Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher dead at 87

One of the biggest pioneers in modern-day air travel has passed away.

Herb Kelleher, the co-founder of Southwest Airlines, died Thursday at the age of 87.

Affordable Air Travel

For those of us that need airline tickets that don’t break the bank, the man to thank is Herb Kelleher.

In the 1960’s, Kelleher was a lawyer in San Antonio when one of his clients, Rollin King, came up with the idea for Southwest Airlines. The planes would not fly until 1971 due to massive legal problems that hit right out of the gate.

Several big players in the airline industry knew the concept of a budget airline was going to cause them all problems, so they went to court in an effort to prevent Southwest from ever getting off the ground.

Kelleher personally represented Southwest pro bono in a case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Eventually, Kelleher won, and in 1971, Southwest planes started to fly.

In 1978, he became chairman of Southwest. By 1982, he was the CEO.

Southwest started with lower base fares and no seat assignments.

His Legacy

Some considered Kelleher eccentric, but he was truly a visionary who saw a niche where a different philosophy could change the industry.

He had zero experience in the airline industry when he started Southwest, but he believed that made him the perfect person for the job.

“I knew nothing about airlines, which I think made me eminently qualified to start one because what we tried to do at Southwest was get away from the traditional way that airlines had done business. I think that was very helpful,” said Kelleher in 2016.

Kelleher pushed the idea of lower fares right out of the gate.

His promise to customers was they would pay the lowest fare available.

However, if they did pay a higher fare, they were rewarded with a “free bottle of whiskey.”

Over the years, that concept has grown to include no baggage fees, free movies, free TV, free messaging, and even the occasional free drink.

While his role with Southwest was reduced over the last decade, his philosophy of giving more for less continued.

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Most airlines are charging fees of at least $25 for baggage, $5 or more for movies and TV, and high prices for drinks. Southwest customers pay none of those fees.

Rest in peace, Mr. Kelleher.

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