April 15, 2024


Inspired By Travel

Utah Travel Agent Created a No-Frills Airline

June Morris

was in her late 30s when she founded a travel agency in Salt Lake City five decades ago. She operated from a single desk at a photo-finishing company owned by her husband. Her first hire was one of her sisters.

That tiny business eventually employed more than 400 people, including

David Neeleman,

who went on to found

JetBlue Airways

and Breeze Airways, among others.

She and Mr. Neeleman created a sideline in chartering flights to Hawaii, California and other destinations. The charter service evolved into Morris Air, a no-frills airline in the Southwest Airlines mold. “We don’t serve a hot meal,” Ms. Morris told the Los Angeles Times. “But most people would rather [save] $10.”

Southwest was so impressed by her version of its model that it agreed to buy Morris Air in 1993 for Southwest shares valued at roughly $130 million. “We are kindred spirits,” said Herb Kelleher, then Southwest’s chief executive. Ms. Morris served as a director of Southwest until 2006.

Her sale of the airline coincided with treatment for breast cancer. “I wasn’t ready to die,” she told the Salt Lake Tribune in 1995. She flew to Texas, underwent an aggressive treatment regime and recovered. “If I didn’t think I was tough before, I do now,” she said.

Ms. Morris died July 23 of pulmonary fibrosis at her home in Salt Lake City. She was 90.

Mr. Neeleman remembered a management tip she gave him: “If you feel like blowing up at someone, wait at least 10 minutes, and then don’t do it.”

Lorna June Mayer was born April 27, 1931, in Manti, Utah. Her father ran a farm and herded sheep. When she was 12, the family moved to Salt Lake City, where her mother ran a boardinghouse and became a real-estate agent. June graduated from high school in 1948 and married Robert W. Frendt the same year. They had a son, Richard W. “Rick” Frendt, and divorced in 1962.

She found work at travel agencies. Among her early tasks was marking up road maps to guide people on their vacation travels. She grabbed an opportunity to start selling airline tickets.

While delivering an airline ticket in 1969, she met G. Mitchell “Mitch” Morris, a Montana native who owned a film-processing company. He invited her to dinner. Within a few months, they married in Reno, Nev. The service was so fast, Mr. Morris quipped later, “I still had 10 minutes on the parking meter,” according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Encouraged by her new husband, June Morris started Morris Travel. Her son worked there part-time as a college student, and after earning an M.B.A. degree at the University of Utah joined full-time and began taking senior management responsibilities.

Ms. Morris also founded the June Morris School of Travel, partly to help her identify promising job candidates.

In the early 1980s, she noticed a young travel entrepreneur in Salt Lake City, Mr. Neeleman. He had dropped out of college and was buying airline tickets in bulk and pairing them with hotel bookings to create package tours to Hawaii. His airline partner collapsed, leaving Mr. Neeleman with liabilities to customers for tour packages he could no longer deliver. That drove him into bankruptcy.

Mr. Neeleman, then 24 years old, was fed up with the travel business at that point, but Ms. Morris persuaded him to try again by joining her firm and setting up a charter service. It initially focused on package tours to Hawaii but soon also offered charter flights between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Oakland, Calif., and other cities.

Off-peak one-way fares to Los Angeles were as low as $59, far below the going rate. After advertising those fares, Morris Travel was deluged with phone calls and had to gear up to deal with them.

Mr. Neeleman took the lead in running what became Morris Air. In January 1990, Ms. Morris promoted him to president. She sent him a letter outlining her advice, including: “Avoid any signs of arrogance.”

The charter service became an airline and pioneered ticketless travel. Customers were surprised to learn they could receive a confirmation number over the phone rather than a paper ticket. For those who were nervous about going ticketless, Morris Air sent a fax with the confirmation number.

Morris Air was serving more than 20 Western cities when Southwest agreed to buy the carrier in 1993.

Ms. Morris’s survivors include her son and two children from Mitch Morris’s previous marriage. Mr. Morris died in 2011.

She helped broaden the market for air travel. “We have stimulated travel among people who have never been on an airplane before,” she told the Salt Lake Tribune. “Their options were Greyhound or their car.”

Write to James R. Hagerty at [email protected]

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