Great News: New Southwest Airlines Cabin Won’t Squeeze In More Seats

Update: Great news – Southwest Airlines confirms that this new cabin will be designed to the current 175 seats. This will not be used to increase seating.

However an airline spokesperson confirms to me that the new pilot contract does “include[..] a clause to re-negotiate rates of pay should Southwest choose to fly larger aircraft than what is is currently in our fleet.”



Southwest Airlines has unveiled new cabins for 737 MAX aircraft expected to be delivered starting early next year. The seats are from Recaro and will include personal device holders.

The new RECARO seats include a multi-adjustable headrest cushion for enhanced head and neck support, an intuitively designed seat for ultimate comfort while maximizing seat width and overall support. The upgrades continue as each seat also will include a personal electronic device holder for Customers to enjoy free Inflight Entertainment on their devices more easily.


Credit: Southwest Airlines


Credit: Southwest Airlines

In addition Southwest, which announced seat power two years ago will be retrofitting existing Boeing 737 8 MAX and 737-800 aircraft to offer USB A and C power ports (but still no standard outlets).

A few things stand out to me about the new cabin photos:

  • They’re highlighting seat backs with the same splash of color that comes from entertainment screens, but these are customer devices. Southwest Airlines does not provide seat back entertainment screens.

  • The seats look thin and insufficiently padded.

In these photos the seats look like the Recaro SL3710 which Frontier Airlines adopted. Regardless, Recaro is known for their slim seats that allow airlines to cram more passengers into cabins, and seats that are lighter and therefore reduce fuel burn. I don’t look to Recaro for comfort.

During the Southwest Airlines fourth quarter earnings call, chief commercial officer Ryan Green said that “Southwest Airlines has the best coach product in the industry.” I’ve always felt that while Southwest is good at marketing ‘bags fly free’ they don’t sell that they give you more room than major airline competitors.

  • The Delta, United, and American standard in economy is 30 inches from seat back to seat back (“pitch”).

  • Southwest Airlines offers 32 inch pitch on their Boeing 737-800 and MAX 8 aircraft, and 31 inches on the 737-700. That’s up to two inches more space in standard economy.

  • If you look at overall product, while Southwest is installing better wifi and USB outlets, American and Delta offer better wifi (United still does not). Delta has TVs and United will be rolling out more planes with those, while Southwest does not.


Current Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 Cabin


Southwest Airlines Cabin

I’d take more room over anything else, so I think Southwest has the best coach cabin today among the four largest carriers. And they never say so in their customer-facing communications!

However, comparing to the rest of the industry as Green does, I’d be remiss in not pointing out that JetBlue offers the same or more space, along with TVs and free fast wifi. However they lag (everyone) in on-time performance.

The question is, with this new cabin configuration – and with seats that appear slimmer than their current ones – will Southwest Airlines be adding seats?

  • Southwest could not add seats to their Boeing 737-800 and MAX 8 fleets because their pilot contract did not allow for it.

  • They’ve just completed a new deal with their pilots. I do not know whether that contract contained changes that would specify pilot pay for aircraft with more than 175 seats.


Southwest Airlines Cabin

Honestly I find the older tan seats more comfortable than the ones in the 737 MAX 8 today, and I expect more comfortable than these new Recaro seats will be.

I’ve reached out to Southwest about whether their new pilot contract contains changes that would make it easier to add seats. (See Update at the top of this post.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] Working with leading design house Tangerine, the new interior “brings to life Southwest’s warm energy with deep blue tones, sky blue accents, and a nod to the Southwest Heart woven throughout the carpet”, notes the airline. Thankfully, Southwest will not use the occasion to squeeze more seats into its traditional 175-seat MAX 8 configuration, it tells View From The Wing. […]

Comments

  1. I hope they don’t update the 737-700s with these, the 700s are the only ones I can fly with comfortable seats…these look really thin.

  2. I wasn’t expecting a cabin refresh, though personal ife holders make way too much sense.

    If I had to take a guess why WN never advertises legroom, is that it’s simply not enough (pitch).

    Few customers will notice 31 vs 30 inches, or they’ll be disappointed with what they presume is a lack of legroom

  3. @A220HubandSpoke: I think you hit the nail on the head… customers for the most part won’t perceive an inch difference really any different. It’s the extra 3-4 where you run into the range of almost nobody banging their knee into the seat in front where it’s noticeable, and WN is right to not focus on advertising it, so that anybody who does note a positive difference just has their expectations exceeded.

    It is disappointing that Southwest is not installing regular outlets. I see full size outlets as business-friendly as you can charge a laptop (yes, many newer laptops can do the USB thing, just like docking stations are the size of your wallet, but it’s pretty much just going to sustain what you’re doing and not give you more to go).

    Those do look like the Recaro seats Frontier has on its newer neos…. I don’t find them horrible, but I can sit on a wooden bench for 3 hours. They are a lot better than the thin/hollow-shell-backed ones with the tiny tray tables. I do hope they put a little more padding, but if anything they will probably help make the pitch feel bigger. I’ve never experienced these seats where they recline, so interested in how that function changes things.

