For Thanksgiving I flew from Seattle-Tacoma (SEA) to Tampa (TPA) to visit my dad. Since he was letting me use some of his Southwest Airlines miles (thanks dad!) I ended up flying them to visit. Although I am a big fan of the company and people of Southwest, when it comes to flying them — they aren’t my first choice. The big reason is that there aren’t many places they fly to non-stop from Seattle (also no seat assignments, no power plugs, and no buy-on-board food). With my trip to Tampa I was lucky to only have only one stop – at Chicago’s Midway (MDW) – both times. I say lucky since I have had to do that trip multiples times with two stops, which is not fun at all.
Since this was a personal trip, I had no plan to do a story, but the last leg did me in. My final flight from MDW to SEA was on a Boeing 737-800. I was excited because this would be my first Southwest 737-800 flight — it also had the new Meridian seats from B/E Aerospace. However, I wasn’t quite sure if that was a bonus or a downfall. I have read (even here on AR) about the seats and have heard mostly bad things. But after four hours flying back home, I have come to a few conclusions.
During my three other legs (SEA-MDW-TPA-MDW) I flew on Boeing 737-700s with Southwest’s old seats. All my flights (including the last) were totally full and I was in the window seat. The people sitting next to me were all older gentlemen of the same build. For all intents and purposes, the sizing and space were pretty equal for all the flights (well, I probably gained a few pounds over Thanksgiving, but whatever).
For my flight out of Midway, I was boarding number B2 (which was lame because I paid for EarlyBird, but better than C2 I guess). I found the first open window at row 21 and took a seat. My first thought was “holy crap these are hard seats.” Not what I would call a good start.
Realizing that these were the new seats I took a good look at them. Bright blue, nice headrest, looked thin, seat back had storage up top (magazine, safety card) and down below (your stuff). Visually I was a fan. However, I couldn’t help but remember all the drama that took place when the airline first announced them.
When Southwest announced the seats, they said that they were the widest seats ever seen in a Boeing 737. There were some who quickly questioned this claim. The 737 is just as wide when it first rolled out of the factory in 1966 — did Southwest find some pocket of hidden space? Nope. Turns out it had more to do with how the width was measured.
The bottom line is the seats have skinnier armrests that create more seat width. But the seats still take up the same amount of space overall. When I was first reading about it online, it did seem more like a marketing ploy than reality. Then our JL Johnson did his own story defending the seats. Hmm.
When I first sat down, it was obvious to me that the seat was wider than my previous flight. It was also obvious that the armrests (on both sides) were thinner and hard as a rock. Like they probably had to use diamonds to cut the things. But sometimes first impressions change with time, so I was willing to give the product (as a whole) a chance.
FOUR HOURS LATER…
When I landed I still felt divided about the seat. My elbows hurt and the seat wasn’t as comfy on the back, but I was also able to work on my laptop (wasn’t able to on previous flights) and I truly had more room for my hips. I will rarely pay for more legroom (I am 6’1”), but I am often happy to pay for more width (I am 225lbs). So having more width was a huge bonus.
On the whole I would easily choose the new product over the old. I would say that the seat comfort and armrests are better with the old seat. But the usability of the tray table, width of the seat, and knee room (the looks too if you care) give the new seat the edge. Add on the Boeing Sky Interior (which genuinely gives the feeling of more space) and the whole new product is clearly a winner for me.
It is easy to get angry at airlines for adding in more seats to planes, but it is not always a bad thing.
I just don’t know why Southwest decided to put absolutely no padding on the armrests! Maybe I sat in the seat wrong (although I have many, many years of sitting in seats), but my elbows still hurt hours after getting off the plane. Next time…#BYOAP (Bring Your Own Armrest Padding).
Have you flown these seats yet? Are they better? Worse? And did your arms hurt?