Why Southwest Airlines Once Claimed To Be Texas' Top Liquor Distributor

Many airline companies understand that passengers enjoy an alcoholic beverage every once in a while. It's why you can find bars inside most major airports and why most airlines serve alcoholic drinks during flights — though drinking on flights might be coming to a stop soon. Even so, very few people are likely to equate airlines with liquor distributors like taverns and clubs, except maybe in the fact that you can't BYOB on a flight. They almost certainly wouldn't think an airline was the top premium liquor distributor for an entire state, but for a brief period in the '70s, Southwest Airlines claims it held that title.

Today, Southwest is one of the four biggest airlines in the United States. It flies tens of millions of passengers each year. The company wasn't always that big, however. In the early '70s, when Southwest was starting out, it was a small airline that lost money and ran into legal issues at every turn. To grow from that to its current standing is quite a feat. The airline got there, at least partially, due to a promotion it ran in 1973: Giving away free bottles of booze to customers.

Southwest Airlines uses liquor to beat its competition

To help Southwest Airlines increase its customer base and eventually turn a profit, it began selling one-way fares for $13 and roundtrips for $25 on certain popular flights in 1972. Though Southwest was the first company to do this, Braniff — a major airline at the time and fledgling Southwest's direct competitor — hopped on the bandwagon to stay competitive. To ensure it wouldn't lose business to Braniff in what became known as the "$13 Fare War," Southwest had to do something fast.

On February 1, 1973, the airline announced its biggest promotion yet. Southwest passengers were now given the choice between paying the $13 fare or opting to pay the full $26 price. If they took the latter, they'd receive a bottle of their choice that included Chivas Regal, Crown Royal, or Smirnoff vodka. Quite a few passengers enjoyed the gift more than the discount, especially businessmen paying their fares with corporate accounts. The number of bottles Southwest gave away from February and March of that year allegedly made Southwest Texas' top liquor distributor for premium liquor, according to Southwest legend.

The new promotion for Southwest didn't just garnish the airline enough loyal customers to survive and profit. It proved too much for Braniff to match. As Southwest's numbers continued to rise throughout the next decade, Braniff saw its doors close for good.