Is This Seat Open?

Southwest Airlines | L.A. Times Studios

Most airlines don't have stories about high stakes arm wrestling, planes full of dogs, and a decade of go-go boots, but Southwest isn't like most airlines. To celebrate 50 years of flying, Southwest Airlines proudly presents this 20 episode series featuring first-hand stories from the people who lived through the wildest and most memorable moments in the airline's history. Hosted by Southwest employees Quinnie Jenkins and Lucas Hershberger, produced by LA Times Studios and At Will Media.

This is a paid podcast funded by Southwest Airlines. The Los Angeles Times newsroom was not involved in the production of this podcast.

All Episodes

Why make a podcast about Southwest Airlines? Because this airline is anything but typical. While other airlines assign seats, you get to choose your own when you board Southwest. For the past 50 years, Southwest has zigged while the others zagged. Join us to hear more stories about Southwest – they might surprise you… like high stakes arm wrestling to settle an advertising dispute, or planes full of rescue dogs following a hurricane, and a decade of hot pants and go-go boots. In this podcast we'll share 20 stories about Southwest Airlines from the people who lived them. Hosted by Southwest employees Quinnie Jenkins and Lucas Hershberger. Produced by LA Times Studios and At Will Media. Subscribe to “Is This Seat Open?” now to hear every story.

May 14

1 min

Two CEOs step into a wrestling ring to arm wrestle. No this isn’t a joke, it’s a 1992 matchup to determine the rightful owner of a multi-million dollar marketing slogan. On this episode, listen to Matt Buckley, Southwest Airlines Retired Vice President Cargo and Charters, tell the story of what happened when Southwest left the lawyers behind and settled a legal dispute in the ring.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen.

Jun 1

9 min 30 sec

Let’s get this Boeing going! Southwest Airlines is known to add some levity to the air travel experience through fun announcements, gate games, and playful personalities behind the gate and onboard announcements. In this episode, we’ll hear from long-time Southwest Operations Agent Gregg Lynn, otherwise known as Gregg The Guy at the Gate, on how he helps make flying fun for customers.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen. 

Jun 1

6 min 50 sec

For most of Southwest Airlines’ history, the company was limited in where it could fly and faced a number of uphill legal and regulatory battles. In this episode, Ron Ricks, the Vice Chairman of the Board and retired Executive Vice President and Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer of Southwest, tells us the story of the decades long battle over the Wright Amendment.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen.

Jun 1

8 min 42 sec

When a price war with a competitor caused big trouble for Southwest Airlines, the company made a marketing gamble that would determine the future of the airline. In this episode, Southwest Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Ryan Green tells us the story of how Southwest was saved by a fifth of liquor. For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen.

Jun 1

7 min 50 sec

Herb Kelleher was known for many things: his larger than life personality, infectious laugh, dressing up in costume, and growing Southwest Airlines from a three plane upstart to the world’s largest low-cost carrier. In this episode, listen to the story of the legendary co-founder of Southwest from the perspective of his daughter, Ruth Kelleher-Agather.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen.

Jun 1

10 min 6 sec

Southwest Airlines’ uniforms have always been a cut above. From the early days of hot pants and white lace-up boots in the 70’s to the khaki wave of the 90’s and beyond, customers can spot a Southwest employee from across the airport at the drop of a hat. In this episode, we’ll hear from Flight Attendant Kelli Bartlett who has worn four decades’ worth of iconic Southwest styles, and how in 2014 the airline employees rolled up their sleeves and found a novel way to redesign their signature look.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 8

8 min 23 sec

This might sound crazy, or like a pet lover’s dream, but how would you like to fly next to 70 cats and dogs? In 2018, Southwest Airlines sent a plane of supplies to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and returned with a cabin full of rescued animals. In this episode, Southwest Chief Pilot David “Fig” Newton tells us the story of the furriest doggone flight in the airline’s history.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 8

7 min 32 sec

The often imitated, never duplicated culture of Southwest Airlines has inspired 50 years of loyalty from employees and customers alike, but what exactly is it? Don’t worry, you don’t have to figure it out, that’s Whitney Eichinger’s job. She is Southwest’s Managing Director of Culture and Engagement, and she and the Southwest Culture Ambassadors are on a mission to preserve and enrich the spirit of Southwest.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen 

Jun 8

6 min 44 sec

Colonel Roy A. Knight Jr. disappeared over Laos during the Vietnam War. His son grew up without knowing what happened to his father until he received a phone call in 2019. Retired Southwest Airlines Pilot Bryan Knight tells us how after more than 50 years, he was finally able to fly his dad home.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 8

