Herb Kelleher, Southwest Air founder, dies at 87

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FILE PHOTO: March 16, 2005. Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher in the company’s lobby in Dallas. Kelleher,74, the charismatic leader who provided the public face of Southwest Airlines for more than 20 years, will step down as chairman of the Dallas airline next May, 41 years after he help found the company. (Photo by David […]

Herb Kelleher, co-founder and Chairman Emeritus of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, died Thursday at the age of 87.

Southwest issued a statement on its founder’s passing on its website:

“Herb was a pioneer, a maverick, and an innovator. His vision revolutionized commercial aviation and democratized the skies. Herb’s passion, zest for life, and insatiable investment in relationships made lasting and immeasurable impressions on all who knew him and will forever be the bedrock and esprit de corps of Southwest Airlines.

The entire Southwest Family extends our deepest sympathies to Herb’s wife, Joan, and his entire family.”

Kelleher became a Texas icon and made his company into one as well. He transformed Southwest from a small, regional Texas airline into one of the largest domestic carriers in the country.

Southwest pioneered low-fare flying and transformed business flying through a low-cost, short-hop model that started with flights between just three cities within Texas.

Kelleher co-founded Southwest with Rollin King in 1967; legend has it that the two sketched out the plan for the airline on a cocktail napkin. But four years of legal battles ensued, with potential competitors Braniff and Continental obtaining a restraining order against what was then called Air Southwest. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in Southwest’s favor in December, 1970.

The first Southwest flight departed Love Field in June 1971. The airline had just three aircraft and would fly 12 daily routes between Dallas and Houston and Dallas and San Antonio.

When the first flight departed Love Field in June 1971, the airline had just three aircraft and would fly 12 daily routes between Dallas and Houston and Dallas and San Antonio.

The airline quickly became known as the “fun” airline, with painted airplanes and a corporate atmosphere known for its quirkiness.

For more than three decades Southwest was restricted to flying out of Dallas Love Field by the Wright Amendment. The legislation, by U.S. Rep. Jim Wright (R-Fort Worth), was put in place in 1979 to restrict interstate travel from Love Field and ensure that the newly created Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was profitable.

When the Wright Amendment expired in October 2014, Southwest could add nonstop service to an additional 41 states and Washington, D.C.

Kelleher led Southwest Airlines until 2008, but even after he stepped down he remained at the heart of the company’s culture.

In June 2011, the City of Dallas honored him by renaming the roadway approaching the terminal at Dallas Love Field as Herb Kelleher Way.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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