Last week Southwest Airlines unveiled images of its new cabin and seats. It was striking that these seats look thin and not well padded – a genuine downgrade from the older tan seats that are still flying and even less comfortable than the seats in the 737 MAX 8 today.
Credit: Southwest Airlines
Credit: Southwest Airlines
That’s why I assumed they must be planning to squeeze more seats into each plan. They’d be getting more space out of these thinner seats, and could reduce legroom since they start offering more space between passengers in standard economy than United, Delta, or American do today. But Southwest assured they do not have plans to add more seats into each aircraft.
So why on earth would they go for thinner seats? The airline posted this video on TikTok about the seats and got absolutely roasted.
- “Those seats are 1 ply”
- “So we get thinner, more uncomfortable seats with a heart on it.”
- “I’ve always wondered when airlines would start catering to people like us who enjoy relaxing on slates of granite.”
- “Will the prices [be] going down in proportion with the reduction in cushioning”
New fit check! Introducing our updated cabin design and new seats! You can catch this interior on new aircraft deliveries beginning next year. Not to mention our ongoing rollout of adding bigger overhead bins and in-seat power ports to our current planes!
Now, as Enilria points out, those thinner seats would mean even more space between passengers so why not promote that? Instead they promoted the width of their seats “and overall support.”
There’s only one thing that would seem to square this circle.
- They’re freeing up space in the cabin
- But aren’t giving everybody more legroom, or increasing the number of seats
- So some seats will get more legroom
American Airlines calls it Main Cabin Extra. Delta calls it Comfort+. United calls it Economy Plus. It’s extra legroom economy seats, that each sells for a premium and offers as a benefit to its elite frequent flyers.
Of course for Southwest to offer some kind of premium seating, they’d have to move away from open seating… at least for certain seats. They could do assigned seating in the premium section, or boarding passes that allow passengers to pick any available seat in the section they’ve purchased.
Dropping pure open seating would be a watershed moment for Southwest. But they’re looking for new ways to monetize their product, since the airline’s financials have lagged their historical top of industry place.
Yet Southwest says that’s not it. According to a Southwest Airlines spokesperson,
The pitch isn’t changing. The new seats maintain the 32” pitch we currently have on our 175-seat aircraft. In the images you’ve seen, those are renderings, so it isn’t accurate to say we are using thinner, less padded seats. We partnered with RECARO to redesign the armrest on their original seat to preserve the width offered on seats onboard Southwest. We collaborated with RECARO to custom-develop a more ergonomic cushion by using different foam technologies and densities, and adding more padding to certain areas of the headrest, backrest, and bottom cushion. The seat material selected for these new seats is not only softer to the touch, but better showcases the foam technology.
Southwest conducted multiple rounds of comfort testing with hundreds of participants, and we’re confident in the comfort and reliability these seats provide. There is nothing in the works around premium seating.
If they’re not using thinner seats to squeeze in more seats, or to create some rows with added legroom, then what possible reason could there be for choosing “1-ply” seats? These may just be “renderings” but they’re the renderings Southwest chose to release. Usually those are produced to make a product look better. Something just doesn’t add up here.