Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines, dies at 87

Southwest Airlines

Matt York/ AP A Southwest Airlines jet flies in this undated file image. By David Koenig, Associated Press

Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019|4:12 p.m.

DALLAS– Not many CEOs dress up as Elvis Presley, settle a service dispute with an arm-wrestling contest, or go on TELEVISION using a paper bag over their head.

Herb Kelleher did all those things. Along the method, the co-founder and long time leader of Southwest Airlines also reinvented air travel by almost inventing the low-cost, low-fare airline.

Kelleher passed away on Thursday. He was 87. Southwest confirmed his death however did not indicate the cause.

In the late 1960s, the country’s airline companies were a clique of age-old companies that used onboard dining, films and other amenities to make flying pleasant however expensive. Fares approved by federal regulators made flight a high-end that few could manage.

Kelleher was a lawyer in San Antonio when a customer, Rollin King, concerned him with the concept for a low-fare airline that would fly between San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. Kelleher assisted Southwest through a thicket of legal obstacles thrown up by other airlines, and the brand-new carrier started flying in 1971.

Southwest kept expenses low. It flew just one type of plane, the Boeing 737, to make upkeep easier and more affordable. It provided peanuts rather of meals. There were no assigned seats. It operated from less-congested secondary airports to prevent money-burning hold-ups.

Southwest made a profit in 1973 and hasn’t suffered a money-losing year since– a streak unequaled in the U.S. airline organisation.

Kelleher became Southwest’s chairman in 1978 and CEO in 1982, as federal guideline of airline rates was disappearing. He directed the business through its period of biggest development. As Southwest got in new cities, it forced other airline companies to match its lower prices. Federal authorities called this “the Southwest Result.”

Today, Southwest brings more travelers within the United States than any airline, and low-fare providers consisting of Southwest impersonators control a growing piece of the market. While critics say Southwest has concerned resemble the bigger carriers that it as soon as fought versus, it created a design of structured operations, low costs and lower fares that spawned similar airlines around the globe.

If Southwest was various, so was its garrulous CEO– a wisecracking chain smoker who extolled his fondness for Wild Turkey bourbon scotch.

Kelleher showed a flair for wacky marketing antics. When Braniff attempted to drive Southwest out of business by damaging its fares– rates that guaranteed both airlines would lose money– Kelleher used a bottle of alcohol to anybody who bought a full-fare Southwest ticket. Kelleher said that company travelers with cost accounts and a thirst for alcohol made Southwest the greatest liquor supplier in Texas for a time.

When Southwest and another air travel business both declared the exact same marketing motto, Kelleher proposed to settle the dispute by holding an arm-wrestling contest with the other CEO. Kelleher, dressed in red shorts, lost the match, however the victor– amazed by the promotion the stunt generated– let Southwest keep using the tagline.

Executives of other airline companies– and a few of their passengers– dismissed Southwest as a cattle-car operation for cheap travelers. Kelleher responded to with a TELEVISION commercial in which he used a paper bag over his head and assured to offer the bag to any consumer who was too embarrassed to be seen flying on his discount airline company.

The TELEVISION advertisements and the Elvis costumes helped make Kelleher the general public face of Southwest and most likely the most acknowledged person in the airline market.

In 1999, at age 68, Kelleher was identified with prostate cancer. He kept working, travelling in between Southwest’s Dallas head office and a medical facility in Houston, however the occurrence added seriousness for a succession strategy.

In 2001, Kelleher stepped down as CEO and president, and he retired as chairman in 2008. Even after leaving, he remained on the payroll and went to the workplace regularly.

In a 2011 interview with The Associated Press, Kelleher said his proudest accomplishment was that Southwest– in an industry that cut 10s of countless jobs in the decade after 2001– never laid off workers.

Herbert D. Kelleher was born in Haddon Heights, N.J., and got his very first job– for $2.50 a week– ensuring that copies of the Philadelphia Bulletin newspaper were delivered. He finished from Wesleyan University and made a law degree from New York University in 1956.

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