Last updated: 09:36 AM ET, Tue June 28 2016

More Comfort but No Power in Southwest's New Seats

Airlines & Airports | Paul Thompson | June 28, 2016

More Comfort but No Power in Southwest's New Seats

Photo by Paul Thompson

Southwest Airlines quietly rolled out changes to the interior of its aircraft cabins this month, beginning with three of its Boeing 737-800 aircraft. The seats were first unveiled at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany last April. The new seats were designed and engineered by B/E Aerospace, and Southwest is the first to have them.

"The new aircraft seats are the widest economy seats available in the single-aisle 737 market, and offer a unique design that gives our customers what they asked for: more space," said Bob Jordan, Southwest's Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer. "Serving as the launch customer for this seat is just one of several upcoming milestones related to our bold, new look launched in September of last year, and is specifically aimed at enhancing our customer experience.”

READ MORE: Southwest Dominates Recent Customer Satisfaction Survey

I got to experience the new seats for myself, while touring one of the planes in Denver. If you fly Southwest regularly, the first thing you will notice is the color change. The seating surface is now completely blue from top to bottom. Southwest’s previous seat, called “Evolve” was mostly tan with a blue head cushion. Speaking of head cushions — for the first time, Southwest’s new seats have adjustable headrests that can be raised and lowered. In addition, the sides can be folded in, so you can lean over and be braced by something softer than your neighbor’s shoulder.

While seated, I noticed more space around my knees and feet. Southwest moved the seatback literature (magazine, safety card, drink menu) to the upper part of the seatback, giving the effect of a thinner seat and more personal space. Being 5’10,” I noticed about six inches between my knees and the seat in front of me, which felt downright roomy in comparison to economy seats on other airlines. There is also a tiny bit more width at each seat, thanks to slimmed-down armrests.

The seating surface is a material called eLeather, which is a composite fabric, made with leather fibers. Southwest says it is more durable, more cost-effective, and more environmentally friendly than the traditional leather making process.

While the seat will likely be a hit for most passengers, there is one notable thing missing — power outlets. Most U.S. carriers now offer power outlets in their newer planes, yet Southwest has opted not to do that.

I asked Southwest spokesman Dan Landson about this and he said, “Our goal is to make our aircraft as efficient as possible, while providing the comfort and amenities our customers have come to expect while on a Southwest Airlines flight… In-seat power is something we will continue to consider, but at this point, the demand does not warrant the cost associated with equipping our aircraft with the hardware, which requires a considerable effort for our Tech Ops Department to execute and maintain.”

READ MORE: Southwest Introduces Employee-Designed Uniforms

By choosing to fly without power outlets for passengers, the aircraft becomes more fuel efficient as a result of not carrying the extra weight of that system.

Southwest had planned to show the interior to media at a special event earlier this month, but it was canceled in the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub tragedy in Orlando. The seats will continue to be installed on all newly-delivered Southwest 737s, as well as the upcoming 737 MAX, which is due to enter service in mid-2017. Southwest currently has over 700 aircraft in its fleet, and 330 more planes on firm order, through 2025.


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