marketing attacks, and quickly ceased operations. Southwest did not use the 56 seat loophole, even with its market strength at Love Field and the availability of more modern regional jets such as the CRJ-700/900 and the Embraer ERJ 145 family.
Southwest's efforts to repeal or even alter the Wright Amendment were met with opposition from American Airlines and Dallas Ft. Worth International Airport. Both American Airlines and DFW contended that repeal of the Wright Amendment restrictions would cripple DFW, while Southwest contended that repeal of the Wright Amendment would be beneficial to both Love Field and DFW. Continental Airlines has a successful hub and spoke operation at Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport despite unrestricted competition from Southwest at Houston Hobby Airport.
In 1997, Southwest's effort began to pay off with the Shelby Amendment, which added the states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Kansas to the list of permissible destination states. Southwest began offering non-stop service between Dallas Love Field and Birmingham, Alabama, which it could not do prior to the enactment of the Shelby Amendment.
In late 2004, Southwest began actively seeking the full repeal of the Wright Amendment restrictions. In late 2005, Missouri was added to the list of permissible destination states via a transportation appropriations bill. New service from Love Field to St. Louis and Kansas City quickly started in December 2005.
At a June 15, 2006 joint press conference held by the City of Dallas, the City of Ft. Worth, Dallas-Ft. Worth Airport, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines, the said parties announced a tentative agreement on how the Wright Amendment was to be phased out. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed Wright-related legislation on September 29, 2006, and it was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 13, 2006. The new law became effective on October 16, 2006, when the FAA Administrator notified Congress that any new aviation operations occurring as a result of the new law could be accommodated without adverse effect to the airspace.
Southwest started selling tickets under the new law on October 19, 2006. Highlights of the agreement are the immediate elimination of through-ticketing prohibitions, and unrestricted flights to domestic destinations eight years after the legislation takes effect. Because of the agreement, nationwide service became possible for Southwest; the law also defined the maximum number of gates at Love Field. Southwest controls all of the Love Field gates except for the two each that American and Continental control. The future of the Legend Airlines terminal for use by commercial airlines is in doubt because of the limit on number of gates.
Southwest remains the dominant passenger airline at Love Field, maintains its headquarters, hangars, and flight simulators adjacent thereto, and reflects its ties to Love Field in its ticker symbol (LUV).
Despite the restrictions on its home base, Southwest proceeded to build a successful business on an unusual model: flying multiple short, quick trips into the secondary (more efficient and less costly) airports of major cities, using primarily only one aircraft type, the Boeing 737.
Southwest does not use the more traditional "hub and spoke" flight routing system of most other major airlines, preferring instead the "Point to Point" system. Currently, Southwest serves 64 cities in 32 states, with more than 3,300 flights a day. It has notably large operations in certain airports. Las Vegas's McCarran International Airport has non-stop service to all but eight of Southwest's locations. Other airports with large Southwest operations include Chicago Midway International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Orlando International Airport, Tampa International Airport and Houston's William P. Hobby Airport, with all of these airports operating non-stop flights to more than half of the Southwest system. An average of 80 percent of Southwest passengers are local passengers, meaning only 20 percent of all passengers are connecting passengers. This is significantly higher than most airlines, where passengers often connect in hub cities.
As part of its effort to control costs, Southwest tries to use secondary airports which generally have lower costs and may, or may not be, more convenient to travelers than the major airports to the same destinations. For example, Southwest flies to Midway Airport in Chicago, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and West Palm Beach in South Florida, Love Field in Dallas, Hobby Airport in Houston, Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Manchester, New Hampshire and T. F. Green Airport in Providence, Rhode Island, instead of O'Hare International Airport, Miami International Airport, DFW International, IAH Intercontinental in Houston, and Logan International Airport in New England, respectively. Southwest also serves the New York Metropolitan area at Islip Airport.
