The airline industry mourns the death of Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines, who passed away on Thursday, January 3rd.

Kelleher, larger than life, launched Southwest in 1971, creating the first major US low cost carrier, and then guiding it into disruption of air transport deregulation and into the modern era.

Kelleher is universally regarded as a true visionary in American aviation and it is difficult to overestimate his legacy in the industry. Among the innovations that will be associated forever are:

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Happy employees (and customers)

Controversial labor relations have been the hallmark of the modern airline industry, but this was not the case in southwestern Kelleher. He thought happy employees would lead to happy customers.

"Your employees go first," quotes Kelleher, a line often cited. "And if you treat your employees properly, guess what? Your customers come back and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with the employees and the rest comes from it.

Indeed, passengers often cite the friendly and friendly employees of the Southwest, as the Southwest's strong growth enjoyed an excellent reputation for customer service from the 1980s to the 2000s.

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Highlighting Kelleher's close ties with the unions, the Southwest Pilots' Union released a one-page ad in the US that he read when he stepped down as president of the company. in 2008. The message of this ad: "Thank You Herb!"

Low price

Southwest started at a time when most major airlines were "full-service" carriers. But Southwest took a different direction under Kelleher.

The Southwest business card has become the low-priced business card. However, Southwest has avoided first-class seats and has maintained a first-come, first-served, equality policy that continues today. .

Critics have termed this boarding process a "cattle call," but Southwest's rates have earned it many converts over its first three decades.

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Southwest was known for aggressive pricing of its cheapest seats, especially when it penetrated new markets. This required incumbent carriers to match Southwest's fares, sometimes to the detriment of their usual rivals who could not generate a profit by matching their rates to those of Southwest.

This was a new phenomenon for the US airline industry, which had gone from the era of strong regulations to modernity, as a result of the 1978 Deregulation of Airlines Act.

When Southwest entered new markets, its presence was so pronounced that the US Department of Transport described the term "Southwest Effect" in a 1993 report that examined the effect of airfares tariffs on airlines. low-cost carriers expanding.

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Southwest, helped by favorable fuel hedging contracts, has continued to position itself as the US leader in low fares in the current decade. But today, its American, Delta and United competitors are less competitive, which has reduced the costs associated with bankruptcy filings since 1978. Today, these carriers respect or even lower Southwest fares.

But Southwest's low-cost approach has spawned a new wave of "very low cost carriers" (ULCCs). The airlines, which include the US carriers Spirit, Frontier and Spirit, are developing today using much of the tactics developed by Southwest.

No frills

Southwest's open seating concept has never been chosen among its US competitors, but many of its other low-cost outlets have done so.

Southwest offered peanuts instead of the full meals that were usual in recent decades. Southwest insinuated that customers who book the cheapest rates were essentially stealing peanuts – making the lack of a meal worthy of compromise.

When Southwest announced earlier this year that it would stop serving peanuts to protect passengers with severe peanut allergies, this decision was the focus of national news as the carrier was preparing a snack that was almost synonymous with Southwest .

Even the lack of Southwest's first-class seats offered another no-frills model for modern low-cost carriers. A number of low-cost carriers have followed Southwest's coach approach, with European giant Ryanair being one of the most prominent.

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Efficiency

Southwest Kelleher has relied on efficiency like few other airlines of its time.

To begin with, Southwest used only one type of aircraft: the Boeing 737. By sticking to one type of aircraft, Southwest reduced the complexity of everything from maintenance to planning through to Training. Boeing 737's Southwest-only fleet plan continued today, although it briefly had Boeing 717s in its fleet following the acquisition of AirTran Airways in 2010.

The "10 minute turn" is another feature of the Southwest, a reference to how long a plane would stay at a gate between flights. The sooner an airplane could fly back, the greater the number of flights (and revenues) on the Southwest program.

"Our planes take the bridges, board the passengers and leave in 10 minutes or less," Kelleher said in a 1982 commercial, heading for a southwesterly flight, but the cabin door was closed without him.

Of course, the 10-minute shift was an ambitious goal several decades ago. Today, Southwest turn times have increased as it grows and expands in increasingly congested airports, but the airline is still trying some of the industry's fastest turns.

Southwest has weathered another trend in the industry using a "point-to-point" network of links for its flights. This is the most common method used by modern airlines, according to which most passengers traveling between medium and small markets have to go to a large hub to connect to their final destination.

Instead, Southwest simply added flights between cities where he thought he could make money, often flying many flights throughout the day. That did not mean that the southwestern flyers were not connecting, but were not going on a turntable.

By spreading flight schedules over a national network, Southwest has been able to allocate its costs and resources more equitably. As the Southwest has developed, some cities are essentially functioning as hubs. Nevertheless, Southwest refuses to turn its busy bases into a hub – a hold back since Kelleher's time.

Secondary airports

If your favorite airport is a so-called "secondary airport", you can thank Southwest Kelleher for integrating it into the general public.

These types of airports – think Chicago Midway instead of Chicago O'Hare or Oakland instead of San Francisco – have been one of the pillars of Southwest's growth under Kelleher.

In fact, the history of Southwest is inextricably linked to the secondary airport of his hometown: Dallas Love Field. The airline began flying in 1971 with service between three Texas cities (Dallas Love, Houston and San Antonio), its status as an intra-Texas airline protecting it from restrictions imposed by federal commercial airlines.

In 1974, the new Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) opens. Southwest resisted, believing that its business model based on frequent short flights would be disrupted if Dallas customers were to make a longer trip to DFW. This has turned into a battle of several decades to expand access to Love Field.

Beyond Love Field, however, secondary airports have been key to Southwest's growth strategy since its founding in the 2000s. The least congested airports have not generally experienced as much financial backlog as their counterparts more great; some also offer lower operating costs.

Instead of Chicago's O Hare, Southwest chose Midway when it expanded to Chicago in 1985. When Southwest first developed in the Northeast in the 1990s, it chose airports like Baltimore (instead of Washington Reagan or Dulles), Providence, Rhode Island and Manchester. , New Hampshire (instead of Boston). Even in the New York area, Southwest's 1999 debut took place at Long Island's MacArthur Airport, a development that re-energized the sleepy airport about 90 km from downtown Manhattan.

Southwest was the pioneer of this trend in the United States under Kelleher, but the airline has moved away from this trend, becoming one of the largest in the world. Southwest is still the dominant airline in Chicago Midway and Houston Hobby, but is looking more and more at the major airports popular with business travelers. Today, the southwest serves San Francisco and Oakland. Its presence on Long Island / MacArthur declined while it developed in New York LaGuardia and Newark Liberty. Similarly, Southwest's addition of Boston in 2009 heralded a potential reduction in time in Providence and Manchester.

But Southwest 's secondary airport strategy is still relevant in today' s low – budget carriers, as can be seen by anyone flying Spirit in Niagara Falls. New York (instead of Buffalo) or Allegiant in Mesa, Arizona (instead of Phoenix).

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