Southwest Adding 6 More Seats per Plane, Says Won't 'Sacrifice' Passenger Space

Southwest Airlines has announced it will refresh its airplane cabins with more eco-friendly materials, including seats covered with E-Leather (made from recycled leather fiber). But the big news is that beginning this spring, the carrier will add six new seats to each of its Boeing 737s.

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More Seats Boosts Southwest’s Revenue

According to the Southwest announcement, the re-design project – which will take about a year – will cost them $60 million. However, since it allows the carrier to increase the number of seats from 137 to 143, it’s also an immediate boost to Southwest’s bottom line. Plus, the new seats are more durable, so they’ll save on replacement costs.

The new seats are lighter than the old ones meaning the refreshed planes will weigh 600+ pounds less than current models, so the airline will save on jet fuel. Altogether, Southwest expects this project will lower ongoing annual costs by about $10 million per year.

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But What About Passenger Comfort?

An additional six seats must go somewhere and the reconfiguration will mean changes for passengers. As Southwest told FareCompare, these changes include:

  • Seat recline has been reduced from 3 inches to 2 inches
  • Seat pitch drops from 32 inches to 31 inches

The seat pitch, or the space between the back of your seat and the seat in front of you, is said to be mitigated in part by a reduction in “bulk” of the seat back pockets. And as the Southwest spokesperson told us, this 31-inch pitch “remains in line with the industry average” which seems to be the case, according to charts on SeatGuru.

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Also, the arm rests will be thinner [Editor’s note: Less to fight over?] and the space under the seats will be bigger and perhaps easier to stow carry-bags there.

However, the biggest point to make – at least from the point of view of Southwest’s many fans – is that these savings will mean the carrier won’t have to add fees. For the time being anyway, the airline’s famous slogan – Bags Fly Free – remains in place.

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Published: January 18, 2012