Southwest Airlines founder Rollin King, pioneer of budget air travel, dies

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 June, 2014, 9:27pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 July, 2014, 3:41am


Rollin King 

Rollin King, a Texas businessman whose idea for a no-frills intrastate airline grew into the top domestic carrier in the United States, Southwest Airlines, has died in Dallas, Texas. He was 83.

In 1967, King was running a small charter service that ferried hunters around Texas when he sat down at a bar with his lawyer to discuss a new business plan: an airline offering short hauls, frequent flights and low prices that would fly between the state's major urban hubs.

According to company lore, King used a cocktail napkin to sketch the airline's routes - a triangle linking Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

By flying only within the state, the company could avoid the era's restrictive federal regulations. But established rivals like Braniff and Continental tied up King and his lawyer, Herb Kelleher, in litigation for three years. However, the rogue airline came out the victor and launched on June 18, 1971. Soon it became famous for cut-rate tickets, sassy slogans ("Somebody Up There Loves You") and stewardesses in orange hot pants.

After deregulation in 1978, Southwest expanded to routes outside Texas and became the largest domestic airliner in number of passengers.

After a management struggle in 1978, King, who had learned to fly in his youth, joined Southwest's flight crew before turning to other investment projects. He served on the airline's board of directors for nearly 40 years, until his retirement in 2006.

Kelleher said King's notion of convenient, affordable air travel "proved to be an empirical role model for not only the US but, ultimately, for all of the world's inhabited continents".