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Southwest has confirmed that it will add Boeing's 737-800 aircraft to its fleet, after months of speculation and union votes. Southwest flies an all-737 fleet, but the -800 version is significantly larger than the versions currently in use, with up to 175 seats instead of 137.
The airline confirmed the move after its pilots union voted to approve a contract modification that would cover the larger planes. Southwest's flight attendants already voted their approval. The new planes will require a fourth flight attendant, compared to three on the airline's current aircraft.
Southwest said it will take its first delivery of the new planes in the first quarter of 2012. It will switch its orders for -700s models in 2012 to -800s.
Now the question becomes: Where will the new planes fly? Hawaii, for starters, is a likely choice. Southwest CEO Gary Kelly tipped his hand in October, when he said the larger planes make Hawaii a realistic option. But it's not necessarily because the planes fly farther. The Dallas Morning News' Terry Maxon writes, "Southwest can profitably fly to more distant markets like Hawaii and far points of the Caribbean that wouldn't be feasible on aircraft with fewer seats."
Maxon also says Southwest might use the bigger planes at slot-restricted airports like Newark and LaGuardia. This would allow the airline to add seats where it can't easily add flights. Similarly, Southwest may opt for the larger planes on busy routes, particularly during peak travel times.
Readers, where do you think Southwest should fly with its new planes?