Southwest Airlines has opted to gradually replace AirTran Airways’ Gogo air-to-ground Wi-Fi system with the same Row 44 Ku-band satellite-supported inflight connectivity solution being fitted to the Southwest fleet.
“As [AirTran] aircraft are converted to the Southwest brand, they will have the Row 44 technology on them,” a Southwest spokeswoman confirms to the APEX editor’s blog.
The move is part of a broader retrofit programme that will see AirTran aircraft painted in the Southwest colour scheme, and gradually equipped with the low-cost giant’s new “Evolve” interior, a product that enables the carrier to add extra seats to every aircraft. Southwest completed its acquisition of AirTran in the spring of 2011.
“February 21 marked another milestone in the Southwest/AirTran integration as the first AirTran 737-700 (N126AT) headed to Seattle to begin the process of being converted into the Southwest livery,” Southwest senior VP technical operations Brian Hirshman told employees in an internal message.
“The 40-day transformation begins with the process of stripping the previous paint. When finished, the exterior will be painted Southwest’s signature colours: canyon blue, desert gold, sunrise red, and blaze orange. Inside, the cabin will be outfitted with the new Southwest Evolve interior, which emphasises customer comfort, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness.”
With Evolve, Southwest is able to offer 143 seats on its 737-700s (an increase of six seats), as both seat pitch and recline have been slightly reduced, though the airline says personal space has been retained as it was able to “sit you down and back in your seat” through new design. Southwest showed off its first Evolve-equipped Southwest 737-700 in January in Dallas.
As each AirTran 737 is configured with 143 seats, the carrier’s business class offering will be removed, confirms the Southwest spokeswoman. Once the retrofit has been completed, “you wouldn’t know a retrofitted AirTran from Southwest, because as a customer you’d just get on a Southwest aircraft”, she says.
Addressing Southwest’s decision to install Row 44 on AirTran aircraft, Hirshman says in his memo: “…during the conversion the plane will be equipped with the Southwest Airlines Wi-Fi hotspot. It is estimated that it will take several years to convert the 140 aircraft in AirTran’s fleet.”
The Southwest spokeswoman says the transition to Row 44 will occur “only as we are converting the aircraft to Southwest; that’s been the case for quite some time”.
Hirshman’s comment appears to signal a desire on the part of Southwest to retain the 86 Boeing 717s operated by AirTran, a departure from its strategy of operating an all-737 fleet of aircraft. However, the spokeswoman says: “There hasn’t been any update on the 717 decision. As of right now they are part of our fleet. We are beginning the conversion process with the 737-700s.”
Gogo declined to comment. Row 44 could not provide immediate comment.