Southwest’s first route map became a legend unto itself when co-founders Herb Kelleher and Rollin King sketched the original three destinations on a cocktail napkin so many years ago. Now, with Southwest’s ever-expanding reach, the sky is no longer the limit. To celebrate 45 years of progress, let’s peer into the future.
/ Spirit (2001)
Road Warriors / Budgets were slim in the early days, so marketing Employees drove AMC Pacers and Gremlins painted to resemble planes as a guerrilla marketing tactic. Though they later ditched the cars, the Company’s People still power their marketing—each ad features Employees rather than models.
Bottle Service / When a competitor tried to undercut Southwest’s fares in 1973, Southwest countered by giving Customers a bottle of whiskey with their ticket purchase. Today their liquor prices are the lowest in the biz thanks to a frugal distribution model, and free drinks are still up for grabs on special days, like the Company’s birthday, June 18.
No Math Degree Required / Bags flying free,* no change fees,** and a simple frequent-flyer program mean there’s no need to fear the fine print. Since the beginning, Southwest has cultivated an open, honest relationship with Customers. Recently, they invented a word for it: Transfarency.
*First and second checked bags. Weight and size limits apply. **Fare difference may apply.
Giving Back / In 2015, Southwest donated more than $19 million to the Communities they serve, and Employees racked up nearly 150,000 volunteer hours. Now Rapid Rewards Members can join in by donating Rapid Rewards Points to charities such as the Honor Flight Network and Ronald McDonald House Charities.
/ Heart (2014)
Time Savers / They’ve simplified the check-in process more than ever with new self-tagging baggage kiosks, just the latest time-saving innovation from the pioneers of ticketless travel.
Making Connections / As the first airline to offer Wi-Fi from gate to gate, you can work or play at will. Plus: free live TV, city travel guides via the Inflight Entertainment Portal, the occasional Live at 35 onboard concert—and did we mention the vocal talents of the Flight Attendants?
Bold Makeovers / The Company’s new look, unveiled in September 2014, will soon extend into the cabin, with bold blue e-leather seats (built with reduced weight to enhance fuel efficiency) and the Heart logo emblazoned on the silver bulkhead, a nod to their Customer service commitment.
Eco Initiatives / Already an industry leader in greenhouse gas reduction, Southwest achieved a 29 percent improvement in jet fuel efficiency over the past decade (a trend that will continue thanks in part to those shiny new seats), and they continue to ramp up their reliance on renewable energy for ground operations.
Illustration by Steve Stankiewicz
/ Striking uniforms set the Company apart from the beginning. In this 1971 photo, Sandra Force rocks a classic poncho and white go-go boots.
/ Southwest relied on their very own to design uniforms that reflect their new visual identity. Customer Service Agent Lisa Thompson’s blouse shows off the new Bold Blue.
/ Flight Attendant Jabari Smith’s Warm Red tie complements the lightweight moto jacket.
/ Sandra Force, still serving Southwest Customers after all these years, sports one of two Flight Attendant dresses, which highlight the signature brand colors Bold Blue and Warm Red.
Meet the Pilots of the Future
This year, Southwest’s Adopt-A-Pilot program will reach more than 38,000 students nationwide. Once a week for four weeks, Pilots visit classrooms to teach real-world lessons in math, science, and geography; impart values like honesty and tenacity; and dispense highly coveted bags of pretzels. While away on trips, they email photo updates so the kids can follow their travels.
Pilots Patrick Badon, John Hurt, and James Haas have teamed up for years to inspire the fifth-graders at Purefoy Elementary in Frisco, Texas. They’ll continue for at least a few more—they’ve pledged to see James’ first-grade daughter through the program.
“My dad was a private pilot, and he first took me flying when I was 11,” James says. “I remember the awe-inspiring view. That’s why I take these pictures and give them to the kids, to give them a different view of the world and allow them to see what drove me to this career.”
Remember when you couldn’t wait for the next big thing? An attitude (and an airline) can show you the way.
