Southwest Airlines Founder Herb Kelleher Dies at 87

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Southwest Airlines co-founder Herb Kelleher died Thursday at 87 years old.

According to Reuters.com, Kelleher was a colorful personality that helped build Southwest from a regional carrier with partner Rollin King more than 50 years ago to one of the biggest airlines in the United States.

Southwest Airlines mourns founder and chairman Emeritus Herbert D. Kelleher (1931-2019). (photo via Southwest Airlines)

When Southwest launched its first flight in 1971, it flew only Boeing 737 planes to cut complexity and cost. Kelleher’s unconventional approach resulted in the airline focusing on low fares that would make travel affordable to most customers.

Southwest released an official statement about Kelleher:

“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 was also known for his sense of humor, which became part of the company’s culture in corporate settings and with flight attendants on each plane. He was even known to dress in costumes and help unload baggage.

In addition, Kelleher enjoyed smoking and bourbon.

American Airlines Chairman and CEO Doug Parker also released a statement about Kelleher:

“On behalf of the entire American Airlines team, we take a deep breath and give long pause to remember and celebrate the many contributions Herb Kelleher made to our industry. Herb’s vision brought the freedom of travel to hundreds of millions of people, and his appetite for taking on any real or perceived battle was unmatched. His opponents often found that taking on Herb might mean a joke or prank would soon reveal itself, but it also signaled that Herb was likely well down the path to victory. His style presents the ultimate case study for airlines or any service company whereby if you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers, which will take care of your shareholders. That simple yet profound way of leading continues to inspire us, and we aspire to honor Herb’s example. Today we lost an industry icon, a legend, and a friend whom we will never forget. Thank you, Herb, you made us all better.”

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