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Southwest Airlines Co-Founder Rollin King Dies at Age 83

Skift Take

Southwest was one of the first to champion the low-fare, low-cost model that has turned the aviation industry on its head. His legacy won’t soon be forgotten.

— Samantha Shankman

Rollin King, a Texas businessman who joined Herb Kelleher to found Southwest Airlines Co., has died, the carrier said today. He was 83.

King and longtime Southwest Chief Executive Officer Kelleher famously drew the route plan for Southwest — a triangle connecting the cities of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio — on a bar cocktail napkin in 1967. The pair led the airline through a series of legal battles with larger airlines, including arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court, before starting flights in 1971.

Southwest, which introduced the concept of no-frills, low fare, point-to-point flights, has grown to become the largest domestic airline in terms of passengers carried.

“I am indeed profoundly saddened to learn of Rollin’s passing,” Kelleher, 83, said in a statement. “His idea to create a low-cost, low-fare, better service quality airline in Texas subsequently proved to be an empirical role model for not only the U.S as a whole but, ultimately, for all of the world’s inhabitants.”

King previously served as executive vice president for operations at the carrier and flew as a Southwest pilot until 1978, according to the Dallas Morning News. He served on Southwest’s board from 1967 until May 2006.

“The extended family of Southwest Airlines employees and retirees shares in the loss of Rollin King and honors the legacy of affordable air travel he sparked more than 40 years ago,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly said in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at maryc.s@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ed Dufner at edufner@bloomberg.net Molly Schuetz, John Lear.

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