The Time I Told an Aviation Icon I Didn't Have a Business Card

Filed away years ago as, "Well, that sure was stupid."

Once, I met Southwest founder and former CEO, Herb Kelleher in the airport. We talked at length and I got the impression he liked me. He suggested as much. And then he asked for my card. To which I replied, "I don't have a card. I've never had a reason to carry one."

It started like this. I was working a flight from Washington D.C. to Dallas and we were delayed for weather. We had boarded and were at the gate and I made a few announcements that the weather was looking bad in Dallas and we would wait a bit longer and hope for the best but there wasn't much more we could do. I like to make these announcements using the flight attendant’s PA so I can be face to face with the passengers when I deliver the news. Especially if I'm having a good hair day. In this case, I had to make the announcement a few times until the final, "Well, it looks like we are not going anywhere" speech.

The flight was cancelled. Again, I like to stand at the door when the passengers leave so I can take the punches away from the flight attendants. Mr. Kelleher got off last and I thanked him for his patience.

My first officer had to tell me who that last passenger was. I wasn't aware.

"I wish I knew." I said to him. "There is so much I'd love to ask him."

But I ran into him a little while later coincidentally sitting in the gate area of my next outbound flight which was in the opposite direction of Dallas. I thanked him again for his patience and asked if he was still going to Texas. "Are you flying standby?" I joked.

We talked for about thirty minutes about the state of the airline industry and what the future had in store. With the recent consolidations, his predictions came true.

Herb is a tall man. So am I but when he stood he towered over me in his trench coat and hat. He stood several times during our talk. We would talk and the conversation would get animated and he would stand and I would stand and then shrink next to him. I asked him about my current employer and he poked me with his finger and said something with several expletives about how we should dare not mess with Southwest or something punctuated by several expletives would happen to us. To anyone watching they would have assumed I was about to get my expletive kicked by this older fella.

We talked about pilots and personalities and when we shook hands to part ways he said, "I really like you. I like your sense of humor." And then he asked for my business card.

To which I inexplicably replied. "I don't have a card. I've never had a reason to carry one."

Yes. I said, "I Don't Have A Card".

We shook hands and went our ways.

When I got back to the cockpit it hit me. "What a moron! What was I thinking!"

It's a well known legend that Mr. Kelleher wrote the first draft of the Southwest business plan on a cocktail napkin. I yelled back to the galley, "I need some cocktail napkins!"

"Did you spill something again!" Is what I heard.

"No! But I need some napkins!" I answered.

I quickly scribbled my contact information on the napkin. We were done boarding and due to push back soon and I told the gate agent I'd be just a second. In my head I'd leap from the plane over the gap into the jetway, run and give Mr. Kelleher by information. I'd say breathlessly, "My cocktail napkin, Sir."

But he was nowhere to be seen. He was gone.

That night I ordered a thousand business cards and carry one everywhere I go. I still have nine hundred and ninety nine.

I later used my "cocktail napkin" to clean up spilt coffee in the cockpit.