Southwest’s Big Planes

Southwest Airlines is marketing itself in new television commercials as the airline with the big planes. And that’s just sad.

Sad but true. If you fly Southwest airlines you are at least guaranteed a Boeing 737 for the simple reason that it’s the only kind of jet  Southwest flies. And in today’s airline industry, with 50-seat regional jets buzzing around everywhere, a 737 is what passes for big. Or at least medium.

At this point, a 737 is among the larger aircraft that carry passengers out of Bradley International Airport. The only bigger jets on scheduled passenger service are some Boeing 757 s and Airbus 320s. And neither is all that much bigger.

In fact, mainly they’re just longer. A 737 is about as wide as an A320 or a 757 – each has three seats on each side of a single aisle – but it’s shorter. So a 757 usually carries 180 or so passengers (in two classes) and the A320 about 150 (in two classes).  Most Southwest 737s carry 137 passengers in a single class. (There would be fewer seats if Southwest had a first class section.)

With a 32- to 33-inch seat pitch, though, Southwest sometimes has more leg room in coach.

Back in the day I used to see a Delta 767 that flew out of Bradley early every morning. I even flew on it a few times. But that flight has long since been downgraded to a  smaller jet. In fact, there are no longer any wide-bodied jets with two aisles carrying passengers out of Bradley on any airline, although a few jets of that size fly in and out with freight.

It’s a tragedy for fans of flying big metal.

Southwest’s point in its new commercials is that other airlines and their subsidiaries fly a mix of aircraft. You can book yourself on a 757 and end up on a regional jet . (It  has happened to me. I call it "getting Com-Aired.")

But if you fly Southwest, you’re flying on one of its 502 Boeing 737s. Period. And if that didn’t used to be a selling point, it is now.


3 thoughts on “Southwest’s Big Planes

  1. Melissa C

    While I understand your point with the ‘big planes’. You missed the point when you say that it, “…didn’t used to be a selling point.”
    I’ve been a Reservation Sales Agent for almost 21 years now and I can assure you – it has indeed been a selling point to our Customers – it just hasn’t been an advertising point.

  2. Jeanne Leblanc

    I dunno, Melissa, you can assure me, but I still doubt that the 737 aircraft was a big selling point for fliers 20 years ago. Did customers really tell you that they were booking so they could fly on a 737? Why would they have preferred a 737 back when there were 767s flying many of the same routes?
    I think Southwest’s main selling point was price back then, with some points for convenience and on-time performance. When passengers who could have flown a bigger plane on the same route chose Southwest instead, I believe they usually did so for a lower price. I know I did.

  3. Don

    C’mon – NOBODY sought out those stubby, squat 737s when domestic carriers were flying widebodies. Even the noisy 727s were preferable.
    Just 10 years ago, I’d cheerfuly rearrange an itinerary just to avoid the cramped 737.
    These days it’s a different story. But that’s only because the quality jetliners are now scrap metal or assigned to European routes – not because the 737 transformed into a luxurious, smooth-flying or spacious ride. It’s none of the above.
    With the DC-10s and L1011s junked, and most domestic 767s mothballed in the desert or flying overseas trips, the 737 and 757 have become the least objectionable in an the increasingly unpleasant air travel world. Nothing for Southwest to gloat about.


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