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Is Southwest Set to Become a Leader in Coach-Class Comfort?

When it comes to coach-class comfort, Southwest—which offers only coach seating throughout its all-737 fleet—is neither a leader nor a laggard.

With seat pitch, the distance between seats, averaging between 31 and 33 inches, and seat width measuring a tad more than 17 inches, Southwest’s seat specs are solidly in line with most other mid-pack airlines’.

But beginning in 2017, when Southwest begins taking delivery of its first Boeing 737 Max jets, the company will gain bragging rights to seating that offers more elbow room than many of its competitors.

According to a Bloomberg report, the new planes will be fitted with seats featuring slimmer frames that allow wider seats to be accommodated in the same space. As a result, the new seats’ width can be increased from 17.2 inches to 17.8 inches.

An increase of just over half an inch may not seem like a game-changer, but it can make a material difference in the comfort quotient, especially on longer flights. An Airbus study, for example, found that an 18-inch-wide seat improved travelers’ sleep quality by 53 percent compared to a 17-inch seat.

Southwest’s is a small step, by a single airline. And it’s still three years out. But it’s a step in the right direction. And with the airlines’ current focus overwhelmingly on their more profitable business- and first-class products, any improvement to the coach-travel experience will be welcomed by the great majority of travelers flying on economy tickets.

Reader Reality Check

Will Southwest’s wider seats be a difference-maker for you when choosing an airline?

This article originally appeared on

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