Southwest makes exceptions to the philosophy of serving secondary airports by flying into some larger airports in major cities, such as Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, Lambert St. Louis International Airport, Orlando International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Airport, Philadelphia International, Denver International Airport, Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International and Pittsburgh International. In the Baltimore-Washington market, Southwest has limited flights into one major airport (Washington Dulles International Airport) while maintaining their east-coast focus city at the region's other major airport, Baltimore-Washington International Airport. In the Los Angeles market Southwest flies to both the major city airport, Los Angeles International (LAX), and to three of the four secondary airports, Burbank-Bob Hope Airport, John Wayne Airport, and LA/Ontario International Airport (it does not serve Long Beach Airport). With the restoration of service out of San Francisco International Airport on August 26, 2007, Southwest now serves all three airports in the San Francisco Bay Area; the other two being Oakland International Airport and San Jose International Airport.
Southwest withdrew from Houston Intercontinental in favor of using smaller airports with fewer operations nearby. Besides Houston (Intercontinental) and Denver (Stapleton International), the airline has withdrawn completely from airports in Beaumont, Texas and Detroit, Michigan (Detroit City Airport).
The airline also once served Stapleton International Airport in Denver but withdrew in 1986 because of excessive ATC delays during poor weather exacerbated by minimal separation between the runways. Southwest returned to Denver in 2006 with service to the new Denver International Airport. Southwest is expanding its Denver service faster than it has at any previous Southwest city at the cost of service to Orlando, Kansas City and Baltimore.
On October 5, 2006, Southwest Airlines started operations at Washington-Dulles Airport (IAD) with 12 daily flights from two gates in Concourse B.
Southwest is the largest intrastate airline in California, with 694 flights total in the state, 370 of which are intra-California.
Until the aforementioned service begins at Minneapolis/St Paul, a large void persists in the mid northern part of the US stretching from Wisconsin to Montana/Wyoming and also Alaska. According to the airline's route map, 16 states are currently without Southwest service in their cities.
In 2005, Southwest proposed servicing Seattle using Boeing Field, which is smaller but closer to downtown than Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. However, King County leaders refused to allow a terminal to be built or service to begin.
While other low cost carriers such as AirTran, Frontier, and JetBlue serve international destinations, Southwest does not serve any destinations outside the United States. However, Southwest has not ruled out the possibility of an international market in the future. Mexico, Central America, Canada, and the Caribbean are within the 3,365 nm range of their 737-700 aircraft, as are England and Ireland (a flight from BWI Thurgood Marshall International Airport to London's Heathrow Airport is 3,158 nm), although, on westbound flights from the latter, the aircraft may have to stop for fuel. In July 2007, CEO Gary Kelly stated that because of shrinking profits, the airline will likely slow its rate of expansion.
|City||Daily departures||Number of gates||Nonstop cities served||Service established|
|Los Angeles (LAX)||128||11||19||1982|
Effective November 2, 2008
Effective January 11, 2009
(+) seasonal discontinuation
Note: Also effective January 11, 2009, Southwest will add 6 daily flights, and cut 196 overall. Such changes are mainly because of high fuel costs, the uncertainty of the economy, and the fact that the beginning months of the year traditionally are slower travel months than those preceding them. .
The success and profitability of Southwest's business model led to a common trend being named after the company, the Southwest Effect. Since Southwest's original mission in Texas was to make it less expensive than driving between two points (in the early 1970s, during the first major energy cost crisis in the U.S.), it developed a template for entering markets at rates that allowed the airline to be profitable, yet only on the basis of lean operations and high aircraft use. The key concept to the Southwest Effect is that when a low-fare carrier (or any aggressive and innovative company) enters a market, the market itself changes, and usually grows dramatically. For example, when fares drop by 50% from their historical averages, the number of new customers in that market may not just double, but actually quadruple, or more.
Southwest has been a major inspiration to other low-cost airlines, and its business model has been repeated many times around the world. Europe's easyJet and Ryanair are two of the best known airlines to follow Southwest's business strategy in that continent (though easyJet operates two different aircraft models today). Other airlines with a business model based on Southwest's system include Canada's WestJet, Malaysia's AirAsia (the first and biggest LCC in Asia), Qantas's Jetstar (although Jetstar now operates three aircraft types),Thailand's Nok Air and Mexican's Volaris.
