Behind the scenes at Southwest Airlines (pictures)

One of the world's most profitable airlines, Southwest centralized its training operations in Dallas, and added a giant new network operations center. CNET Road Trip 2014 buckled up and checked it out.

Daniel Terdiman
Daniel Terdiman is a senior writer at CNET News covering Twitter, Net culture, and everything in between.
Daniel Terdiman
1 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Smoke-filled cabin

DALLAS -- If you've ever flown, you've doubtless sat through the list of emergency procedures at the beginning of the flight. But did you listen?

Southwest Airlines flight attendants don't have the luxury of tuning out when they're training for their jobs, especially not when learning how to handle an onboard emergency like a fire.

At its Dallas headquarters, Southwest runs this cabin trainer, known as the Poolie, which lets the flight crew practice what to do in a crisis.

As part of Road Trip 2014, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman stopped in on the airline's headquarters and, among other things, got treated to the emergency-training experience.

2 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Poolie from the side

Southwest bought the cabin trainer, which mimics part of the interior of a Boeing 737, from Carnival Airlines in 1985. The airline repainted the trainer with its new livery last year.

3 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

No smoke in your eyes

The interior of the Poolie just prior to the cabin filling up with fake smoke. As you can see, it looks very much like an older Southwest 737.

4 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Poolie with slide

Part of the emergency exercise for those training in the Poolie is to guide "passengers" down the slide that inflates in the case of a crisis. Here, we see the trainer with the slide extended after a demonstration. The exit door had been open during the demo.

5 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Flight simulators

Southwest maintains nine flight simulators at its Dallas headquarters. All first officers and captains must train in them once a year. The giant simulators are meant to pitch and roll just as a plane would, depending on the scenario. The nine simulators are almost always all in use.

6 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

All electric simulators

While most of the flight simulators use hydraulics to move, the airline's two newest are all-electric. All nine of the trainers simulate Boeing 737s, although two of them (not pictured here) represent the oldest 737s in the airline's fleet.

7 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Good luck chicken

Each of the nine simulators has a rubber chicken hanging from it somewhere. Though not an airline industry standard, at Southwest, the practice is thought to bring pilots good luck.

8 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Author in the flight simulator

The author sits in one of the pilot's seats in the flight simulator, ready to take on the virtual skies.

9 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Ready for takeoff

A look out the "window" of the flight simulator cockpit at the virtual runway. The simulator can test any number of scenarios, including taking off with a burning engine, landing in low visibility, approaching big airports, or just about anything else.

10 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Banking over Seattle

CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman banks to the right over "downtown Seattle" in the Southwest Airlines flight simulator.

11 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Lobby models

In the lobby of Southwest's main headquarters building, a set of scale-model Boeing 737s hangs from the ceiling, each representing a livery the airline is currently flying.

12 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Nose photo opp

Scattered around the airline's headquarters are a set of "photo ops," like this one, where employees and visitors are invited to stop and pose for a photograph.

13 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Working on the bridge

One of Southwest's big new initiatives is this giant center, the NOC, or network operations center. Here, representatives from most of the airline's departments work in small teams to dispatch and monitor each and every one of its daily flights. Here, we see supervisors monitoring flights on the "bridge," the raised area in the middle of the center where senior members of the teams sit and work.

14 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET


A look at the NOC from the rear of the room. Southwest built the center with plenty of room to expand.

15 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Trying to route around weather

A dispatcher's computer screen shows that the intended route for a Baltimore to Salt Lake City flight would take it through a giant set of thunderstorms. His challenge is to find an efficient route around the 55,000-foot-tall thunderheads.

16 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Engine cowling

Another photo op inside Southwest's headquarters is this engine cowling.

17 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Big plane in TOPS lobby

Southwest recently opened a giant new facility across the street from its main headquarters. Known as TOPS, or Training and Operations, the building is home to the airline's entire training program, which used to be distributed around the country. This large scale-model Boeing 737 hangs in the TOPS lobby.

18 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Listening center word cloud

Recently, Southwest opened what it calls its "Listening Center." Designed to help its communications department monitor social-media channels throughout the day, the idea is that it can react to many types of customer complaints or questions, or to unfolding events much faster than using traditional methods.

One way it does so is by looking to see what the most common phrases being used in conjunction with the airline's name are at any time. The result is this word cloud.

19 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Listening center

A look at the listening center, which has room for several employees, and several different kinds of information being represented on its many screens.

20 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Training check-in counter

It may look just like an airport's Southwest Airlines check-in counter, but in fact this is a mock-up of one in the airline's training center.

21 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Door training

Groups of trainees are taught how to open the plane's doors in an emergency using this mock-up, in one of the training rooms.

22 of 22 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Southwest U class list

A video screen shows a partial list of the current training classes being offered around the building at "Southwest U."

More Galleries

My Favorite Shots From the Galaxy S24 Ultra's Camera
A houseplant

My Favorite Shots From the Galaxy S24 Ultra's Camera

20 Photos
Honor's Magic V2 Foldable Is Lighter Than Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra

Honor's Magic V2 Foldable Is Lighter Than Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra

10 Photos
The Samsung Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus Looks Sweet in Aluminum
Samsung Galaxy S24

The Samsung Galaxy S24 and S24 Plus Looks Sweet in Aluminum

23 Photos
Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra Now Has a Titanium Design
The Galaxy S24 Ultra in multiple colors

Samsung's Galaxy S24 Ultra Now Has a Titanium Design

23 Photos
I Took 600+ Photos With the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Look at My Favorites

I Took 600+ Photos With the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. Look at My Favorites

34 Photos
Do You Know About These 17 Hidden iOS 17 Features?
Invitation for the Apple September iPhone 15 event

Do You Know About These 17 Hidden iOS 17 Features?

18 Photos
AI or Not AI: Can You Spot the Real Photos?

AI or Not AI: Can You Spot the Real Photos?

17 Photos