The Special Significance for Southwest That Their Board Decided to Look at Different Aircraft

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said during the carrier’s earnings call that the board had directed him to look at aircraft other than the Boeing 737.

With the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX I wrote back in April that the carrier was looking at the Airbus A220. Back then it could have just been signaling to Boeing that they’d need compensation to stay in the fold. By August though it was certainly real and I suggested that Embraer E2 jets would be a good replacement for the airline’s MAX 7 orders.

The mention though that the airline’s board has directed the CEO to look at other planes has a special significance with Southwest. When Southwest’s founding President Lamar Muse was dismissed by the board in 1978, and co-founder Herb Kelleher was put in active charge, the proximate issue was Muse’s placing an aircraft order with Boeing without consulting the Board. Muse’s position was that he merely spent $1000 on a deposit to give the board an option. Rollin King used that issue to foment discussion that finally pushed Muse out. Lamar Muse’s son started rival Muse Air (dubbed ‘Revenge Air’) which Southwest eventually acquired.

Southwest has been an exclusive Boeing 737 operator since its founding. This was largely the result of serendipity. The 737-200 was always on the table, since Southwest’s business model was based on PSA in California and they were a 737 operator.

Rollin King and Muse were in a meeting at Douglas when Muse placed a call to Boeing and pressured them to do a deal within the hour or else they’d buy from Douglas.

As the Douglas meeting got underway, Boeing called back accepting the deal. Southwest went out and hired pilots from Purdue Airlines which was going out of business. Since Purdue was a DC-9 operator they had to pay to send the pilots who weren’t type-certified to fly the Boeing 737 to the United Airlines training facility in Denver.

The first big investor in Southwest wanted the airline to fly Boeing 707s with skylights so passengers could look up towards the heavens. That plan never came to pass. But Southwest could now buy something other than 737s – and even something other than Boeings.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Another sign that the Boeing MAX is toast. Because no passengers are going to fly them. Even WN – the king of 737 fanboys – is now conceding this point.

  2. Didn’t WN used to have 727s? If so, they haven’t been an exclusive operator of the 737 since their founding.

  3. According to Wikipedia, “Southwest Airlines has only operated Boeing 737 jetliner models, except for a period from 1979 to 1987 when it leased and operated several Boeing 727-200s from Braniff International Airways.”

  4. More self-induced pain by Boeing, but Southwest has more pressing problems right now with pilots spying on people in the bathroom and the lack of resulting actions by the airline.

  5. Not can entirely accurate on the 737 exclusivity since founding. For a brief period WN operated a few 727-200’s. I flew on one as a kid in the early 80’s out of Phoenix,

  6. Southwest CEO and Chairman Kelly claims that he is the one who suggested to the board that it direct management to explore using non Boeing equipment. Using planes from different manufacturers should be something every airline does with every order, but in the case of SWA its much harder to justify. The threat of switching could give SWA more leverage in pursuing its damage claims against Boeing for the grounding of the MAX and delayed deliveries.

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