In a departure from its traditional "go it alone" strategy, Southwest entered into its first domestic codesharing arrangement with ATA, which enabled Southwest Airlines to serve ATA markets in Hawaii, Washington D.C., and New York City.
In late 2005, ATA secured $100 million in additional financing from the firm of Matlin Patterson, and Southwest's original deal with ATA was modified such that Southwest no longer retained the 27.5% stake (or any other financial interest) in ATA. The codeshare arrangement expanded to include all of ATA's 17 destinations and all of Southwest's 63 destinations. In 2006, Southwest's pilot union approved a codeshare sideletter to their contract with limitations on the growth of this and other codeshare agreements. While these restrictions today are minor, outsourcing remains a growing concern in the union's current contract negotiations.
During 2006, Southwest Airlines began marketing ATA only flights. ATA's dependence on the Southwest network continued to grow in 2006, and at the time of ATA's demise in April 2008, the airline offered over 70 flights a week to Hawaii from Southwest's hubs in PHX, LAS, LAX, and OAK. Additional connecting service was available to many other cities across the United States. Plans had been announced for ATA to offer exclusive international service for Southwest by 2010, but were scratched when ATA abruptly ended operations on April 3, 2008. There was no plan to open the ATA/Southwest codeshare to ATA's sister carriers, North American Airlines or World Airways, even though they are co-owned by the same corporate entity created from ATA Holdings.
The ATA/Southwest codeshare was terminated when ATA filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 3, 2008. As of 4:00 A.M. EDT on April 3, ATA discontinued all operations.
Unlike other major airlines, Southwest allows passengers to change reservations without additional cost. While this provides flexibility to customers, Southwest does not allow same-day standby travel on a different flight (usually a free service at other airlines) without upgrading to maximum fare.
Customers are not assigned seats; rather, they are assigned to one of three "boarding groups" depending on their check-in time (earlier check-ins get to board earlier), and are left to choose their own seats on the plane, which helps the airline to board passengers faster. At the May 2006 shareholders meeting, Southwest management announced a study of potentially adopting an assigned-seating system in 2008, as part of a reservations-technology overhaul now under way. As of November 8, 2007 Southwest has implemented an update to their Boarding Procedure in which passengers are now assigned their Boarding letter (A, B or C) along with a number which provides them a specific place in line (Example: A32). The idea behind this is to allow customers to not have to wait in line and spend their time relaxing or catching up on work. They have also introduced Business Select fares, which adds a guaranteed "A" group boarding pass, extra Rapid Rewards credit, and a drink. As a result of the boarding policy, several independent companies offered automatic check-in services for Southwest. These companies took customers' orders for check-in ahead of the 24 hour mark (when the airline makes a flight available for online check-in) and transmitted the necessary data for check-in to Southwest as soon as the airline opens up online check-in for a particular flight. The result of this service was that people using it generally get the first boarding group (known as the "A" boarding group). Southwest has not embraced this practice and in fact sued one company (boardfirst.com) in federal district court in Dallas for impermissible commercial use of its website and succeeded in getting the company shut down in October 2007. As a result of litigation or threats thereof, the last early check-in services indefinitely ceased operations on September 15, 2008.
Southwest historically allowed three pieces of luggage to be checked in free as opposed to the limit of two on the domestic flights of some other U.S. airlines. Starting January 29, 2008, passengers will be able to check up to two bags for free. A third bag will be checked for a $25 . You may also check a 4th through 9th bag for a charge of $50 a piece and any other pieces after that are $110 a piece.
Prior to the 2000s, Southwest served smaller meals than the meals served by full service airlines, with shorter flights receiving single small snacks and soft drinks, and longer flights (with a duration of about 3 hours or more) meriting "Snack Pack"s of prepackaged goods. In the 2000s these meals in a bag typically exceed the food served on full-service airlines like United Airlines or American Airlines. Southwest also offers free in-flight beverages (excluding alcohol). There is no video entertainment. Southwest is known for colorful boarding announcements and crews that burst out in song. The singing is unusual, and is quite popular among customers, but has been noted by some travel critics as being offensive and intrusive.
