Thirty-eight years ago this month, Southwest Airlines began its relationship in the Puget Sound region when we purchased our first Boeing plane. Fifteen years ago this weekend, Southwest Airlines broadened its LUV affair in the Northwest by offering scheduled flights from Seattle, Portland, and Spokane on June 6, 1994. That’s when I came on board and joined the Southwest Family--and I have yet to look back.
As I reflect on the past 15 years, I feel so proud to be part of Southwest Airlines. We have brought so much of our Culture, traditions, triumphs, and LUV to this region--not to mention lower fares.
When Southwest Airlines enters a new market, we always look to see what the passion points are because what’s important to our Customers and their communities is important to us. We became a part of the fabric in all three Northwestern cities, supporting and becoming corporate sponsors to many local events and sports teams. We’ve backed the Seattle Mariners, the Seattle Sonics (now in Oklahoma), the Spokane Chiefs, and participated in such flagship festivals as the Portland Rose Festival, the Bloomsday Run, the Spokane Lilac Festival, and the Southwest Airlines Torchlight Parade. The region quickly learned who we are!
In 1997, Southwest Airlines launched a new program called Adopt-A-Pilot, an opportunity for fifth grade students to learn about the United States and aviation through a Pilot’s eyes. SWA local pilots visit classrooms and mentor children--showing how math, geography, and history can be applied to real life jobs. Young people do not always see the connections between school lessons and the world beyond the classroom. One memorable story happened when we brought our program to the YWCA Transitional School in Spokane. The school had only three teachers, but a student body that ranged from 40 to 80 students, K-12, and all of the children were homeless. Many of the children were in hiding from abusive situations or living with parents addicted to drugs. Their homes were local shelters or the street, and the only peace they found was at school. To say the least, these children didn’t have much chance to dream prior to Southwest Airlines. A local news headline read, “Sky’s the limit, thanks to pilot” after we flew 40 students to Seattle for the “Field Trip of Dreams” to celebrate Adopt-A-Pilot graduation. One teacher reported, “After Captain Jim came, five of my kids wanted to grow up to be pilots.”
I fondly remember taking delivery of another special plane in October 2003--the “Spirit of Hope”--which was dedicated to all the Ronald McDonald Houses (one of Southwest’s primary corporate charities) throughout the United States. What made this plane even more special to the Northwest? All of the artwork inside the aircraft came from the children at the Seattle Ronald McDonald House.
Over the years I have had the privilege to make speeches about Southwest Airlines. Companies always want to know what is the “Plane and Simple Strategy” or the real “Southwest Secret.” I always say, “It’s our People” and “We enable our Employees to act like owners.” At Southwest Airlines, “We are not just a Company of planes. We are a Company of People.”
Another of my favorite stories happened Memorial Day, 2000, when a story ran in the Seattle Times titled, “A sentence in a story, and a name on the wall.” One of our local Employees had followed a story about Virginia, who was an 85-year-old mother who had lost her son in Vietnam when he was 21. She wanted to return to Washington, D.C. to receive his Purple Heart and touch his name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A simple wish she made to a reporter was that “when she had money, she would visit the wall.” From that one wish, letters, emails, and phone calls poured in. One was from a Southwest Employee. Because of Southwest Airlines, Virginia touched her son’s name on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, after we gave her a ticket to Washington, D.C.
Southwest Airlines is also the LUV Airline, and I am living proof. In the summer of 2003, I invited the Cargo Sales Manager of SEA to help me host a SWA Corporate Event to be held outdoors. It was one of those rare, beautiful summer nights in Seattle. All of the mountains were showing, the sun was setting, and Chris Isaac was crooning in the background. You can’t get more romantic than that! And as they say, the rest is history.
That same Manager and I were married in 2007, and, together, we add up to 40 years of working at Southwest Airlines.
Our heart has been strong in the Puget Sound Region since the day we purchased our first Boeing airplane, and will continue in the years to come.
Like me, Southwest has never looked back.
Linnea surrounded by Members of Southwest's Communications Team (l to r) Trent Duran, John Jones, Brad Hawkins, Ray Buffington, and Caleb Fox.