Following a two-year trial of environmentally friendly and durable aircraft cabin products on its ‘Green Plane’, Southwest Airlines has unveiled a new interior for its Boeing 737-700 fleet that will enable the carrier to reduce weight by 635 pounds per aircraft and improve sustainability while adding thousands of additional seats to its inventory.
The ‘Evolve’ interior incorporates a new colour palette that combines earthy tones with Southwest’s iconic Canyon blue and aluminium accents for a cleaner, more modern look. It also features recyclable carpet squares from InterfaceFLOR, which will allow the carrier to reduce its carpet part numbers to two (from a previous 178 across various configurations).
“The centre aisle of our aircraft is pretty much just trashed every six months so you can imagine how much [carpet] we throw away with that many airplanes. This [InterfaceFLOR product] allows us to go in and just spot replace where we need to,” Southwest manager, product development marketing Angela Vargo told the APEX editor’s blog during a private tour of the new interior in Dallas.
However, the most profound changes have been reserved for Southwest’s seats. The carrier is retaining the B/E Aerospace-manufactured ‘Innovator II’ seat frames on its Southwest 737-700s, but will add fixed wing head rests; new, thinner, more durable foam fill; and lightweight E-Leather synthetic leather seat covers. It is also removing the under-seat floatation device – and instead adding life vest pouches – to create a lower profile seat, which in turn creates weight savings of nearly six pounds per seat.
With these changes comes a reduction in seat pitch and recline, but Southwest insists it is not sacrificing customer comfort and personal space. “We did reduce recline from 3in to 2in. However, this seat design doesn’t make you have a feeling of needing to recline as much as our current seat does. Our current seat kind of pushes you forward a little bit when you sit in it. This one kind of naturally reclines your body so you don’t feel like you have to sit and immediately recline, but this way we’re also preserving the space of the person behind you,” says Vargo.
“Because we were able to sit you down and back in your seat, we created more personal space for you. As a result we were able to put in six more seats into the aircraft. So we have gone from 137 seats to 143 seats. We [offer] an average pitch of 31in. That is down an inch from 32in today. However, from a cubic space standpoint – the personal space around your body – we were able to maintain that, based on how you’re sitting in the seat. So, because you’re sitting at an angle different than what you sit at today, you’re able to extend your legs out in front of the seat in front of you, you have more shin and leg clearance then you do today in our current seat.”
Although the seat bottom looks much slimmer, it “actually has the same density as our cushion today”, says Vargo. “That floatation piece in the [previous] cushion wasn’t providing you any extra support or cushion. It was actually a pretty hard piece of the seat that was preventing you from feeling the hammock underneath. So it’s actually the same density cushion and the same support that you had before but just in a low-profile slim line looking seat.”
Southwest systems engineer Geoffrey Buschur adds: “The beauty, I think, of everything on the airplane is it looks good but everything that we’ve changed has a function. Every piece you could pick on the seat that’s changed – there is a reason why it’s change, and not just on the aesthetic look but on the maintenance side; it’s more durable, or it’s easier to clean or it’s lighter weight.”
Other new features include mesh seat pockets, which “will stand up to repeated tuggings” and prove more durable, as they have “crumb catchers” at the bottom that can be zippered open to allow the crumbs to come out, says Vargo.
New aluminium tray table latches have been added. “Our tray table latches are one of the things that break down the most in the aircraft so they were able to engineer a wonderful latch that looks really sleek but is also a ton more durable than we have today,” says Vargo.
A new bulkhead screen product “has a longer lifespan, thus reducing the labour costs and wastes that result from more frequent replacements or repairs”, according to Southwest.
The new interior, which is currently fitted to a single 737-700, will be rolled out to the rest of Southwest’s 737-700s (a sum of 372 aircraft) from mid-March, but also will be retrofitted to subsidiary AirTran Airways’ 737-700s (which number 52) and 717s in due course. A configuration for the 717s has not been decided.
The programme represents an initial $60 million investment for Southwest, but once the fleet is equipped, the carrier anticipates covering its costs within “a quarter” as it anticipates the new interior – coupled with the gain in seat capacity – will produce savings of about $250 million annually.
Southwest says its new 175-seat Boeing 737-800s – which will be delivered with the airframer’s own Sky Interior features – will feature the same carpet squares, bulkhead screen design and seats as the -700s, although a 32in seat pitch will be retained for the -800s “because they’re long-haul” and are laid out in such a fashion that “allowed us to do that”, says Vargo. The carrier has not made a decision on retrofitting its 737 Classics as yet.
(Main photo and all photos above provided by Paul Thompson, aka @FlyingPhotog. Photo below provided by Southwest Airlines.)