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Southwest's Incredible Shrinking Seats

Is Southwest trading legroom for fashion? The airline is redecorating its cabin interiors with a stylish new color scheme, lightweight seats made from environmentally friendly materials, and low-profile seat cushions (read: thinner cushions), according to a press release issued by Southwest. When the low-cost carrier rolls out its new fleet-wide cabin redo, officially dubbed "Evolve: The New Southwest Interior," in March, it will also squeeze an extra six seats onto each of its planes.

Moreover, there'll be additional space for storing carry-on luggage under the spiffy new seats. But there will be less room for storing something that doesn't fit neatly into the overhead bin ... your legs.

The Wall Street Journal reports that seat pitch in the redesigned cabins will shrink from 32 inches, which is the current standard on Southwest planes, to 31 inches; a Southwest spokesperson confirmed this fact. (Our sister site SeatGuru defines seat pitch as "the distance from any point on one seat to the exact same point on the seat in front or behind it.") An inch may not seem like a lot, but when your knees are in your face and the guy in front of you is in full recline, even the smallest increments of space become essential.

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Southwest's seats are currently some of the roomiest in the business, a detail that hasn't escaped U.S. travelers. Last year, Southwest snagged the top spot in Consumer Reports' annual domestic airline rankings. A survey of roughly 15,000 flyers revealed that Southwest was the number one customer-rated carrier—and the airline scored the silver in the "seat comfort" category, coming in second behind JetBlue.

A Southwest spokesperson told us that 31 inches of seat pitch is the "industry standard." True, most major U.S. airlines, including American, United, US Airways, Continental, and Delta, offer 30 to 31 inches of seat pitch in economy class on the bulk of their planes. As it stands now, JetBlue and Southwest offer a slightly roomier option for economy-class flyers—at least until Southwest's seats evolve into smaller, thinner versions of their past selves in March.

We predict that this year, JetBlue, which offers 33 to 38 inches of seat pitch in economy class, will keep its top-ranked spot in Consumer Report's "seat comfort" category. Note to JetBlue: Don't call your decorator.

Will Southwest's shrinking seats affect your willingness to fly with the airline?

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