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Southwest’s new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft didn’t have the inaugural day that the airline had planned for. After its inaugural flight from Dallas Love Field (DAL) to Houston Hobby (HOU), the aircraft was swapped due to a mechanical issue. But after flying just one short flight between the two cities, it’s easy to see why the carrier is excited about this product — and why passengers should be too.
As with its predecessors, the MAX offers passengers seats in a 3-3 configuration. It’s outfitted with the carrier’s “Heart” interior with 175 seats, which frequent Southwest flyers might recognize from its newer 737-800s.
Each of the seats has a generous 32 inches of pitch. In addition, Southwest boasts that it has the widest seats of any other 737 variant at 17.6 inches.
And while that is surely wider than most, it comes at the cost of a smaller armrest, which is extremely narrow. My elbow didn’t fit comfortably on it. In addition, it’s not padded at all, which could get uncomfortable on a long flight.
The seats are “preclined,” meaning because they’re in the form of a “C” rather than an “L,” you’ll get little room to recline on your own. That being said, the seats are pretty comfortable as is, and because of the generous 32 inches of pitch, it doesn’t feel so crammed.
Each of the seats has an adjustable headrest. You can move it up or down, depending on what is more comfortable for your height. You can also opt to adjust the flaps on the headrest for extra support.
Easily, the most notable change about the Southwest MAX experience is how quiet it is. Compared to its 737 predecessors, the MAX feels like you’re not even flying. It’s an incredible difference in passenger experience when there’s so little noise. When Southwest CEO Gary Kelly was speaking in the gate area prior to boarding, he noted that the MAX is 40% quieter than what passengers are used to on other 737s — and it’s very obvious.
Frequent Southwest flyers will notice something else that’s new with the MAX — music. On boarding and deplaning, Southwest now plays music on its MAX aircraft. From what I heard, there seems to be quite a variety — from more calming beats to today’s hits.
The mood lighting is also a big change for the MAX. When boarding WN1, the inaugural flight, the mood lighting was set to a fluorescent blue and pink combination. While taxiing and upon arrival, flight attendants showed off a few other color combinations…
… There was the red/pink color with green around the emergency exits…
… And the purple. I could hear lots of “oohs” and “ahhs” as the lights changed. It’s a nice feature to utilize on different phases of the flight.
One notable exclusion is the lack of a built-in in-flight entertainment system. Seat-back entertainment screens are nonexistent, making the seat-backs themselves rather bare. You’ll find a small netting and a seat-back area for “Literature Only.”
While the seat-backs don’t have an IFE screen, Southwest does offer passengers solid entertainment options as long as you bring your own device. You can connect to the MAX’s Wi-Fi or stream live TV from your own device.
Each seat has an extendable tray table. Mine was functioning as expected and wasn’t too intrusive on my space even when it was fully extended.
One of the fundamental improvements of the MAX over its predecessors is how fuel efficient it is. The aircraft is operated by CFM International’s new LEAP-1B engines, which are both more efficient and quieter than previous engines. The carrier says the MAX aircraft could reduce fuel burn by as much as 14% compared with other 737 variants.
The improved fuel efficiency and longer range could allow Southwest to expand its route networks to more destinations on long-haul routes. The carrier has been eyeing Hawaii as a potential new destination for some time, and the new 737 MAX aircraft could help to make that a reality.
There are three lavatories in the 737 MAX — one located at the forward of the cabin and two at the rear of the cabin. They’re pretty standard for an airplane lavatory and seemed to be about the same size as the lavs on other 737s
A flight attendant told me that the galley area at the rear of the cabin wasn’t different than what she was used to.
Pilots will notice a more consolidated and cleaner cockpit compared to older 737 variants. Whereas there once were several smaller screens, the functions have been implemented into four large displays. In addition, the landing gear lever (between the two inner screens) is now smaller, much like what’s featured on the 777 and 787.
When Southwest first ordered the 737 MAX, it was supposed to be the launch customer. After all, the carrier flies a fleet comprised exclusively of Boeing 737 aircraft so it made sense for it to be the launch airline for the newest variant. But, it wasn’t such a simple process from order to delivery.
Earlier this year, Norwegian announced that it would be the first European carrier to fly the MAX, which ended up holding true. However, Malaysian carrier Malindo Air, a subsidiary of Lion Air, ended up being the true launch customer of the 737 MAX. Southwest is the first North American carrier to fly the MAX, but a couple of airlines have been flying it for some time now.
Southwest expects to have 14 of the 737 MAX 8 aircraft in its fleet by the end of 2017. As of July 25, 2017, the airline has 200 firm orders for a combination of the smaller MAX 7 and MAX 8 aircraft.
The MAX 8 is a very comfortable product that will allow Southwest to take its route network to new destinations that were once out of reach. Between the new additions like the boarding music, mood lighting and the highlight being a quieter and more comfortable ride, passengers have a lot to look forward to with this addition to the airline’s fleet.
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