Southwest Says If There’s Ever A Time To Walk Away Being Exclusively Boeing It’s Now

On the Southwest Airlines earnings call they were asked about their fleet plans. Last year it was reported that the airline was kicking the tires on the Airbus A220 to meet their smaller jet needs and replace aging Boeing 737-700s. The airline’s board had even directed the airline to look at planes beyond Boeing.

That’s a huge departure for Southwest which began operating Boeing 737-200s and has largely maintained an all-Boeing fleet throughout its history with a few brief exceptions.

After 50 years committed to Boeing, the airline said that if there was ever a time to consider buying non-Boeing aircraft it would be now. They aren’t growth constrained. They have plenty of unused and underutilized aircraft in their fleet. And that gives them the space and time to transition to a new aircraft.

They acknowledge talking about the Boeing 737 MAX 7 in a way that leaves them as the lowest-cost narrowbody operator in the world. And they’re also looking at the Airbus A220 to do that. There are “efficiencies staying all-Boeing” but the “decision comes down to economics.”

They need a “145-150 seat airplane” but they “don’t have to make the decision until 2025” (though they clarified they need the planes to arrive starting 2025). They’ll replace Boeing 737-700s coming up for retirement over the next 5-10 years. And they don’t need “all 175 seaters.” Perhaps, they say, it’ll be “half and half” planes at that size and smaller aircraft.

The first big investor in Southwest wanted the airline to fly Boeing 707s with skylights so passengers could look up towards the heavens. That plan never came to pass. But Southwest could now buy something other than 737s – and even something other than Boeings.

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. It makes sense to talk loudly about considering Airbus because it incentivizes Boeing to give them better pricing. In the end I doubt they’ll make the switch.

  2. Sweet to see other varieties in plane makers. I disagree with the 737 MAX patch up work where the software is supposed to make up for the hardware shortfall (engines). Yet, the 737 MAX is going to get approved and we will be forced to fly on it because there will not be many other choices. In other words, Boeing is going to shove it down our throats whether we like it or not.

  3. I’m glad Southwest is doing this. It’s a different world these days and sadly you need leverage with companies like Boeing. Otherwise they will take advantage.

  4. Unless Boeing comes out with a smaller capacity aircraft, I have no doubts that Southwest will be forced to go with someone other than Boeing. Southwest has ventured down the path this year of servicing smaller destinations. Many of the recent additions to their route map will be better served with smaller sized aircraft.

  5. I personally think if you are an American carrier, you should be flying US products. Besides Airbuses have a much worse safety record.

  6. I Like when people are paranoid to fly the Max after all the scrutiny it’s had it’s gotta be the safest aircraft out there

  7. It’s another ploy to get discounts on more Boeing aircraft. They’re not fooling anyone. This model has worked for them, even in the midst of the groundings and the pandemic. I would bet money it’s just to get more 737s at a cheaper price.

  8. They don’t just need a 145-150 seat plane. They also need an efficient 120 seat plane. There are lots of Cities in the US that have too little demand to justify Southwests’ smallest planes. The 737’s Southwest started with in 1971 were the 737-200 with 122 seats. With every major reengining and improvement of new models, the size of the most efficient model of the 737 has increased. The 737-8 has 175 seats. The 737-7 will be 150 seats (the legal maximum number of seats for 3 flight attendants). That’s 7 more seats than the slimline seat configured 737-700.

    Some smaller cities would be better served by more frequent service throughout the day on smaller planes. Having fewer flights with bigger planes means fewer opportunities to connect to other destinations. It means it makes more sense to drive 2-4 hours to other airports than to fly from my local airport. Basically the 737 of today serves a very different market than the 737 of 1971.

  9. Southwest should also look for alternatives in Bombardier’s jets and also the Mitsubishi jets in Japan. Brazil must first eliminate a ton of import tariffs on US products for SWA to chose Embraer. Boeing’s troubles are self inflicted. The B737 Max jets will continue to fly but this jetliner’s reputation and future is truly in shambles!

  10. Airbus has a factory in Alabama, well most of the Airbus fleet their Southwest gets will be built in Mobile, Alabama.

  11. I recall in 1990 there were proposals to convert 727-100 and -200 aircraft to 2 engine using new, powerful and more efficient high bypass engines. Remove the center intake and relocate the APU to the tail.
    Would have worked and FedEx was interested.
    Boeing refused to support the effort because it competed with their new 757 model.
    A real should-a could-a for boeing.

  12. Airbus is much more passenger friendly. They actually have toilets you can stand up in. The 220 is made in the USA. I hope Southwest switches out of Boeing. Boeing went brain dead and murderous after the 787.

  13. Sigh. Still comments about “software to fix a hardware problem” on the 737 MAX. Folks, *all* modern jetliners rely on properly functioning software for safe flight. In fact, most Airbus models are more reliant on software than the 737 MAX is.

    The MAX problem was a particular subset of flight control software designed on a horrifically poor set of assumptions. Those problems have been fixed, according to several international regulatory agencies. So please stop harping on software as a continuing problem for the 737 MAX.

