Southwest Airlines Celebrates 50 Years Since First Commercial Flight

50 Years Ago Southwest Airlines Began Commerical Flights

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:

Year 49 and Present Day:

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’ Future:

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? 😏

Image Credits

Southwest 737 MAX: N8728Q | Boeing 737-8 MAX | Southwest Airlines | Michael Rodeback | JetPhotos
Southwest branding images:
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!


Yay! Congrats SWA!!


Maybe, once, twice, or 26 times (I think you might now know my airline of choice)

Congrats to them on 50 years, and I hope their next 50 are as successful as the previous ones!


Same, nearly everywhere I fly is Southwest or Alaska (but mostly Southwest since I live in Texas). I always have great experiences with them. The only time I had a “bad” experience with them was when the huge snowstorm hit this year in February, and we had a connecting flight through Vegas to Seattle but got stuck in Vegas. But even that turned out well since I got to spend the night in Vegas lol. The only time I had a problem with Southwest, it was out of their control and even then they gave us coupons for our next flight.

TL;DR: Even when Southwest has no control over the situation, they still manage to make up for the delays and cancellations.

Congrats Southwest on 50 years!


Just flew southwest today back from Hawaii to PHX!

they had the check in area at Kahului OGG all decorated

Departure from OGG and then dep from SJC


What a big anniversary for Southwest! It looks like they might even have a special gift coming in the near future (likely tomorrow) as well!

(Source unknown)
This was spotted recently and has been circling around in the aviation community past couple hours


I got DM’d that on Twitter literally four minutes ago lol

Looks amazing.

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Yeah the image is brand new. It looks like maybe Ohio One or some form of America special livery, not sure what it will be called though. It might even be a thank you America commemorative livery. It does look like an -800 too

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Damn that livery looks 🔥

I wanna fly on it

Anyone know the reg

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I did some digging and I was able to find out two possible registrations, N8670A and N8686A. N8670A could be it since it’s been in DAL since June 6th, unless that’s for maintenance, leaving the other candidate, N8686A, which has been in IND since May 23rd, is the other candidate. If the source for the photo could be located it would be obvious which one it is.

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Good work detective Luke

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Redeye ferry flight

I literally saw that about 10 minutes ago too

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I guess I missed that one. Considering I’ve seen many Southwest planes go to GEG to get repainted it’s most likely that one.

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I’m assuming it’s N500WR because Spokane has a taxiway K (K signage can be seen in photo) which is right in front of the hangar area, and has concrete all around the hangars which is why we only see one line of blue lights. Also, considering that N500WR is ferrying from Spokane to on a redeye, and was in an old livery tho was only delivered in 2014… there’s a high chance, that if the livery we see in the photo provided is real, this is the aircraft.

I think I have too much time right now and need to go to bed…


I betcha that plane will fly the so-called “Texas two step” where it flies between the original 3 southwest cities

I’ve flown with them 51 times in just under 14 years. They are always welcoming and almost allow me to meet and chat with the pilots. Service is wonderful and they really are my favorite airline. Happy birthday to them and best wishes.

Congrats to SWA!!! ♥️ 💙 💛


Amen 🙌🏻🙌🏻

Anyways congrats SWA!!


Happy birthday Southwest Airlines your one of my favorite airline

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