Southwest Airlines Celebrates 50 Years With Special Livery

Southwest Airlines has celebrated fifty years of operations. June 18th, 1971, marked the airline’s inaugural flight in Texas. Now, coming out of the worst crisis in the airline’s history, Southwest is looking strong. Celebrating the airline’s home country, Southwest Airlines unveiled a special livery dubbed “Freedom One.”

Southwest Boeing 737
Southwest Airlines unveiled a new livery while celebrating its 50th anniversary of operations. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines debuts special livery

Southwest Airlines has painted one of its Boeing 737-800 aircraft in a new “Freedom One” livery. The aircraft, stylized with the flag of the United States of America, is designed as a tribute to the armed forces in the United States and the company’s gratefulness to those who have served.

Gary Kelly, CEO of Southwest Airlines, stated the following on the livery:

“The word ‘freedom’ has significant meaning to the People and history of Southwest Airlines. We’re eternally grateful to those who have served and are currently serving in our Armed Forces—including the more than 7,400 veterans and 1,500 military spouses in our Southwest Family. Our Purpose is to connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel. We simply couldn’t fulfill our Purpose if not for the sacrifices and dedication of our military men and women. We appreciate their service and bravery in providing a blanket of freedom for our country.” 

Southwest Gary Kelly
Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly spoke at the celebratory event. Photo: Southwest Airlines

The livery was revealed to the airline’s employees during the celebration at the Southwest Airlines Technical Operations Hangar at William P. Hobby International Airport (HOU) in Houston, Texas. Attendees included Southwest Military Ambassadors, Military Council, winners of the Company’s prestigious President’s Award, and others. Southwest Military Ambassadors are employees who are veterans and military spouses.

Southwest celebration
The occasion was marked with plenty of pomp and circumstance. Photo: Southwest Airlines

The special plane features 50 stars and 13 stripes. This is the first Boeing 737-800 to join the airline’s special livery collection. Others have been on the 737-700s and include:

  • Arizona One
  • California One
  • Colorado One
  • Florida One
  • Illinois One
  • Lone Star One (Texas)
  • Louisiana One
  • Maryland One
  • Missouri One
  • Nevada One
  • New Mexico One
  • Tennessee One
Southwest Airlines has preferred to paint Boeing 737-700s in special liveries. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

A celebration with a surprise for employees

Southwest Airlines also surprised its active employees. It is offering a gift of 50,000 Rapid Rewards points deposited into the account of each employee who chooses to accept the gift.

Mr. Kelly stated the following on the airline’s gift to employees:

“Southwest revolutionized the travel industry since our very first flight on June 18, 1971—a time when less than 15% of Americans ever had traveled by air. The People of Southwest democratized the skies with friendly, reliable, and affordable air travel, and what better way to honor you, our Employees, on our 50th Anniversary than by offering a gift of 50,000 Rapid Rewards points.”

Southwest Boeing 737
Southwest Airlines also celebrated, giving its employees a gift. Photo: Southwest Airlines

50,000 Rapid Rewards points is a fair sum. Airline employees can use those points to get to Hawaii, visit family in Milwaukee, visit a beach in Cancun or Costa Rica, or check out Yellowstone out West. Couple that with any points that employees already may have, the employees are in for an even bigger treat.

50 years of Southwest Airlines

The Southwest Airlines story started in 1971. The first flights operated in the “Texas Triangle” from Dallas to San Antonio and Houston. The airline started with $20 one-way fares.

In those days, Southwest Airlines was a small airline that had a very localized presence. It was a different time in air travel, but the airline did not back down from the fight and grew its opportunities in Texas.

SW 737-200
Southwest’s early days were all about the Boeing 737, and that legacy continued, save for a brief flirtation with the Boeing 727. Photo: Dean Morley via Flickr

Southwest started operations when the airline industry was heavily regulated, so it had to spend a lot of time dealing with red tape and even went to court to ensure its operations could stick around. Southwest was influential in getting Dallas Love Field (DAL) to remain as a commercial airport in Dallas with the rise of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).

After deregulation, the airline continued to grow, with a focus on Texas and neighboring states. At this time, the airline’s love affair with the Boeing 737 continued, and the airline moved to take 737-300 aircraft in the mid-1980s, as it sought to become known outside of just Texas.

Southwest Hot Pats
Southwest Airlines flight attendants in the 1970s. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Through the late 1980s and into the 1990s, Southwest Airlines grew significantly, adding new aircraft like the Boeing 737-500s and putting planes in service from destinations ranging from the Midwest to California.

Heading into 2000, Southwest Airlines grew to a fleet of over 312 aircraft with firm orders for over 100 Boeing 737 Next Generation jets, setting the airline up to growth. Even in the post-9/11 world, Southwest Airlines continued to succeed and hit milestone after milestone.

By 2010, Southwest Airlines had announced a merger with AirTran and took over that airline after celebrating 40 years in operation. Shortly thereafter, it became the launch customer for the Boeing 737 MAX, which is now a huge portion of its fleet plans.

Southwest and AirTran
Southwest Airlines and AirTran merged after Southwest celebrated 40 years of operations. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines today

50 years on from that inaugural flight, Herb Kelleher, the airline’s founder, would be incredibly proud. The Southwest Airlines team has done an amazing job bringing the airline through the crisis, and it is now fully moving beyond the crisis.

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

The airline is the largest single 737 MAX customer globally, and it is the largest Boeing 737 operator in the world. It is the only type the airline flies, and it has had a long love affair with the type.

Southwest 737 MAX Getty
Southwest’s near-term future is all about the Boeing 737 MAX. Photo: Getty Images

50 years since its inauguration, Southwest has seen it all. From a global pandemic to oil shocks to the global financial crisis to 9/11, the carrier has made it through thick and thin times. It certainly was not an easy journey, but the airline’s journey deserves praise, and it is undoubtedly one of the most successful airlines in the world.

While there are plenty of airlines older than Southwest, not just in the US but across the world, the effect Southwest has had in the industry is no small feat.

Southwest still has a lot of room to grow and develop, and the airline into holding back when it comes to staking its position in the US. Already the largest domestic carrier, the airline’s jets are well recognized around at airports across the US.

Here is to 50 years of Southwest Airlines, and hopefully, another strong 50 years ahead.

What is your favorite moment in Southwest Airlines’ history? What do you like about the carrier? Let us know in the comments!