Southwest Has the Same Mini-Lavatory as American. Here’s Why Southwest’s is Still Better.

When I first started writing about American’s 737 MAX and the miniature lavatory, the airline kept asking why don’t I give Southwest the same hard time?

Southwest has a similar lavatory in their new 737 MAXs. However,

  • Southwest isn’t retrofitting their full fleet with it.

  • The issue with American’s interior is the whole experience, the lavatory is just a part of it. American is removing seat back entertainment, putting in more uncomfortable seats, and squeezing those seats closer together.

  • And Southwest really shouldn’t be what they compare themselves to. “Southwest is the same as we are” seems like a strange argument when American’s CEO Doug Parker calls Southwest “the cattle car.”

  • Then the airline pushed back saying they had no choice but to accept small lavatories, that it’s all Boeing would offer, but even leaving aside the veracity of the claim no one is forcing American to replace larger lavatories with smaller ones through the fleet and Parker says if smaller lavatories had been available earlier American would have wanted them.

Well I finally flew on a Southwest 737 MAX. I fly Southwest often and have status with them yet haven’t found myself in a new lavaqtory on their planes. So on my most recent flight I got up to use the lavatory just to see it. It’s too cramped, of course.

But there is more space at the seats. American took the opportunity to squeeze in more seats. Southwest’s 737 MAX doesn’t have more seats than their existing 737-800s. The distance from seat back to seat back on American’s new domestic interiors is 30 inches, while Southwest is at 32 inches. Those two inches matter.

I flew Southwest home from DC. I flew American to DC. Here is that experience on American, thanks to irregular operations I wound up with the last seat on an Austin – Charlotte flight in the last row of coach.

Southwest and American are supposed to be offering different products. And no doubt American has done a lot to improve business class and treatment for ConciergeKey members.

But domestically where most American customers fly Southwest gives you more room, no change fees and doesn’t charge for checked bags. And employees seem to want to be at their jobs. Which one is the premium airline?

I really do think though that Southwest needs to distribute its product through traditional online channels so customers are aware of the premium option especially as online shopping improves to compare like-features along side price.

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, 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. Agreed that in 2018 Southwest is probably the best overall customer experience for your average economy flyer in the US. You get the 2 free checked bags. You get a faster and much more orderly and consistent boarding process (no formless groups massing around the boarding area). You get a comfortable seat with consistently more legroom. You get a solid wifi streaming product. You get consistently solid customer service. All of that is the same as or better than the Big 3, certainly.

  2. I will take Southwest on domestic legs anytime and everytime over American, Delta or United.

  3. …one last mention, Gary, I do miss the peanuts on Southwest (so I usually have a single serving or two of Blue Diamond Almonds… my computer case).

  4. Well said. I am lifetime Plat with AA, so I already get better seats, free bags and occasional upgrades, but I still fly SW if their price is within $50 because almost everything about the Southwest experience is better.

  5. Even the floor (aisle) is cleaner on the Southwest plane, as it appears there’s pieces of paper (or some other debris/litter) 3-4 rows forward of Gary (and seen over his right shoulder, or left/center side of pic)!

  6. There is no question the winner is SWA for most domestic routes comparing their seating to main cabins with others, Alaska does have a decent main cabin unlike AA which is a disgrace. I too do not care for the “new lav’s” Boeing is putting in these planes. What I have found is if your washing your hands ( my mother would be proud of me) your prone to getting water splashed on you.

    Like anything in the aviation industry if you don’t like it today wait awhile it will change.

  7. Curious as to why the retrofitted AA 737 still has the old overhead bins…weren’t those supposed to be upgraded as well?

  8. Was EP on AA for years – switched to SWA several years ago after about 1/3 of AA flights were delayed/canceled and paying through the teeth for flight changes. Big difference. Have never – ever – had a canceled flight with SWA. SWA has held flights for me when inbound was delayed. SWA wi-fi is good from gate to gate, not 10k feet up and down, make weekly flight changes with minimal financial impact, boarding is rapid compared to the ridiculous number of boarding groups at AA (and the time it takes) and yes – SWA personnel with only one exception in hundreds of flights, actually seem to like their job and passengers. I spend $50k+ a year on air. AA doesn’t compare on any of these criteria. Cattle car per AA? AA will not win me back with silly comments about SWA. A better analogy is SWA cattle car vs. AA NYC subway car. I’ll take SWA – oh, excuse me, could you please moooo-ve over? I’d like the window seat.