Some time ago, this happened in the future: A man kissed his wife goodbye and left for work in his flying car. After a hard day pushing buttons, he and his aching finger returned to his apartment. He shared it with his homemaker wife, a son and daughter, a robotic maid, and a dog that he walked on a treadmill. For vacation, the man took his family to a convenient resort in a nearby galaxy, which seemed a lot like his neighborhood, only with more lights. Nobody traveled to truly new places.
In short, the Jetsons were a typical middle-class future family of the era just before Southwest Airlines.
But that’s precisely the problem with the future: Outside of quantum physics, where space and time get all wonky, the future always stays a step ahead. We’re limited to our cartoonish imagination, depicting the future as a kind of present with weird clothing and better gear.
Star Trek, which premiered in 1966, did somewhat better with futurism. We even enjoy a few starship conveniences today; the Enterprise’s cool automatic doors now grace every grocery store entrance, and my daughter’s ringtone makes exactly the same sound as the starship’s communicators. But, again, that’s just cool gear. When it came to the important stuff, humanity et cetera aboard the Enterprise hardly seemed that futuristic. Its hierarchy matched that of a 20th-century battleship, and the crew spent a good deal of energy advocating tolerance and diversity among the many alien species they met on their journeys. With all the boldly going through space and time, it remained grounded in the ’60s.
The future always is now. It can only be what we envision at present. But that also offers an opportunity. If we want an optimistic future, we can imagine it; and if we do, we’ll improve our chances of a better world in the years to come. Our own nation’s history confirms this theory: Things have worked out better in the years that follow our most hopeful times.
When I was a kid, we couldn’t wait for the future to happen. I was in first grade in 1961, when John Kennedy told us we were going to put men on the moon and bring them back safely … by the end of the decade. How exciting, and agonizing, the president’s words were. To the moon! But not until I’m a teenager!
As it turned out, the wait didn’t kill me. Lots of exciting futuristic delights compensated: TV dinners; my grandfather’s big color RCA Victor, which showed golf in living green along with the golfers’ faces (also in living green); the Frisbee; the Super Ball; the skateboard. There seemed no end to America’s kid-friendly inventiveness. The future dropped these gifts into our laps like time angels, sending back revolutionary Mustang cars and A-frame houses and the wonders of double-knit fashion. More importantly, it looked like we were poised to tackle almost anything that came our way, including poverty and civil rights. Even the moon shot was going to prove once and for all that the American way was superior to communism.
Of course, the future of our past wasn’t all rosy. Rivers were so polluted that one of them actually caught fire. Older kids warned us not to eat snow, because the Russians were poisoning the flakes. Plus, we were definitely going to run out of oil by the year 2000. Even then I noticed that adults—who had less of a future to worry about than youngsters—tended to be the grouchiest about the years to come. In public surveys, a large portion of adults viewed the Apollo program as a waste of money. But like every other kid, I knew better. I saw the future on TV, and it was awesome. The future was more than bright. It was brilliant. So what happened to it?
As a young adult, I got my first professional job working for the World Future Society as an environmental reporter. The environment beat’s future perspective tends to be rather grim, and my job threatened to turn me into a full-fledged fearful adult. But shortly after I began reporting in Washington, D.C., Earth Day came along. The movement was inspired in part by the Apollo astronauts, who took one of the greatest futuristic photographs ever taken, called “Earthrise.” It shows our tiny blue planet floating in the black vastness of space. Earth Day, it seemed, would change everything. We would clean up our skies and waters and save endangered species. In fact, we Americans did a lot with that optimistic belief. And though we face even scarier environmental threats today, I continue to believe in a bright future. Civilization is always steering toward a cliff, but somehow it always manages to veer in the right direction. That resilience is ingrained in us.
The problem is that these days fewer people seem to share my faith in the days to come. Many of us want to stop the future rather than look forward to it. So how can we get back to that good-old-time future of our youth?
