Southwest’s co-founder Kelleher dies

An excerpt from our monthly People-in-Travel report and/or our WYSKs (What-You-Should-Know).


Herb Kelleher, co-founder of US airline Southwest, has died, aged 87.


I am surprised how many in the business, report a partial- and sometimes-incorrect-history of what we call NFAs (no-frills-airlines; a much clearer  term than the shifting ‘low-cost carriers’).


An example is Skift, usually a good reporter on the travel business. Skift reports have Kelleher’s Southwest the world’s first NFA. And not appearing to know that it operated within the state of Texas because intra-state airlines were not controlled by the CAB, only inter-state operations.


But along with Kelleher, there were two others who can be credited with starting the NFA business. Their names will not mean much to many, even those in the airline business – Floyd Andrews and Rollin King (sic).


I put Andrews as the person who established the first NFA. Here is a wrap-up of the three.


[] Floyd Andrews. In the late-1960s, he converted PSA (nee Pacific Southwest Airlines) into a NFA operating within the state of California, primarily on Los Angeles-San Francisco. At the time, no commercial limitation was placed on an airline that operated entirely within a US state. Only inter-state was controlled, and tightly, although that has now long gone.


PSA introduced no-frills, low-fare, high-frequency, tight cost-control, and bright-marketing. US$21 one-way when full-service-airlines would be charging at least US$75.


Andrews died from lung cancer in 1989 aged 69. He had left PSA in 1976 after fuel price increases, starting 1974, hit the airline and passengers did not want to pay higher fares. PSA folded into US Air in 1986.


[] Herb Kelleher, and Rollin King.


Kelleher is generally credited as founder of Southwest, also generally considered the first sizeable NFA. However, SW’s founder and financial backer was actually King. Kelleher was (only) King’s lawyer, but who was also given the job of SW CEO.


According to the legend, SW’s start-up-businessplan was written by Kelleher and King on a restaurant napkin. I think that if it that is true, it read “Copy PSA”. Most people do not give credit to PSA, but Kelleher did.


And so SW started operations in 1971 on routes within Texas. He added some elements to the PSA plan – such as using secondary airports. SW was based at the Love Field airport (named after a man, not a sentiment) in Dallas, whereas until then all main airlines operated from the Dallas Ft Worth airport after it opened in 1974.


SW directly copied from PSA many other marketing tricks – most notably with sexy stewardesses.


King died in Dallas in 2014, from complications from a heart attack he had a year earlier.



Europe’s most-successful NFAs, Easyjet and Ryanair, copied the essence of the SW/PSA businessplan. So did Asia Pacific’s Air Asia (although its CEO credits Easyjet for inspiring him).




The Fox. Remember, I’m an industry expert in the parallel world.

*Fox – sly.  Trots – left-leaning (Trotsky) plus its more insalubrious meaning.  Foxtrots – leading the industry in a dance.