  14. Thank you Tad for bringing the conversation back to reality. You are the only one in this thread who properly stated the issues the 737 faced. Someone else mentioned that it’s the most scrutinized aircraft out there right now. That is slso a true statement. This talk from SW is all about economics not safety. The airlines do have to think hard about their current economic situation but let’s be careful you don’t get a cheaper price without eliminating the cost from somewhere let’s make sure its not in the area of safe flight.

  15. The problem with the 737max is not software or engineering. The real problem is that there should have never been this problem. Cutting corners to achieve goals and receive bonuses will do this anytime everywhere. The product may be fine “now”, but how long will it last? The trust is gone. The culture needs to change, mechanisms supporting certification, QA, etc need to be in place and taken seriously at every level, including regulators.

  16. What will SW do when the flight capacities are back to normal 2 years or more before that time? Buy more 220s? Lead time might not support increased 220 quantity. Increased maintenance costs for more 220 aircraft vs. 737s. Maintenance crews would also need to learn two different systems. Tad and TerryP hit the mark. I’ll look to fly on the Max for the very reasons stated. I’m sure the 220 is a fine aircraft for other carriers to replace older CRJ and Embraer aircraft.

  17. SW primary reason for success is due to the fact that they fly only one type of jet. ATA is an example of the other extreme. They had terrific service, but they flew just about every type of jet available. Huge costs for the need to operate additional types.

  18. All these people saying they won’t leave or go away from Boeing are just haters of Airbus. Boeing has horrible quality control these days. Maybe Boeing should have done the deal with Embraer. Fools!

  19. For us tall people, I avoid SW because of cramped seating. Give a couple of iches more of knee room and thereby get closer to the desired 150 seats by eliminating a few rows. Regardless of the plane model.

  20. I have flown on Airbus from Delta and United and the flights have been all the same. They are call a BuS for a reason. Boeing is a much better airplane

  21. Southwest is simply vying for better prices from Boeing. Part of the reason I fly Southwest is excellent service and the fact they buy American. I believe many would stop flying them exclusively if they made a move away from American aircraft.

  22. I fly every week, I fly SW 95% of the time. They are on time leaving, on time arriving and most cases my next gate is close by. I like the service, the people and a more laid back attitude. AND they BUY AMERICAN!!

  23. The 737 is beyond Maxed out, the original 737 200 in 1971 had 112 seats, then 118 and finally 122. The 733s and 73Gs had 137 seats until recently. The A220 100 fills the role of the 735 and the A220 300 replaces the 73G. Eventually stretched A220s might replace the 738. The A220 clobbers the MAX in both passenger comfort and economics, the 737 and Boeing will be gone by the end of this decade.

  24. For those who say buy American, does that mean buy horses and buggies? The basic 737 is based on 1950s technology from the 707. That was 65 years ago, go 65 years further back and you’re talking Back to the Future III. Boeing decided returning $60,000,000,000 to shareholders was more important than product development, and now it’s time to pay the piper.

  25. Tad is right. There IS no hardware problem on the 737 Maxx. The problem was the nose-down subroutine, which was easy enough to fix.

    The REAL problem was Boeing had a CEO who was more interested in and more focused on the effing STOCK PRICE than he was in producing top-notch aircraft. While he was glad-handing investors and the media, the quality of the aircraft development process took a nosedive and too many people made too many assumptions and failed to realize the shortcomings in their new streamlined development process.

    That CEO and this episode of corpora te e failure will forever tarnish the Boeing brand. Lot of good that CEO did — the result of the carelessness is nearly 300 dead people, a totally decimated stock price, a horribly damaged corporate image . . . and the CEO was forced out in shame.

    All of that CEO’s misguided efforts were for naught.

  26. A few years ago when the 737 had reached its full potential, Boeing should have forced SW to buy the 757 and this whole debacle would have been avoided. I blame the airlines And Boeing for pushing the 737 way past it’s capabilities.

  27. Boeing continues to put over quality. That alone plus the MAX debacle should end this once fine plane maker.
    But gotta remember, their lobby is strong and DC, FAA, et al are in their pockets.
    Sadly they’ll likely continue. “Too big & rich to fail!”

  28. Without a doubt, Southwest’s float of an Airbus or Embraer replacement of a 737 smaller variant to the press / public will most definitely cause Boeing sleepless nights / immediate calls for discussion! Not only is Boeing on the hook to sell the Max again when recertified, but in order to do so, any and all legacy issues will be on the table not only for airlines that previously purchased / took delivery of Max Aircraft, but for any other Boeing Model in their fleets that may have had reliability issues and improvements made through optional service bulletins / modifications. I agree with some of the other comments and would have no issue flying on the Max when allowed to fly pax again. My concern would be the quality of the “Return to Service” inspections / maintenance / MCAS modifications / FCF’s required before allowing scheduled passenger service again. Agree that what Boeing did during initial Max certification was terrible, but there is validity to the fact that no USA 737 Max Operators had bad enough issues with MCAS to cause catastrophic results and appears the USA Flight Crews actually knew where the “Stab Trim Cutoff” and “Auto Pilot Disengage” switches were located. CRM Training and specific model extensive experience for both flight and maintenance crews should never be mortgaged for OEM / Airline economic reasons!

  29. No way will they ever add a non-Boeing plane. But spreading this on an investor call by the CEO is very smart. Boeing will have to practically give the planes away.

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