  9. Shucks, I should have moved over to The ♥️ Airline. Then there would have been 4 That everyone hates.

  10. I also just flew with southwest and had to use the toilet. Tough for ADA people. I’m loyal to Southwest even as a beer lifetime UA. I’m sure that they’d retrofit if possible after reading your blog. Contract of carriage is 5 sentences vs the tome that the major companies use. But southwest is or will be a major airline in volume. American will self destruct due to greed and incompetence

  11. It is no wonder the Customer Service at AA is so horrible. The lead example is their CEO Doug Parker publicly referring to SWA a “the cattle car”. Apparently he was not taught good manners when he was growing up. His employees copy his disdain for their Customers every day.

  12. This reads like a cheerleader for WN and an attempt at rationalization. The bathrooms are just as bad – why not just admit that period and entitle your blog “Why Southwest is better than American”

    Yes the extra 2″ make a difference in economy but the WN slimline seats are quite painful for many. AA beats WN in many ways: (1) Real food for purchase on longer flights (2) Extra legroom seats available for purchase (3) Seat reservations (4) International award redemptions (beyond central America) and C/F awards.

    I like WN as much as the next guy (I have a CP) but your argument is pretty weak.

  13. People dump on Southwest, but they are my favorite domestic airline. The bathrooms may be smaller now, but how often do you actually use the airplane bathroom on a flight? Maybe once. I’ve flown plenty of times and never got up out of the seat once.

  14. Shouldn’t 2″ less seat room yield more seats and therefore a noticeably lower ticket cost relative to airlines with fewer seats per plane? Unless the planes are not filled up, in which case you don’t need more seats, but you do need the space to be competitive.

  15. After the purchase of AirTran, SWA culture has slowly evaporated. My advice, avoid ATL with SWA because of the AirTran Mafia who hate passengers. The SWA new hires are a result of the mixed hiring boards and frankly, the new hires are mostly lazy straight out of the gate. I remember the old SWA under Herb and he is probably crying right now when he sees what has happened to his airline and his airline’s culture.

  16. I hope the ADA takes the Airlines to Court Over the Mini Bathrooms. ridiculous. Senior VP at AA in Customer Experience is a Large framed Woman….. would Lke to see how ‘comfortable ‘ a Woman Of Her Size feels about those Lavs…..Total BS on the part of these Airlines! this Individual has No Business in Her Corporate Role.

  17. I was a dedicated SWA flier until August 2007, when VX took to the skies. As a result of the merger, I’m now an AS loyalist with MVP Gold status. I continue to fly them because of the still-excellent partner airlines (despite losing a number of partners recently, mostly due to pressure from DL) and the ability to fly overseas on points. But SWA remains my second “go to” after AS, and B6 is third — were I living on the East Coast, I have no doubt that I would be flying B6 a lot more, versus AS, but: location, location, location…

    I do go out of my way NOT to fly on AA, UA, or DL unless it’s impossible to avoid (e.g.: having AS re-book me onto an AA flight because my original flight was cancelled; UA’s flight schedule permits me to arrive on time for a business/dinner meeting, while if I flew AS, I’d miss it).

    In the FWIW Dept.:
    —> I agree with @Roger in that I *do* hope that someone sues AA and Boeing over their failure to abide by the ADA.
    —> I disagree with @Boraxo re: his comment about “Real food [being available] for purchase on longer flights” on AA. I eat much better on SWA than AA by simply picking up something to go at the airport than anything AA serves. As MVP Gold with AS, I always get extra legroom automatically on AS, but I take your point the you *can* buy it on AA. That said, I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t sitting in an Exit Row on SWA, so I’d say extra legroom for free beasts extra legroom for a price. Indeed the whole seat reservation thing has *never* been an issue for me with SWA, as I always board early (though I’m not A-List and have no status with SWA). International redemptions *do* give AA an edge…IF you can find availability; then again, with SWA, there are no blackout dates whatsoever…far more redemption possibilities with SWA than with AA…

  18. The KEY benefit for me using SWA (I am A List and CP holder) is easy and no cost cancellations or changes. I often just book best guess on date/time, knowing I can change later if desired.

    But also, easily earned CP, gives be basically 1/2 price tickets and with A List, companion get early boarding with me.

    I am Plat for Life on AA and do like pick any seat option, but dislike their tracking of refunds credits and international reward process. Still need for international flights.

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