Southwest Airlines, America’s largest domestic carrier, is thinking big. Their fleet of 737-300, -500, and -700 series aircraft have served them well, but slot restrictions at airports like BOS and LGA have limited their ability to grow in key markets. And despite years of lobbying, Southwest has yet to procure a single slot at DCA.
Usually, Southwest just adds more flights to a city when demand is high. With this option no longer possible at many key airports, the solution may be in larger aircraft. The 737-800 would seat 175 in its all economy class configuration, allowing for 28% more passengers than can be accommodated on the 137-seat 737-700, Southwest’s largest current aircraft.
For the route network that Southwest flies, I think the airline is wise to stick to an all 737 fleet and I see many advantages to acquiring 737-800s. In addition to the increased capacity that will be well-utilized on routes along the Northeast Corridor and to some West Coast cities, fuel economy on the 737-800 beats the 737-700 by 10%. Unions have also expressed optimism about the new aircraft, which would require an additional crew member onboard.
The only potential downside I see is that the larger aircraft will take some additional time to turn. Southwest is the archetype of airline efficiency, however, so I cannot imagine that will be a deal-breaker.
WN will decide how to proceed by December 1st.