Southwest maintained excellent customer satisfaction ratings; in 2006, according to the Department of Transportation December year end operating statistics, Southwest ranked number one (lowest number of complaints) of all U.S. airlines for customer complaints, with 0.18 per 100,000 customers enplaned. Southwest Airlines has consistently received the fewest ratio of complaints per passengers boarded of all major U.S. carriers that have been reporting statistics to the Department of Transportation (DOT) since September 1987, which is when the DOT began tracking Customer Satisfaction statistics and publishing its Air Travel Consumer Report.
In the past, Double Rapid Rewards credits were awarded for trips booked online, but this policy was modified at the end of 2003, at which time the bonus was reduced to one half credit for each segment booked online (so a round trip booked online would be eligible for three Rapid Rewards credits). The bonus for online booking was discontinued completely in April 2005.
Prior to February 2006, reward travel was subject to blackout dates but not capacity controls: one could use a reward to travel on any flight for which seats were available, provided it was not on one of the five blackout dates. In February 2006, these policies were reversed: the blackout dates were eliminated, but capacity controls were instituted, limiting the quantity of seats available to those traveling on reward credits.
In early 2006, Southwest expanded its codeshare agreement with ATA Airlines and allowed redemption of award tickets on Hawaii flights at the rate of two awards per round trip flight. On April 3, 2008, ATA airlines ceased all flights due to bankruptcy, including the codeshare service to Hawaii.
Since the 1990s, Southwest has been running a television ad campaign based on the phrase "Wanna get away?" The commercials present comical, embarrassing situations in which people find themselves wanting to "get away". Most ads are accompanied by the sound clip "[ding] You are now free to move about the country"; self-parody of the in-flight announcement that "you are now free to move about the cabin".
The Southwest Airlines television commercial, “Flight Attendant,” was named in Adweek’s ‘Best Spots’ in August 2006.
Instead of a lawsuit, the CEOs for both companies staged an arm wrestling match. Held at the now demolished Dallas Sportatorium (the famed wrestling facility) and set for two out of three rounds, the loser of each round was to pay $5,000 to the charity of their choice, with the winner gaining the use of the trademarked phrase. A promotional video was created showing the CEOs "training" for the bout (with CEO Herb Kelleher being helped up during a sit up where a cigarette and glass of whiskey (Wild Turkey 101) was waiting) and distributed among the employees and as a video press release along with the video of the match itself. Herb Kelleher lost the match for Southwest, with Stevens Aviation winning the rights to the phrase. Kurt Herwald, CEO of Stevens Aviation, immediately granted the use of "Just Plane Smart" to Southwest Airlines. The net result was both companies having use of the trademark, $15,000 going to charity and a healthy dose of goodwill publicity for both companies.
Concerns attributed to labor unrest and complaints by the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU) representing Southwest flight attendants were reportedly a factor in the recent resignation of Kelleher's hand-picked replacement as CEO. Jim Parker resigned in July 2004 and was replaced by Chief Financial Officer Gary Kelly.
The Southwest Airlines fleet consists of the following 539 aircraft as of August 15, 2008:
|Boeing 737-300||187||137||Short-medium haul||Launch customer |
90 will be fitted with blended winglets
Largest operator of the Boeing 737-300
|Boeing 737-500||25||122||Short haul||Launch customer|
|Boeing 737-700||327 |
|137||All routes||Launch customer |
All fitted with blended winglets
Largest operator of the Boeing 737-700
The airline operates more Boeing 737s in its fleet than any other airline in the world; Southwest is often cited as an example of an airline streamlining operations by having only one type of aircraft. However, Southwest operated leased 727-200 aircraft during the late-1970s and again in the mid-1980s and subsidiary TranStar Airlines operated DC-9s and MD-80s during the mid-1980s. Southwest has been a launch customer for all three of the Boeing 737 variants it currently operates, and was the first airline to put both the Model 500 and next-generation Model 700 into service. Southwest has a mix of old and new aircraft with both its "classic" and "next generation" 737 aircraft.
