Airline Seat Comparison: How Do Southwest’s New Seats Measure Up?

Apr 21, 2015

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While many airlines seem bent on squishing more seats into the same amount of space, creating less legroom and a more uncomfortable economy flying experience overall, Southwest Airlines is bucking the trend. Between 2016 and 2017, the Dallas-based airline is proud to start equipping their new Boeing 737-800 and 737 Max jets with what they say are “the USA’s widest economy 737 seats.

The new Southwest seat, coming soon to the 737 aircraft. Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines.
The new Southwest seat, coming soon to the 737 aircraft.

This got me thinking: Are these really the widest seats? What are their perks and downsides? So I prepared a pros and cons list, as well as a comparison chart with other airlines.

The new seats are said to be the widest of any 737 U.S. carrier
The new seats are said to be the widest of any 737 U.S. carrier

Southwest Airline’s New Seats: Everything You Need to Know

Southwest partnered with B/E Aerospace for this new seat design, which you’ll have to wait awhile to experience for yourself. The airline won’t even begin outfitting its current 737-800 jets with 175 of the new seats per plane until 2016, and though Southwest will be the first airline to have the 737 Max Jet—which will also be outfitted with 175 of the new seats—those won’t begin to fly ’til 2017.

In the meantime, you can sneak a peek via this informative video:

And here’s a look at the seat’s pros and cons:


  • Two-inch recline
  • 32-inch pitch
  • 17.8 inch width (see below for comparison to other airlines)
  • Adjustable headrests
  • Enhanced cushion comfort
  • Seat pocket on the top of the seat to offer more leg and shin room
  • Seats are lighter, meaning more fuel efficiency for the airline


  • Smaller armrests (you give and take for bigger seat width)
  • No power/charging ports (this is a big downside for me)
  • Seats are made of a new material called E-leather (This may not necessarily be negative, but really, what is E-leather? Is it pleather? Vinyl? Plastic? If you know what this material actually is, please share in the comments section below)
A side view of the new Southwest seats
A side view of the new Southwest seats

How Do These New Seats Measure Up Against Other U.S. Carriers?

Width. As Southwest claims, their new seat will in fact be the widest on the market for a 737 plane:

Southwest (new seat): 17.8 inches
Alaska: 17 inches
Delta: 17.2 inches
American: 17.2 inches
United: 17.3 inches

Since “budget” carriers like Frontier, JetBlue and Spirit don’t fly 737 planes (they stick to jet airliners like the A319 and A320) it’s difficult to make width comparisons with those carriers.

Pitch. Though the chart below includes aircraft besides the 737, it seems that Southwest’s new seats, with their 32-inch pitch, will indeed be above the norm, providing more legroom when many other carriers create less by adding more and more seats—as JetBlue recently did.

Southwest’s new seats (not featured here) with a 32 in pitch will be close to the top

The new seats come as a welcome change. With many other airlines shoving in more and more seats—and Airbus unveiling its 2017 plans for a cramped 3 x 5 x 3 seat configuration in the economy section of its A380s—it warms my heart to hear that at least one airline is trying to improve economy seat comfort. Air travel can be uncomfortable in the best of circumstances, but I have to respect Southwest’s valid attempt to make passenger comfort a priority.

What do you think about these new seats? Will they impact your decision when choosing an airline? Please feel free to share your comments below.

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