The First Big Investor in Southwest Airlines Had Two Ideas That Would Have Changed Air Travel Forever

Herb Kelleher and Rollin King incorporated Air Southwest in 1967, planning to offer flights only within Texas in order to circumvent federal regulation by the Civil Aeronautics Board which kept prices high and limited service.

Braniff, Trans-Texas and Continental Airlines sued to stop the plan, and Air Southwest didn’t win the right to actually fly until the end of 1970.

At the beginning of 1971 they recruited Lamar Muse to run the airline. Of course at the time it wasn’t yet an airline, it had no assets plenty of unpaid legal bills.

The first task was to generate cash and their plan was to raise $1.25 million in debt financing before even selecting aircraft. And over half of that initial debt — $750,000 — was committed by Wesley West, a Texas rancher, oilman, and friend of former President Lyndon Johnson’s. West joined the airline’s board at its next meeting.

When Lamar Muse met with West on a Friday afternoon to pitch the idea, West immediately took ‘the amount that was left’ in the debenture offering. Muse was to pick up the check at West’s home two days later on Sunday morning. They had breakfast that Sunday morning, and Muse recounts in his autobiography that there were two topics of conversation about the airline.

  1. The name. West didn’t like Southwest Airlines, he wanted the carrier to be named “Faith Airlines.” The man headed a religious organization and also named his 40,000 acre property “Faith Ranch.” Muse made the point that people shouldn’t need faith to fly the airline, they would be a high quality airline — and safe.

  2. Their aircraft should have a skylight so passengers could look up towards heaven. West wanted the nascent airline to buy a Boeing 707,

    but only if a hole could be cut out of the top of it where they could install a pressurized, clear plastic chamber. It would be big enough for at least two seats that could be hoisted through the opening on some kind of elevator so their occupants could scan Heaven from 40,000 feet up.

    Muse told him “that this would be a real engineering challenge and that only Boeing could discuss it intelligently with him.” Muse didn’t say no.

In other words Southwest could have become Judah 1 instead of the largest carrier of domestic passengers of any US airline.

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. hahahah Judah 1 Air…. more like by basically violating 9 of the 10 commandments , more like Judas Individual #1 Air

  2. And somehow that pathetic lunatic still had $750k laying around back in 1970 to invest…

    Wait, it’s texas we’re talking about, and as a bona fide religious hypocrite, he probably still had slaves back then.

  3. @Matt – You’re just jealous…you are a pretty sick man with a lot of hate in your soul. I hope you’ve got friends.

  4. Hum…Juan, Ruiz – I would imagine with these names you’re on the top of trump’s list to be kicked out of the country.

    Let me know if you still feel the same way when you’re on the other side of the “beautiful wall” with Texans laughing at you.

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