As of September 2008, Southwest has an average fleet age of 13.5 years, and fly an average of about 7 flights per day. The average aircraft trip length is with an average duration of one hour and 48 minutes. This means the daily utilization of each plane is, on average, 12 hours and 36 minutes.
Southwest's seats are the same width as any other operator of 737s in the United States. However seats are approximately one inch narrower than Airbus A320 series operated by low cost carriers such as Frontier Airlines, JetBlue, Virgin America, USA 3000, and several other competitors. Southwest's seat pitch averages between 32 and , which compares to average of 31 to for U.S. domestic airlines. However, low-fare carrier JetBlue Airways offers from to 36 inches.
Southwest's 737-300 and 737-500 aircraft are not equipped with glass cockpit technology, as the 737-300s, 737-400s, and 737-500s of some other airlines are. Instead, the flight decks are fitted with analog gauges, more similar to those of the earlier 737-100 and 737-200 variants. Note the analog attitude deviation indicator (ADI) and horizontal situation indicator (HSI) (the blue-colored instrument and one below it) in this Southwest 737-3H4 and note the electronic versions of the same instruments (EADI and EHSI) in this United Airlines 737-322 There are electronic displays throughout the cockpit of the 737-700 and other "Next Generation" 737 variants, and Southwest has programmed their 737-7H4 models to emulate the appearance of the 737-300 and 737-500 for standardization purposes. All three versions of the Boeing 737 that Southwest operates use (HUD) Heads Up Display in the flight deck. This technology consists of a glass panel which folds down on the Captain's side, and displays primary flight information as a hologram.
Since production of the 737-300 and 737-500 has ended, recent Southwest orders have been exclusively for the 737-700 model. Retirements of some older 737-300 models commenced in December 2007 from its original count of 194.
Southwest is the world's largest operator of the 737. Their current active fleet is over 500 aircraft. In terms of total 737 production (all models in history), deliveries of new aircraft from Boeing to Southwest accounts for approximately 9% of total production. Southwest has one of the largest fleets in North America.
|Boeing 737-200||2005||Boeing 737-700||Southwest's first aircraft type|
Southwest's original primary livery was beige and red, with orange on the tail end, and pinstripes of white separating each section of color. The word Southwest appeared in white on the beige portion of the tail. (Although, on the original three 737-200s, from June 1971, on the left side of the plane, the word Southwest was placed along the upper rear portion of the fuselage, with the word Airlines painted on the tail where Southwest is today N21SW On the right side, the word Southwest was in the same place as today, but also had the word Airlines painted on the upper rear portion of the fuselage. N20SW
Southwest introduced the Canyon Blue Fleet in 2001, its first primary livery change in its 30-year history. Spirit One was the first plane painted in the color scheme. The new livery replaces the primary beige color with canyon blue and changes the Southwest text and pinstripes to gold. The pinstripe along the plane is drawn in a more curved pattern instead of the straight horizontal line separating the colors in the original. The original livery is gradually being phased out, but three aircraft will remain in the original livery to commemorate Southwest's original three cities. As of November 16, 2007, Southwest had nearly completed updating the fleet.
Southwest's livery designs exploit the aesthetic appeal of blended winglets as well. The first planes to be fitted with the winglets remain in the plain colored winglet (matching the stripes on the fuselage), but later aircraft to be fitted have winglets with "SOUTHWEST.COM" written on them. All aircraft will eventually be repainted to the ".com" winglets. Special livery aircraft with winglets, such as Shamu, have plain white winglets.
Some Southwest planes feature special themes, rather than the normal livery. These theme planes have been given special names, usually ending in "One". Some of the most well-known examples are:
All special planes prior to Spirit One originally wore the standard beige, red and orange livery colors on the vertical stabilizer and rudder. Subsequent special editions—Maryland One and Slam Dunk One, so far—feature tails with the canyon blue color scheme, and all earlier specials, with the exception of Triple Crown One, have been repainted to match.
Southwest has had three major incidents of note and has never had a passenger fatality due to an accident.