The man credited with the creation of low-cost scheduled airlines in the US has died.

Herb Kelleher, who was 87, co-founded Southwest Airlines in 1967 to provide budget flights within Texas.

Described by the carrier as a “pioneer, maverick and an innovator,” he faced a long legal fight as established carriers tried to prevent the newcomer from taking off.

However, Southwest finally took to the skies in 1971 and is now a major force in US aviation after pioneering cheap tickets in a single-class cabin without reserved seats – a blueprint for low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet.

Southwest now claims to be the world’s largest low-cost carrier with a fleet of more than 700 Boeing 737s operating 4,000 daily flights to 99 destinations.

The airline’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 revolutionised 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.”