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Southwest Wants to Be ‘Most Loved, Most Flown, Most Profitable’

Somehow, Southwest manages to maintain its hold on the hearts and minds of travelers, through boom and bust years, in an industry generally held in low regard by consumers. While its low-fare point-to-point business model has been analyzed and emulated by would-be copycats, none has succeeded like Southwest in satisfying its customers, its employees, and its shareholders.

It all starts at the top. The airline’s co-founder and longtime CEO, Herb Kelleher, was a visionary and a charismatic leader. And while the airline’s current CEO, Gary Kelly, is a less formidable presence, his low-key intelligence and unwavering focus on Southwest’s core values have served the airline well.

Those qualities were on full display in his presentation to the Wings Club earlier this month, available and well worth streaming here. Following are some outtakes from his 45-minute talk.

On Southwest’s aspirations: “Long-term, we want to be the most loved, the most flown, the most profitable airline in the world.” That would be dismissed as laughable hyperbole if uttered by most airline CEOs. Southwest, however, is well within range of meeting all three goals.

On the airline’s recent accomplishments (including the integration of AirTran; expansion at Love Field after repeal of the Wright Amendment; expansion at La Guardia and Washington Regan-National airports; a new Houston terminal; the launch of international service (currently 11 destinations); fleet modernization): “A lotta new stuff.” Indeed.

On Southwest’s new reservations system, expected to be fully developed and deployed in 2017: “Our largest technology project ever… the benefits will be dramatic.” More than just revenue and fares management, more flexible scheduling, and automatic rebooking in the event of a flight cancellation, the new system will enable a “change in the customer experience… things like assigning seats, extra legroom, dual class.” Whoa! Assigned seats and a second class of service? That would be a fundamental change in Southwest’s philosophy. “We’re not planning to make those changes, but the technology will enable that if we so choose in the future.” Hmmm.

To the charge that Southwest is foregoing millions of dollars in incremental revenue by not charging for bags and other extras: “Poppycock!”

To the charge that Southwest cares more about its employees than its shareholders: “Well…”

And to the charge that Southwest is no longer a low-cost carrier: “Bull!”

Southwest Airlines. No bull.

Reader Reality Check

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This article originally appeared on

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