Southwest Airlines will install seats that are 17.8 inches across when it receives its first Boeing 737 MAX jets in 2017, a change that will give travelers about seven inches of extra seat width, Bloomberg reported on Thursday. Current Southwest seats are about 17.2 inches wide.
Airbus has spent a lot of time in the past year chiding Boeing on the fact that Airbus narrowbody jets are slightly wider than similar Boeings. Airbus officials like to say that many of their planes can accommodate 18-inch seats, while most Boeings have 17 inch seats. This does not actually mean all Airbus seats are wider than Boeing seats. As I wrote here in September, some Airbus operators still use 17 inch seats on narrowbodies. That can have two benefits — one is that it allows airlines to use a standard economy seat on all of its airplanes. And two it means that the Airbuses can have wider aisles, which can help improve airplane turn times.
Southwest Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven told Bloomberg that a little creativity helped lead to the extra elbow room.
“The seat technology has improved tremendously over the years,” Van de Ven told Bloomberg. “It’s allowing us to get the seats closer to the sides of the airplane by almost an inch, maybe a little bit more than that. You can then use that increased space in a little bit of additional seat width.”
When I met with Airbus officials last year, they told me of another way an airline might be creative with seats. It is theoretically possible, they said, for an airline to install window and middle seats that are 17 inches across. Then, with the extra space, the airline would have an extra wide aisle seat — one that it could sell for more money.