  4. TWA’s “Comfort Class”, Midwest Express (in general), and American’s More Room Thru Coach sadly did not move the needle enough for airlines to keep giving us more comfort. Sadly the budget minded travelers rule and those of us who like to feel our butts & legs and not need a chiropractor after every flight are now the minority.

  5. But the new cabins will squeeze your feet to make room for the bulky power boxes in the footwells. 🙁

  6. Southwest’s current seats are about as comfortable as a park bench. So any change should be an improvement. As for cramming in more seats, one has the chance to upgrade his or her seat on legacy carriers.

  7. For the first time in a long time, I flew WN this week. Four cycles, all of them on MAX 8s. I expected to be uncomfortable in terms of legroom, since I’ve spent a long time flying UA Economy Plus. It wasn’t too bad. The Recaros will offer a little bit more in that area, so that’s good. Yeah, I miss the old tan seats from the days when I used to fly WN a lot more regularly, but at least they’re thinking of customers. Of course, the real reason for the replacements are to save money on fuel (this is Bob Jordan in the C-Suite, not Herb), but I appreciate the thought.

  8. @Gene, you have many other choices for assigned seats and first class. Please do us all a favor and go for it, elsewhere. Thank you.
    My question for Southwest is where the He// does one put their coffee?

  9. Southwest is not as great as they think they are. They were far better when they were smaller. They’ve become just like their competition; the ones they used to try “not to be”.

  10. Delta’s standard
    Pitch is 31” with the exception of the 319/320, a few rows on the 321 and 739 and a couple rows on one side of the 220-100. Their new 321neos are all 31”+ and the max 10 is also expected with the 31+. It is more accurate to say their lowest is 30” but more economy seats on delta have 31”+ (excluding comfort)

  11. Jetblue has the same legroom? Come on…… this guy is so full of garbage. I can assure all readers ..exit row aside.. Jetblue has MORE legroom than WN. Gary is a JetBlue hater..sorry about your stock losses.

    I would also challenge Southwest has much worse reliability on similar routes than Jetblue. When most of your route network is focused out west… yes your overall numbers will look better.

  12. @ American — Other than the wheel chair scammers, I fail to see how customers benefit from no assigned seating.

  13. “American and Delta offer better wifi” problem with the big 3 is their commuter lines don’t all have wifi. That’s why I love WN. I know it’s a 737 every time and plane to plane it’s not much difference in experience. You can fly “AA” and be in a CRJ700 or a 777.

  14. These seats are actually not bad at all. Frontier has them and so is Hawaiian on their 717 jets. And I prefer them over every seat that Delta, American or United have. I think for domestic this is the best seat. Not comfy around the butt, but allows for a lot more legroom than you would assume.

  15. GOOD! Don’t knock the seats until you try them. They may “look” thin and uncomfortable but they’re not even out yet. Go figure!

  16. Southwest left us high and dry during the Christmas disaster a couple years ago. Lost a family member’s luggage for 3 weeks. Never made it to our destination. Had to fight like crazy to get airline tickets refunded, and their compensation for ruining vacation felt cheap and non-authentic.

    Have not flown them since. And looking at the new seats in the story (super thin and uncomfortable), I have zero plans to fly them again.

  17. @Gene how narcissistic of you to assume all wheelchair passengers are scammers. That aside, I fail to see the benefit of assigned seats for passengers except as a money grab for the airlines. You have many choices and I seriously doubt that Southwest will miss you. Herb Kelleher valued all Customers, even those who use wheelchairs. Your comment is wasted on those who do not really need a wheelchair, and an insult to those who do need one. Get over yourself and use a more acceptable choice for your travel needs.

  18. If these seats are the same ones that Frontier Airlines uses I’ll have to start flying Alaska . The frontier seats are extremely uncomfortable and Swest will be surprised what the backlash will be. I’d recommend that Southwest Executives take a 4 hour flight in theses seats before fully moving forward.
    Eliot

  19. Sorry@American that you took offense at the wheel chair scammers remark but as a frequent observer of some early boarders I concur with his comment and continue to be amazed by the remarkable healing powers of the flight that allow the crippled to jump up and quickly exit after landing. So please save your piety and virtue outrage… the scammers are plentiful and the Southwest flight attendants will tell you they see it constantly.

  20. @David Dawson, I am in a wheelchair out of necessity and I have to tell you I hate it mostly because of judgemental people such as you appear to be. The scammers, yes I do know there are some, do not care what you or anyone thinks. Boarding at airports like MDW is a huge demonstration of that because the last time I had a connection at MDW there were about 15 wheelchairs in the gate area. The boarding Agent announced that those who could walk the jetway could go down first. That left the rest of us who could not walk down to get on the plane and have to try to make it back several rows to find a seat because the scammers were sitting up front grinning at all the struggling passengers. My feeling is if you can walk down the jetway, you do not need to preboard. As for exiting the plane when it lands, I have come very close to missing a connection more than once due to the lack of wheelchairs. I have on rare occasions struggled to walk up the jetway hoping to trap a wheelchair before they can get away because I cannot walk from the B concourse to the A concourse, nor can I walk to Baggage Claim.

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