Southwest Airlines Once Operated The Boeing 727

We know Southwest Airlines as the world’s largest Boeing 737 operator. It’s loyal to the model with over 750 of them in its fleet. But did you know that it also operated the Boeing 727? We take a look at Southwest’s history with the aircraft.

Southwest Airlines Once Operated The Boeing 727
Southwest Airlines operated six Boeing 727 aircraft. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Southwest Airlines breaking its tradition

Southwest Airline’s website records that the airline owned five Boeing 727 in its lifetime. The first arrived in 1978 and the last in 1984. The aircraft was operated until 1985, meaning the aircraft belonged to the Southwest fleet for seven years.

Back on 3rd August 1978, Southwest Airlines leased a single Boeing 727-200 from Braniff International. As part of the acquisition, Braniff International also agreed to provide training and maintenance support to Southwest teams.

The aircraft was acquired under the condition that it would be with the airline for two years, with the agreement starting in March 1979. The aim was to return the aircraft back to the lessor in March 1981. However, the airline returned it much sooner. Before the lease was up, Southwest handed the aircraft back to Braniff International on 10th January 1980.

Continued interest in the Boeing 727

That might have seemed like the end; a short stint with an aircraft it wasn’t too familiar with. But no; Southwest was merely taking a break from the aircraft.

Southwest Airlines Once Operated The Boeing 727
Southwest continued to add 727s to its fleet. Photo: Jon Proctor via Wikimedia Commons

It acquired two 727s on the 8th of September 1983. But those aircraft were only on a one year lease – shorter than the previous acquisition from Braniff International.

This aircraft stayed with the fleet whilst Southwest Airlines added to the fleet. On 24th February 1984, nearly six months later, it took an order of another two Boeing 727-200. That brought the total fleet size to four Boeing 727. These two new aircraft were leased from People Express where the other two aircraft have also been reported to have come from.

Although it’s not clear when, at some point around this time, Southwest also acquired another 727. That brought the 727 fleet size to five.

On 10th September 1985, Southwest returned all five 727-200 model aircraft that it had acquired over the years. A 727 never returned to Southwest. The airline decided to replace the aircraft with Boeing 737 Stage three aircraft. It said this aircraft would be quieter than the Boeing 727.

But why did Southwest dabble in the Boeing 727 in the first place? And why did it own the aircraft for such a short period of time?

Why did Southwest opt for the 727?

Southwest Airlines never states on its website why it used the Boeing 727 in its fleet, but we do know that around that time the airline was branching out.

It’s understandable then why Southwest choose the 727. It was a jet designed for short to medium-haul flights, but its size meant that it was also suitable for smaller runways, like those belonging to regional city airports.

Southwest Airlines Once Operated The Boeing 727
727 production stopped but 737 production continues. Photo: Boeing Dreamscape via Wikimedia Commons

But whilst Southwest Airlines gave the narrowbodied jet a try, it makes sense why it didn’t continue using the aircraft. Even Boeing wasn’t putting its money into manufacturing the model. The manufacturer stopped production in 1984. Despite that, it has continually invested in developing its 737.

So it also makes sense why Southwest decided to invest in an aircraft which was continually being updated and continues to see worldwide success, despite the MAX grounding. There are currently no airlines flying the 727 commercially. The last Boeing 727 completed its final passenger flight on 13th January this year.

Do you remember the Southwest’s 727 aircraft? Let us know in the comments!

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