New aircraft interior will allow Southwest to boost capacity by about 2,500 seats

January 17, 2012

Ambiance, Comfort

Southwest main image small New aircraft interior will allow Southwest to boost capacity by about 2,500 seatsFollowing 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.”

Blog5 199x300 New aircraft interior will allow Southwest to boost capacity by about 2,500 seatsAlthough 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.

Blog9 300x199 New aircraft interior will allow Southwest to boost capacity by about 2,500 seats

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.)

SWA in house New aircraft interior will allow Southwest to boost capacity by about 2,500 seats

 

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About Mary Kirby

Editor in Chief - APEX Media Platform | Previously Senior Editor at Flight International where she led the magazine's coverage of in-flight entertainment and connectivity (IFEC) and aircraft interiors | Former proprietor of the highly-regarded Runway Girl blog, which focused on the passenger experience | Regularly speaks at industry conferences about airborne communications, ancillary revenue opportunities for airlines and social media | You can connect with Mary on Twitter, LinkedIn

View all posts by Mary Kirby
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24 Responses to “New aircraft interior will allow Southwest to boost capacity by about 2,500 seats”

  1. Paulo M Says:

    It’s taken a while for the recyclable carpet squares from InterfaceFLOR to reach (even) Southwest: boeingblogs.com/randy/archives/2009/11/magic_carpet_ride.html

    Nice story!

    Reply

  2. David Parker Brown Says:

    Hey Mary,

    Great story! Was there any talk from WN about their internet? Time lines or GoGo vs Row44?

    David

    Reply

    • Mary Kirby Says:

      Hi David,

      Thanks! I asked this question of Southwest (again) and they say they are still studying whether or not to extend Row 44 to the AirTran fleet. With regard the equipage of Row 44 to Southwest, CEO Gary Kelly is telling passengers in the latest Spirit in-flight magazine that installations across the fleet will be completed by the end of this year. It’s not clear if he is referring only to the -700s, however. A source with knowledge of the situation says about 400 737s should be fitted by year-end.

      Mary

      Reply

  3. Jeff Says:

    “The ‘Evolve’ interior incorporates a new colour palate…”

    Yes, but what about its colour palette?

    Reply

  4. Mike Bixby Says:

    I loved the line – “we created more personal space for you. As a result we were able to put in six more seats into the aircraft”.

    Whoever wrote that must still be laughing.

    Reply

    • Jonathan Norris Says:

      Hi Mike – I know this sounds like an ‘oxymoron’ but in fact the new slim seats that several airlines have introduced (or are introducing) do in fact increase leg room and increase the overall seat count on the aircraft. Certainly the airlines aren’t being completely selfless in these changes but they do benefit the passenger. I flew this week on a Lufthansa A320 which had their new slim line seats installed and there was more legroom that on their previous cabin layout – and they have also increased seat count.

      Reply

      • David Jordan Says:

        That is true about Lufthansa. I flew the A321 from Frankfurt to Munich and it is really true. I was very skeptical but was pleasantly surprised. They are also comfortable.

        Reply

    • harold anglin Says:

      Most cramped airplanes I’ve ever been on. Your personal space is reduced immensely. Southwest has joined the GREED wagon just like every other company. I am searching for a new airline. Very sad day for me.

      Reply

      • Mark Pignotti Says:

        I agree. Southwest has just lost my business. I had been a loyal 20 year customer but just took the family to Florida and the flight was the most uncomfortable one I have ever had. No room at all and very claustrophobic. I am currently applying for a United credit card to start getting miles. At least they have economy plus for a small fee. I am tired of felling like a caged chicken on a plane.

        Reply

  5. airlineguys Says:

    Hi Mary, thanks for covering this story. Your article mentions an avg seat pitch of 31″, down from 32″. Other articles online mention going from 33″ pitch to 32″. Can you clarify for us please. Thanks. We enjoy your articles and tweets very much. SLy

    Reply

    • Mary Kirby Says:

      Hi airineguys – I just checked both my recording of the interview and the transcript, and I can confirm that Angela Vargo said: “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 to 143 seats. We are an average pitch of 31in, that’s down an inch from 32in today.” Southwest will retain 32in for the 737-800, however.
      Hope that helps!
      Best,
      Mary

      Reply

  6. Darrick Roybal Says:

    The buck stops while using guy who signs the checks.
    The leader who exercises power with honor work from the inside out, beginning with himself.

    Reply

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