Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines Co , has died at age 87.

Southwest Airlines started its operations in 1971 and Kelleher served as its executive chairman from March 1978 to May 2008.

Southwest Airlines shared the following statement: Herb was a pioneer, a maverick, and an innovator. His vision revolutionized commercial aviation and democratized the skies. Herb's passion, zest for life, and insatiable investment in relationships made lasting and immeasurable impressions on all who knew him and will forever be the bedrock and esprit de corps of Southwest Airlines.

Southwest's Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly said, "Herb was a lifelong mentor and friend, and one of the greatest joys of my life has been working alongside Herb for over 30 years. His stamp on the airline industry and all those he touched has been profound. His vision for making air travel affordable for all revolutionized the industry, and you can still see that transformation taking place today. But his legacy extends far beyond our industry and far beyond the world of entrepreneurship. He inspired people; he motivated people; he challenged people—and, he kept us laughing all the way. He was an exceptionally gifted man with an enormous heart and love for people—all people. We have been beyond blessed to have him as a part of our lives."

American Airlines, Chairman and CEO Doug Parker said, “On behalf of the entire American Airlines team, we take a deep breath and give long pause to remember and celebrate the many contributions Herb Kelleher made to our industry. Herb’s vision brought the freedom of travel to hundreds of millions of people, and his appetite for taking on any real or perceived battle was unmatched. His opponents often found that taking on Herb might mean a joke or prank would soon reveal itself, but it also signaled that Herb was likely well down the path to victory. His style presents the ultimate case study for airlines or any service company whereby if you take care of your people, they will take care of your customers, which will take care of your shareholders. That simple yet profound way of leading continues to inspire us, and we aspire to honor Herb’s example. Today we lost an industry icon, a legend, and a friend whom we will never forget. Thank you, Herb, you made us all better.”