Learning with LUV

"On a few flights, we got to assist flight attendants by passing out the snacks so they could better serve our customers in other ways," said Birmingham, Ala., senior Penelope Shirey, who worked as an intern for Southwest Airlines in Dallas last semester. Photo credit: Penelope Shirey

By Penelope Shirey | Design Editor

Last semester I had the privilege of interning for Southwest Airlines in Dallas. Not only did this give me the incredible opportunity to learn from some of the top professionals in the communication field, but it also taught me lessons that stretched me as a person even outside the office. Living the Southwest way, I learned, does not stop when you leave the walls of headquarters. In fact, some of the my biggest opportunities for growth were not at my desk, but rather while traveling.

Interns are eligible for unlimited free flights on Southwest, as long as there are seats available after passengers who paid for their tickets board the plane. Just like Southwest’s advertisements once said, I was “now free to move about the country.” For 14 weeks, that is exactly what I did, taking 38 flights to 16 states and living out my Southwest values as I went.

The first part of living the Southwest way is having a warrior spirit. Remaining calm and flexible when your flight fills, possibly minutes before boarding, takes perseverance and a positive attitude. As a chronic over-planner, releasing the anxiety surrounding unknown plans became one of my biggest goals, and one that I proudly accomplished.

Another element of Southwest living is doing everything with a servant’s heart, following the golden rule. While traveling, this meant being gracious to customer service agents at the gates, even in stressful situations. On a few flights, we got to assist flight attendants by passing out the snacks so they could better serve our customers in other ways. Peanuts or pretzels, anyone?

One of my favorite parts about Southwest is the undeniable dedication to living with a Fun-LUVing Attitude. LUV, Southwest’s symbol on the New York Stock Exchange, is the company’s standard spelling for the concept that so permeates its culture. When I look back at the memories I made throughout my internship, it is difficult to think of an experience that does not embody this philosophy. The one I am most fond of involved driving a rented cherry red Chevrolet Camaro down the Pacific Coast Highway at 4 a.m. during a 13-hour layover in Los Angeles. We had planned the trip only hours prior to leaving, and the spontaneity of it all felt like we were truly living life to the fullest and having the most fun possible.

The best part of the semester, however, was definitely the relationships I formed by surrounding myself with other people who all believe in living this way. My friends became more like family, growing closer more quickly than I ever thought possible. My coworkers embraced me with open arms and mentored me personally and professionally. I learned the importance of viewing every opportunity as a chance for growth, and I will forever be grateful to Southwest for showing me so much LUV.

Penelope Shirey is a senior journalism major from Birmingham, Ala.