Southwest has announced that it will finally be ending production of one of the greatest airline dork tools ever invented, the timetable. After the current issue, Southwest timetables will no longer be printed, and that means that there won’t be any printed timetables left anywhere in the US. What a sad day, particularly for a dork like me.
The non-dorks probably can’t understand the impact that airline timetables had on my life. They were instrumental in cementing my love for the industry. In fact, when my parents arranged for professional family photos in 1989, I insisted on having this shot taken with my beloved timetables. (Please ignore the chubby cheeks and buffalo hair.)
I grew up collecting these things while other kids collected baseball cards, and I still have a couple of boxes full of some of the more exciting ones. I have a prized TWA timetable from a family member who picked it up in the 1950s. I have a few Eastern timetables from late 1980s which allow you to watch its descent into the grave via a shrinking route map. Yes, you’ll find some Pan Am schedules showing the same trajectory as well.
I have timetables from exotic foreign carriers that I picked up while abroad – Air Botswana and Aeroflot, for example. And yes, there are plenty of little guys that you probably wouldn’t even recognize today. (Sunworld Airlines, anyone? How about the original Jet America?)
Whenever someone in my family had to go to the airport, my parents would let me come along and I would run out at each terminal at LAX. You could find me darting from ticket counter to ticket counter, collecting everything I could grab.
What did I do with these timetables? I would scrutinize them for days, looking at all the cool places I could go. I remember studying them looking for changes in aircraft types, flight times, etc. I even forced my brother to plan imaginary trips with me, so I could look through the timetables with a purpose.
Of course, there’s no reason for an airline to have printed timetables today. You can download a PDF with the schedules from nearly any carrier or you can look them up online. If you have the web on your phone, most airlines will allow you to search schedules there as well. The information is all standardized and easy to find. While that’s helpful, it’s also boring.
I used to relish the opportunity to examine differences between the way different airlines showed their schedules. I cursed Northwest for only showing nonstop and direct flights in their measly little booklet while I became angry with others for showing route maps without the lines displayed.
Now that era is over, and cost cuts combined with environmental consciousness mean that the printing timetables was guaranteed to end. It actually took longer than I expected, but it’s a sad day nonetheless.