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Bigger Planes Could be Coming to Southwest

Southwest is mulling over the idea of adding a larger plane to its fleet—the Boeing 737-800—and took a major step forward in that initiative today by securing tentative approval from its flight attendants’ union. In a statement, Southwest said “the Executive Board of the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 556, representing more than 9,700 Southwest Flight Attendants unanimously approved a tentative agreement reached with the Company. The tentative agreement will now be presented to members of TWU Local 556 for a ratification vote.”

Southwest would need a fourth flight attendant on the larger planes. Currently, the makeup of its fleet only requires three flight attendants per plane. Southwest said, “If the Company pursues the -800, a joint committee would meet to work on the logistical details related to scheduling and bidding procedures that adding a fourth Flight Attendant will require. If approved by a majority vote of the Flight Attendants, their current contract also will be extended by one year, becoming amendable May 31, 2013, and also include the potential for wage rate increases based on the Company’s financial performance.”

A similar agreement with the airline’s pilots union is necessary before Southwest can seriously move forward.

The airline currently operates a fleet of Boeing planes, comprised of mostly 737-700s and -500s, which are configured to seat 137 passengers. The airline also flies two dozen -500s, which seat 122. The 737-800 would seat around 175 passengers, an increase in capacity of roughly 22 percent over Southwest’s current largest planes.

For Southwest, the larger planes offer all sorts of flexibility, including the ability to consolidate traffic into and out of congested airports. One likely concern, however, is whether or not the extra time required to load and unload the larger planes will fit into Southwest’s strategy of quick turnarounds.

Readers, what do you think about Southwest adding bigger planes? Good move or bad move?

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