Image by Michael Rodeback
50 years ago on June 18, 1971, Southwest Airlines inaugurated passenger flights, initially flying from Dallas Love Field (DAL) to Houston Intercontinental (IAH) and San Antonio (SAT) with a fleet of just three Boeing 737-200 aircraft.
Southwest began with 12 daily Dallas to Houston flights and six daily Dallas to San Antonio flights. Once the airline received its fourth aircraft in late September, Southwest ramped up the two intra-Texas routes to 14 daily and seven daily respectively.
At the end of 1971, Southwest began shifting some of its Houston Intercontinental flights to Houston Hobby, which is now an important base and major gateway for Southwest’s international flights in the Caribbean and Central America. Southwest also commenced Houston Hobby to San Antonio flights, which created their iconic triangle routing DAL-HOU-SAT-DAL and back.
Southwest concluded the year 1971 with:
- Four Boeing 737-200s
- Four airports: Dallas Love Field, Houston Hobby, Houston Intercontinental, and San Antonio
Over the last 50 years, Southwest Airlines underwent several changes to modernize its branding:
Today, Southwest Airlines has grown to become one of the largest airlines and even temporarily became the largest airline in the world last year during the pandemic in terms of scheduled seat capacity.
Today, Southwest Airlines consists of:
- 730 Boeing 737 Family aircraft (as of first quarter 2021).
- 110+ destinations across the United States (including Hawaii), Central America, and the Caribbean.
- 350+ Boeing 737 MAXs on order.
From June 18, 2020 through June 18, 2021 - during a pandemic with lower air travel demand - Southwest Airlines demonstrated massive and strategic growth to expand its presence, connect communities, and infiltrate airlines’ hubs which potentially led to lower fares.
This past year alone, Southwest Airlines has added 18 destinations to its route map:
- Bellingham, WA (BLI)
- Bozeman, MT (BZN)
- Chicago O’Hare, IL (ORD)
- Colorado Springs, CO (COS)
- Destin/Fort Walton Beach, FL (VPS)
- Eugene, OR (EUG)
- Fresno, CA (FAT)
- Houston Intercontinental, TX (IAH)
- Jackson, MS (JAN)
- Miami, FL (MIA)
- Montrose, CO (MTJ)
- Myrtle Beach, SC (MYR)
- Palm Springs, CA (PSP)
- Santa Barbara, CA (SBA)
- Sarasota/Bradenton, FL (SRQ)
- Savannah/Hilton Head, GA (SAV)
- Steamboat Springs, CO (HDN)
- Syracuse, NY (SYR)
Along with these 18 destinations came hundreds of routes in Southwest’s existing destinations that complemented growth in the new destinations.
Southwest Airlines has grown immensely over the past 50 years and is continuing to expand its fleet and network. With the return of the 737 MAX 8 and the upcoming introduction of the 737 MAX 7, Southwest will be able to connect more cities and further expand into new markets that weren’t feasible with the Classic/Next Generation Boeing 737s.
In the past decade alone, Southwest became an international airline through the acquisition of AirTran and commenced flights to Hawaii (now operating several dozen routes to the Islands). Who knows what Southwest may do in just the next decade. More transcontinental flights? Canada? Red-eye flights? South America? Europe?
Buy Airbus A220s? Purchase Hawaiian, Avelo, and Breeze? 😏
Southwest 737 MAX: N8728Q | Boeing 737-8 MAX | Southwest Airlines | Michael Rodeback | JetPhotos
Southwest branding images: https://southwest50.com/
Southwest destinations map: Southwest Airlines Newsroom
Have you flown on Southwest over the last 50 years? How was your experience?
Congratulations to Southwest on 50 years!