Southwest Celebrates 25 Years of its Signature Adopt-A-Pilot Program

Media Release

The Southwest Airlines® Adopt-A-Pilot (AAP) Program has inspired thousands of fifth-grade students across the country through fun, STEM-centered activities, and experiments since 1997. The program connects Southwest Pilots with classrooms to engage students in fun, aviation-related lessons that define a plan for future success and spark an interest in careers in aviation. Southwest is committed to bringing America's future leaders unique learning opportunities by committing our resources and time to inspire students and help them define, articulate, and plan for future success.

The 2022-2023 school year marks the 25th anniversary of AAP! Since our award-winning program first launched, Southwest Pilots have visited thousands of classrooms around the country, teaching an aviation-themed curriculum and impacting the lives of more half a million students.

History of Adopt-A-Pilot

Developed in 1997 in cooperation with the Smithsonian, Adopt-A-Pilot is a one-of-a-kind, award-winning mentorship program. The program is endorsed by former First Lady Laura Bush, General Collin Powell, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for its contribution to America’s children.

How Adopt-A-Pilot Works

Each school year, students in more than 1,500 classrooms across the country will "adopt" Southwest's Pilots, giving our passionate aviators opportunities to mentor students in and around the fifth-grade level. As part of the Adopt-A-Pilot Program, students will also research careers and further develop life skills, while the importance of staying in school is reinforced along with the importance of life values. Southwest is pleased to offer these opportunities at no cost to participating schools.

Adopt-A-Pilot 25th Anniversary Plane

In April 2023, Southwest celebrated 25 years of its bridge-building Adopt-A-Pilot® Program by unveiling an aircraft adorned with a nose decal and fuselage artwork dedicated to nearly 14,000 Pilots and half-million student participants linked through the award-winning Program.

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Southwest Airlines Celebrates 25 Years of Mentoring Between Pilots And Students Through Its Signature Adopt-a-pilot Program

Airline dedicates aircraft to the Adopt-A-Pilot Program that has inspired thousands of fifth-grade students with an early interest in aviation

DALLAS—April 14, 2023—Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV) today celebrated 25 years of its bridge-building Adopt-A-Pilot® Program by unveiling an aircraft adorned with a nose decal and fuselage artwork dedicated to nearly 14,000 Pilots and half-million students that participated in the award-winning Program. In a quarter century, Adopt-A-Pilot has impacted the lives of more than 556,000 fifth-grade students in classrooms across the country. The aircraft, unveiled at a celebration at the Southwest Airlines® Maintenance Hangar in Dallas, brought together fifth-grade students enrolled at a local elementary school who have “adopted” a Pilot, along with current and past participants of the Adopt-A-Pilot Program.

“Southwest Airlines leads with Heart, whether in the sky or with the communities in which we serve,” said Linda Rutherford, Chief Administration & Communications Officer at Southwest Airlines. “The Adopt-A-Pilot Program allows our dedicated Pilots to share their vast knowledge, experience, and life lessons with students who are the future leaders of America. It’s inspired more than half a million kids over the past 25 years, and we are honored to have a window seat view to watch these students soar. Our Pilots get as much out of this program as the students do.”

Adopt-A-Pilot, which began in 1997, brings Southwest® Pilots into classrooms to engage students in interactive, aviation-related lessons that help define future successes, and sparks interest in aviation careers. Each school year, students in more than 1,500 classrooms across the country “adopt” Southwest Pilots who mentor students in the fifth-grade. As part of the award-winning Adopt-A-Pilot Program, students research careers and develop life skills, while Pilots underscore the importance of staying in school. The Adopt-A-Pilot curriculum is a supplementary way to educate students through aviation-themed activities related to science, geography, math, writing, and other core subjects.

Southwest is committed to bringing America’s future leaders unique learning opportunities by committing resources and time to inspire students and help them define, articulate, and plan for future success. Students who were in classrooms which adopted Southwest Pilots have gone on to pursue careers in aviation, including:

  • Southwest First Officer Joe, who joined the Southwest Family in 2022. His fifth-grade classroom adopted a Southwest Pilot and completed the Adopt-A-Pilot curriculum in 2009.
  • Southwest Destination 225° Program Cadet Jett. His longtime Adopt-A-Pilot mentor of more than ten years, Captain Nancy, inspired him to pursue aviation.
  • High school students, Josh and Philip. They are continuing their mentorship with Southwest Pilots Wendy and Nancy to pursue pathways into professional pilot careers.

Continuing its commitment to bring resources to support education and student development, Southwest announced a $10,000 donation to Ethridge Elementary School in The Colony, Texas. The school intends to use the funds to procure necessary supplies and equipment for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Fifth-grade students at Ethridge Elementary School adopted a Southwest Pilot for the 2022-2023 school year and attended the unveiling event.

To learn more about the Southwest Adopt-A-Pilot Program, please visit

For more information on becoming a Pilot at Southwest Airlines, visit

About Southwest Airlines Co.

Southwest Airlines Co. operates one of the world’s most admired and awarded airlines, offering its one-of-a-kind value and Hospitality at 121 airports across 11 countries. Southwest took flight in 1971 to democratize the sky through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel and now carries more air travelers flying nonstop within the United States than any other airline1. Based in Dallas and famous for an Employee-first corporate Culture, Southwest maintains an unprecedented record of no involuntary furloughs or layoffs in its history. By empowering its more than 66,0002 People to deliver unparalleled Hospitality, the maverick airline cherishes a passionate loyalty among as many as 130 million Customers carried a year. That formula for success brought industry-leading prosperity and 47 consecutive years3 of profitability for Southwest Shareholders (NYSE: LUV). Southwest leverages a unique legacy and mission to serve communities around the world including harnessing the power of its People and Purpose to put communities at the Heart of its success. Learn more by visiting Southwest is also continuing to develop tangible steps toward achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, including offering Customers an opportunity to help the airline offset its carbon emissions. To be part of the solution, visit  

  1. U.S. Dept. of Transportation most recent reporting of domestic originating passengers boarded     
  2. Fulltime-equivalent active Employees      
  3. 1973-2019 annual profitability    

Media Contacts:
Visit the Southwest Newsroom at for multimedia assets and other Company news.  

Media Relations Team: (214) 792-4847, option 1  

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