This Airline Wants to Give You a Wider Seat in Economy Cabin

New Seats for Southwest
At 17.8 inches across, the bottom seat cushions will be the widest in the coach cabin of any Boeing Co. 737 in the U.S., according to Southwest Airlines Co., the biggest operator of 737s. Source: Southwest Airlines Co. via Bloomberg

Southwest Airlines Co. will give passengers something extra with its newly designed aircraft seats -- more than one-half inch of extra width.

At 17.8 inches (45 centimeters) across, the bottom seat cushions will be the widest in the coach cabin of any Boeing Co. 737 in the U.S., according to Southwest, the biggest operator of 737s. The plane is the world’s most widely flown jetliner.

The more expansive seats represent a departure from recent trends in the airline industry, where passengers have seen their personal space shrink as carriers pack more people on each plane. Southwest will benefit too: The new seats will also reduce fuel consumption by taking 200 pounds (90 kilograms) off the weight of each aircraft.

Southwest worked with B/E Aerospace Inc. to design the seats, which were unveiled Tuesday at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany.

Passengers won’t see the new seats until mid-2016, aboard Southwest’s newest Boeing 737-800s. They’ll also be on the Boeing 737 Max, set to debut in mid-2017. Southwest will be the first commercial airline to fly that model.

The width compares with 17.1 inches on Southwest now, 17 on Alaska Airlines and as much as 17.3 on some United Airlines 737s in economy class, according to the SeatGuru.com website. Southwest planes with the new seats will keep a 32-inch pitch, or the distance from the back of a seat to the back of the one behind it. Pitch on some of Delta and United’s 737s as little as 30 inches, according to SeatGuru.com.

‘Bold Blue’

Seats on Airbus Group NV’s A320 family of planes, its most widely sold, generally are wider than on Boeing 737s. Airbus A320-family models operated by discounter Spirit Airlines are almost 17.8 inches wide, although pitch shrinks to 28 inches.

Southwest’s new seats are blue, similar to the updated “bold blue” paint on the outside of the planes, and upholstered in a material made of natural leather fibers. They include a headrest that moves up and down and new storage space at the top of the seat back. A curved frame provides more shin and knee room.

Older aircraft won’t be retrofitted with the new seats, Southwest said. The airline added six seats to most of its planes under a cabin refurbishment that began in 2012.

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