The photo above showing Flight Attendants running toward the camera is one of the best known icons representing Southwest Airlines’ early days. A color version of this photo graces the cover of the June 2011 40th Anniversary issue of Spirit magazine. This photo from 1972 is such a key image, that at least three different times across the years, we have done an updated version with Flight Attendants wearing their current uniforms. Thanks to our archives, we can look at how this photo was made—kind of like a “director’s cut” on a DVD, and some of the photos below have never been displayed.
The airplane star of the show is N23SW. It is the only 737 we have operated with a main deck cargo door, and it was delivered to us in September 1971. N23SW was also the first airplane to wear what is now our standard titling without the word “airlines.” Here we see our folks moving aircraft around in preparation for the shoot—N23SW is on the left, and the aircraft on the right (I was unable to identify which of our original three it is) still wears the airlines titles. N23SW will be the main backdrop for the photographic efforts, and the older aircraft will appear in the background of some shots.
Once the aircraft were situated, the director of the shoot (in dark clothes) tries to get the Flight Attendants in the correct order. My guess is that they were as hard to corral as some of us today in similar situations. The buildings on the far left help us place the site of the shoot in front of the original Southwest hangar at Love Field.
Like so many photo shoots, lots of photos were taken to get just the right one. It looks like the photographer was experimenting with a close shot here, but the effect is pretty chaotic as the “Conga Line” has lost any resemblance of order. The Flight Attendants on the left are also out of focus. For my fellow aviation geeks, the nose of the second older aircraft is to the left of the photo behind the boots.
Judging by where this negative is located on the original roll of film, we are looking at the Flight Attendants returning back to the aircraft for another running shot. The second aircraft is a lot more visible in this shot, and the Employee on the right appears to be either searching for someone or trying to listen to someone “off-camera.”
The photographer tried a few overhead shots, probably from a “cherry picker” because there is a “low altitude” and a “high altitude” version. This is the low option, and it’s hard to judge what kind of shape the Flight Attendants were trying to form. In almost all of the aerial photos, either someone is out of position, or someone is adjusting their hair or looking away from the camera. The photographer apparently eventually gave up, although later in the same batch of negatives, we have aerial shots showing a sampling of all the Employee groups at the time, and that photo did receive wide circulation. A few more items of note in this photo: The blast fences for Love Field’s run-up area are just above the airplane’s wing tip in the right of the photo. Those fences were replaced a few years ago with taller ones, but this is still the area where engines can be run by all the airport tenants to check maintenance work. It’s only visible on an enlargement, but just above the engine to the left of the aircraft is American’s hangar, where a DC-10 is parked. On the other side of the aircraft between the fuselage and the blast fence, the North Concourse is visible in the distance, and a Frontier 737 is parked there.
Again, we have proof that a split second in time can last forever through the magic of photography. When we see a photo like the one at the top of the page, two things happen: One is that we are instantly taken back to that time and place and become a part of that scene. The other confirms that a photo is worth a 1,000 words. Our iconic image symbolizes what Southwest was like during our formative years—edgy, rebellious, and different. In many ways, the photo opens a window to our Company’s soul and legacy. And, the fact that these other "cutting-room floor" photos show our Coworkers from an earlier time being a little bit rambunctious is just icing on the cake.