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Southwest Airlines Mourns Passing of Colleen Barrett

DALLAS — Southwest Airlines (WN) announced today that President Emeritus Colleen Barrett, aged 79, had passed away surrounded by loved ones.

In 2001, Colleen Barrett became the first woman to serve as president of a major airline at WN. Before and during her tenure, she was a highly influential figure in shaping the culture and success of North America's third largest passenger airlines in terms of enplaned passengers.

Via a press release, the carrier stated that Barrett "passionately guided generations to do the right thing, and often cited The Golden Rule—insisting that everyone treat each other in a way they would hope to be treated."

The early days. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Colleen Barrett's Contributions to Southwest

Colleen Barrett played a pivotal role in giving WN its heart by emphasizing the importance of employees showing love for each other and for customers. She dedicated herself to putting employees first and encouraging them to deliver Positively Outrageous Customer Service, which became the signature of the airline.

As a testament to Barret's influence on the company, the airline announced last week its No. 1 ranking on Newsweek's 2024 America's Best Customer Service List in the Airlines and Low-Cost Airlines subcategories.

Instilling The Golden Rule among the employees of WN, Barrett was the architect of the company's famous corporate culture. She believed that treating people with kindness and respect would lead to profitability and shareholder satisfaction.

Barrett held several leadership positions at WN, including Vice President Administration, Executive Vice President Customers, President and Chief Operating Officer, and finally President of the airline from 2001 to July 2008, making her the highest-ranking woman in the commercial airline industry at that time.

She was also a member of the Southwest Airlines Company Board of Directors from 2001 to 2008 as Corporate Secretary.

Colleen Barrett with maintenance and engineering employees. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Southwest's Tribute to Colleen Barrett

Southwest Airlines President & CEO Bob Jordan described Colleen Barrett as the heart of Southwest Airlines and credited her with teaching the company how to lead with their hearts. He emphasized that Colleen's fingerprints are all over Southwest Airlines, and she cherished her Southwest Family.

Gary Kelly, Executive Chairman of the Board of Directors at Southwest Airlines, highlighted Colleen's passion and commitment to ensuring that employees provided legendary customer service, which made Southwest Airlines famous for its hospitality.

Southwest Airlines canyon blue Boeing 737-8 N872CB, dedicated to Colleen Barrett in 2022. Photo: Johan Heske/airways

Legacy and Remembrance

Southwest says Colleen Barrett's legacy will continue to shape the airline and its values, including the Golden Rule, hospitality, serving others, and most importantly, LUV.

In honor of her life and legacy, donations and other expressions of remembrance can be directed to the Southwest Airlines Employees Catastrophic Assistance Charity, Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Visiting Nurse Association (Meals on Wheels), or the Dallas Hearing Foundation.

A special website, honoringcolleen.com, has been created to pay tribute to Colleen Barrett and her significant contributions to the Dallas-based carrier. Funeral services, visitation, and obituary details will be released soon.

Additional information about her impact on the world can be found through the Colleen C. Barrett Institute for Cultural Excellence & Customer Service.

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