Southwest Airlines celebrates 50th anniversary

Southwest Airlines 50th anniversary livery "Freedom One" on Boeing 737-800 N500WN. Photo: © Southwest Airlines

On 18th June 2021, Southwest Airlines celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first flight with a celebratory event and a unique livery on one of its planes.


Dallas based Southwest Airlines is the worlds largest low cost carrier, operating a fleet consisting solely of Boeing 737 family aircraft. The airline’s first flight took place on 18th June 1971 and operated between Dallas Love Field and Houston International. At the time, the airline operated three Boeing 737-200 of which it would go on to have owned 64 by the time that variant was fully retired in 2005.

Southwest has also historically operated the -300 and -500 models of the 737. At present it operates both the 737 NG (-700 and -800 models) and MAX family of aircraft, of which 67 MAX 8 airframes have been delivered so far. The first MAX 7 is due to be delivered in early 2022.

The carrier is one of Boeing’s most loyal customers, having never operated anything other than a Boeing aircraft. Whilst Southwest Airlines has always operated the Boeing 737, it hasn’t been exclusive. For a seven year period between 1978 and 1985, it operated five Boeing 727 trijet aircraft; all of which were leased from Braniff International Airlines, but sported Southwest’s traditional ‘desert gold’ livery.

50th Anniversary Celebration

To commemorate the milestone, the airline held an event where it announced each Southwest Airlines Employee would receive 50,000 Rapid Reward points (from the airline’s frequent flyer program). It also revealed a special livery on one of its aircraft (Boeing 737-800 – N500WN) named ‘Freedom One’, featuring a stylised depiction of the US flag adorned over the fuselage and engines, with the tail retaining the standard Southwest design.

Southwest Airlines has a number of special State flag based liveries on its 737-700s, each pertaining to a US State served by the airline and named after the corresponding state, ie. California One, Florida One and Lone Star One for its home state of Texas.