Southwest's Seats Are Shrinking, but New Plane Bucks the Trend

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Southwest's new 737-800 plane has a seat pitch of 31 inches. According to a Southwest spokesperson, the seat pitch is 32 inches.

Southwest is adding its first Boeing 737-800 to its fleet, a larger aircraft that carries 30 percent more passengers than its current crop of Boeing 737-300s, according to a press release issued by the airline.

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The new Boeing 737-800 has Southwest's latest Evolve Interior, which, as we previously reported, features smaller seats than what passengers are used to seeing on the carrier; the -800 will be an exception, however. Seat pitch on the larger crafts will be 32 inches. But on the rest of Southwest's fleet, seat pitch will shrink by one or two inches compared to what it was before—from 32 or 33 inches down to 31—when the aircrafts are retrofitted with Evolve starting this month.

Evolve also features more overhead bin space (an emerging trend in the industry) plus Wi-Fi, which costs $5. (Some Southwest planes already offer in-flight Wi-Fi for $5.)

In addition to bigger bins and an Internet connection, you can expect to see a greater number of passengers on Southwest's newest plane. The 737-800 holds as many as 175 people. According to our sister site SeatGuru, the planes in Southwest's existing fleet carry just 122 to 137 passengers. Still, since seat configuration will basically stay the same, with two rows of three seats on either side of the plane in coach class, it's possible you may not notice that much of a difference in terms of crowdedness.

The new planes will start service on April 11. Eventually, the airline hopes to add a total 33 Boeing 737-800s to its fleet.

How will this affect Southwest flyers? More sizable planes will help the airline develop new routes while, hopefully, keeping airfares affordable. According to Southwest Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven, "The -800 aircraft ... complements our existing fleet with opportunities for longer-haul flying and schedule flexibility by allowing additional capacity in high-demand, slot-controlled, or gate-restricted airports."

An airline spokesperson confirmed this, saying that the carrier is now ready to add longer-haul routes. But Southwest hasn't announced any new service as of yet. We'll keep you posted.

What do you think about Southwest's brand-new bigger airplane?

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