8 min 5 sec

Most airlines took an hour or more to “turn” their planes, meaning to get them ready to fly again after landing. Southwest Airlines did it in just 10 minutes. The year was 1972, and the fledgling airline realized their only chance for survival was to turn planes faster than anyone had ever done before. At that time, retired Executive Vice President of Daily Operations Greg Wells was a baggage handler for Southwest and in this episode he tells us firsthand what it took to achieve the 10-minute turn safely and with good customer service.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 8

7 min 15 sec

It’s not every day that a flight attendant can make more money by retiring, but such is the life of some of Southwest Airlines’ early employees thanks to the company’s ProfitSharing Plan. Bucking the trends of the airline industry, Southwest decided to share its profits with the employees who helped earn them beginning in 1973. Ron Ricks, the Vice Chairman of the Board and retired Executive Vice President and Chief Legal and Regulatory Officer of Southwest Airlines, tells us how the entire Southwest family is stronger through their shared investment in the airline’s success. For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 15

6 min 56 sec

Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to witness the inflight marriage of two customers. For Southwest Airlines, being “The Love Airline” is more than a nickname, as customers from coast to coast have met, fallen in love, and even gotten married on Southwest flights. In this episode, Derek K. Hubbard, a Manager for the airline’s Public Relations Team who has played cupid for more than a few love-struck couples, shares his advice for romantic gestures at 35,000 feet. Congratulations!For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 15

6 min 37 sec

Pop quiz: what do you do with a pile of discarded seat leather that could stretch 43 acres? Throw it in a landfill? Not if you’re Southwest. In this episode, Laura Nieto, the Director of Community Outreach at Southwest Airlines, tells us how a small idea in 2014 led to a huge repurposing project that crossed an ocean and gave “new life” to people and products.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 15

7 min 4 sec

Alan Hugley was at work the morning of 9/11. He’s a Flight Dispatcher for Southwest Airlines, and while the country was grappling with the events of that day, The Federal Aviation Administration ordered an immediate grounding of all planes nationwide. This was an order that Alan had to execute. In this episode we hear Alan Hugley’s story of 9/11, and what the day meant for him working at Southwest.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 15

8 min 38 sec

The news was hard to hear. Nicole Parris’ infant daughter had survived a high-risk double lung transplant, but she would need to return to a hospital in St. Louis every 6 months for the rest of her life. For Nicole and her family in Florida, this would be nearly impossible if not for Southwest Airlines Medical Transportation Grant Program. In this episode, we’ll hear how the program that was created to provide much-needed assistance to medical patients and their family members forever impacted recipient Nicole Parris. For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 15

7 min 23 sec

Bill Baracani didn’t grow up with much, but he never had to worry if there would be food on the table. Through his volunteer work, Southwest Airlines Ramp Agent Bill discovered how fortunate he really was, and was inspired to save and dedicate almost all his time off to charity work. In this episode, we’ll hear about Bill Baracani’s passion for volunteer work, and how Southwest’s Tickets for Time program provides one free round trip ticket, up to six per year, for every 40 hours a Southwest employee spends volunteering at qualifying nonprofit organizations and schools.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 22

6 min 26 sec

One day, Gary Kelly and his team had a billion-dollar idea. Literally. In the 90s, Gary implemented a cost-saving measure to protect against fluctuations in jet fuel prices, and it paid off. In this episode, we’ll hear from the Southwest Airlines Chairman and Chief Executive Officer himself about how he and a small team of analysts pioneered a program that would have one of the biggest financial impacts in the history of the airline.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 22

7 min 48 sec

Lou Freeman can lay claim to a lot of firsts. He was in the first group of students to integrate his high school in Dallas. He was the first African American undergraduate to train at his air force base in Texas, He was the first Black pilot at Southwest Airlines, and he was the first Black chief pilot of any major U.S. airline. So, when Rosa Parks passed away and was to be flown to Montgomery, Alabama, for a final farewell, Lou Freeman got the call. In this episode, we’ll hear the story of the last flight of Rosa Parks, as told by the flight’s pilot, Retired Southwest Chief Pilot Lou Freeman.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 22

7 min 58 sec

Window, aisle, or middle? Since Southwest Airlines first took to the skies, seating has been customer's choice. The reasons behind the open seating have as much to do with the airline’s unique culture as they do with an optimized boarding process. In this episode, Managing Director Customer Experience Tony Roach explains the policy that sets Southwest apart from the rest.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 22

6 min 55 sec

Passengers stopped flying. Cleaning protocols needed to be overhauled. Keeping an airline running through a global pandemic is no easy task, but Southwest Airlines pulled it off, and without involuntary furloughs, layoffs, or pay reductions. In this episode, Southwest Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly and Managing Director Communications & Outreach Laurie Barnett discuss how they respectively tackled the greatest threat to their airline in the company’s 50 year history.For more stories on Southwest Airlines’ 50 years of flying and a look behind the scenes, check out latimes.com/isthisseatopen

Jun 22

8 min