We could talk to the experts, some of whom appear on these pages, and see what they foretell. Experts excel at spotting trends and making computer models. But their best predictions work like the prophecies in the Old Testament: They’re more about what will happen if we continue doing what we’re doing right now. Most predictions don’t actually pan out. The smartest humans aren’t much better prognosticators than your average house cat. Even Wernher von Braun, the brilliant German rocket scientist who led postwar America into the Space Age, was off in his predictions. He was sure we’d have a colony on the moon by now. And where are our flying cars? On the other hand, who would have predicted that we’d be carrying around communicators even better than those on Star Trek? Our smartphones can play movies while linking up with satellites telling us where we parked our earthbound cars.
Not that our predictive lameness should stop us. Remember, futurism is an excellent exercise to help us understand our present. That may be why kids love thinking about the future; it’s a kind of exploration. So permit me to indulge in a few auguries of my own. They’re guaranteed to be at least as good as the thoroughly inaccurate ones experts have made in the past. Forty-five years from now: Kids will listen to horrible music.
Buildings will look as if hobbits designed them.
Before you visit a restaurant, you’ll be able to sample dishes on your smartphone (or whatever the device, or implant, will be called).
Real will beat virtual.
Robots will not rule over us, but persistent pessimists and sci-fi fans will continue to expect to one day bow to humanoid overlords.
Young people of all kinds and predilections will continue
to marry. More weddings will happen in beautiful places.
Southwest will be negotiating for more slots in Kelleher Lunar Spaceport.
Some expensive hotels will sit under the ocean—on purpose.
Our clothes will adjust to the surrounding temperature. Fashionable people will refuse to wear them.
Young folk will flock to bridge clubs.
Humanity will face enormous problems. Sensible people will predict doom. They will turn out to be wrong, in part because other sensible people got to work on solutions.
I’m sure you can offer even better forecasts. Write us at Letters@Southwestmag.com. While you may or may not beat the experts, you can actually increase your predictive odds. As the saying goes, the best way to predict the future is to create it. Forty-five years ago, while some sensible adults were building bomb shelters, others were building an airline.
And what is one way to create the future? Tell our leaders to invest in it. Insist that they work toward a future we can all look forward to, ideally in our own lifetimes. In my opinion, we’re not working hard enough today for tomorrow. The nation’s research and development budget has been shrinking for decades. The share of corporations publishing research in science journals has declined two-thirds since 1980. NASA’s budget, which nurtures private ventures like Space X and Blue Origin—and which helped give us GPS and other wonders in the past—has been shrinking for years. That colony on Mars we’ve all been promised? It can’t happen with this budget. Matt Damon may be stuck in that movie for all eternity.
We need to imagine the best possible future a generation or two from now and debate the best ways to get there. For instance, we could give full support to the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which fosters research into molecular-level innovations. That way we’ll eventually coat our houses with paint that generates electricity and swallow pills that perform expert surgery.
This is the future that makes me feel like a kid again, hopping from foot to foot and wondering how I can possibly wait. But you don’t have to have that attitude in order to look forward with a smile.
In my second job, while still in my 20s, I worked next door to a nattily dressed Minnesotan named Henry Clepper. Henry was in his 80s, concluding an accomplished career as a conservationist and author. When he was my age he had worked for the man who founded the U.S. Forest Service. Henry had done a great deal for the future, and even in old age he remained one of the most optimistic people I ever met. Although he was politically well-connected, I rarely saw him read the newspaper; he preferred trees and science to controversy and scandal. I loved popping into his office to get him talking.
One day I asked him, “What do you think America will be like a generation from now?”
He bent his large head over a perfectly knotted tie, then looked right at me. “You mean the important things? Or the unimportant things?”
“The important things.”
“Well!” He sat back. “That’s easy. Young people will fall in love. Trees will grow. If we’re lucky, the loons will call on the Boundary Waters.” He thought for a while. “That’s about it.”
He told me these predictions many years ago, and they all came true.