Southwest announced that it would be revamping the brand with the introduction of new seats, a cabin update, and new uniforms for its staff. The revamp and update cover other elements as well, such as better overhead bins and power ports, as well as the introduction of new RECARO seats.
What We Know So Far
The new upgrades will start to be rolled out in 2025. The airline aims to retrofit all its existing aircraft over the next few years. All new Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft will feature onboard USB A and USB C power ports. Also, the overhead bins have been redesigned to provide more space.
Southwest will also debut a new uniform for its team, which is currently being designed by apparel vendor Design Collective by Cintas, in conjunction with fashion stylist and uniform brand consultant Bonnie Markel, as well as 75 Southwest employees.
While Southwest has finished rolling out improved wi-fi across its fleet in 2023 the airline also announced other digital improvements. Southwest announced improvements to its digital platform and airport kiosks, including Online Baggage Check-In, Digital Bag Tracking, Free Same-Day Standby, and more.
New Recaro Seats
One of the biggest aspects of the revamp is the new cabin featuring the latest and greatest RECARO slimline seats.
At Oscape, we have found these to be some of the most uncomfortable seats in existence. The seats are wafer-thin, and incredibly uncomfortable for anything but the shortest of journeys. Worst of all, you can feel pretty much everything (like knees or even phones) from the person in the seat behind you. There’s nothing quite like being woken up mid flight by a knee-kick in the seat back during a flight.
However, as you would expect, Southwest is talking up its seats and their virtues and how they take the passenger experience to the next level. In fact, in the words of the Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer at Southwest Airlines, Tony Roach:
“Southwest flies above our competition with industry-leading flexibility and our legendary Hospitality…Our redesigned cabin interior significantly enhances our inflight Customer experience and will complement the amazing service that our Crews provide.”
On the other hand, the CEO of RECARO Aircraft Seating and RECARO Holding, Mark Hiller, Ph.D. added:
“RECARO is proud to collaborate on expanding our footprint in the Americas, especially when working with a local partner like Southwest who began their story at the same time as us…Our new seat will be a great addition to the Southwest Customer Experience, as its durable design and comfort features will serve Passengers well.”
Why Southwest chose RECARO Seats
So why did Southwest Choose RECARO seats? The truth of the matter is that these seats are ideal for low-cost carriers. More often than not, when you board a low-cost, you will find yourself stuffed in a RECARO seat.
Why? Because they are famous for being thin and lightweight, which can have a huge impact on airlines’ bottom line.
In essence, the lighter each seat, the lighter the aircraft; therefore, the less fuel is needed to get the plane from point A to point B. When you are talking hundreds of gallons per aircraft per flight, these savings can soon add up to an enormous amount. So much so that they could mean the difference between any company turning a profit or not or even The CEO hitting his annual bonus target.
Sometimes airlines also manage to squeeze in an additional row on the aircraft using these seats – and 6+ additional revenue generating customers.
On the other hand, Southwest states that its seat choice is all about improving the customer experience. Don’t let that fool you. By far, the biggest factor in choosing the RECARO seat is Southwest’s bottom line!
Possibly None Reclining Seats
By all accounts, everything we know and several data points online seem to indicate that Southwest is taking a leaf out of the low-cost carrier handbook and removing the seat recline mechanism aboard its new aircraft.
One thing to remember is that when it comes to removing the recline in seats (which seems to be the case here.) Southwest is well behind the low-cost carrier curve. A brief look across the Atlantic, and you can see that the notoriously stingy Ryanair removed its reclining mechanism 20 years ago in 2004.
If you are wondering why, the answer is simple: the bottom line. By removing the mechanism, Ryanair won on two fronts. First, it is a question of weight; removing seat recline mechanisms reduces the weight of the aircraft, which in turn means it needs less fuel, making it more profitable. Secondly, ongoing maintenance costs. These mechanisms take a beating over the course of their lives and need regular maintenance. In fact, the newspaper at the time crunched the numbers and worked out that Ryanair would be saving around £1.3/$2.38 million at the time. It is, therefore, easy to see that Southwest could be saving a substantial amount of cash by eliminating these mechanisms.
Twenty years later, as you can imagine, eliminating the seat reclining mechanism has the potential to save Southwest a pretty bundle and have a positive impact on the bottom line.
Although we are not the biggest fans of the RECARO economy seats – The company does have some good business class seats – the announcement from Southwest is still welcome news. The Introduction of USB power ports is welcome news and something that has been lacking with Southwest for a while now.
Also, the new Digital Platform functions should be an overall improvement to the customer service experience and should help to make things even smoother. However, that being said, it is still difficult to look beyond the shortcomings of Southwest’s choice of RECARO seat. It de-incentivizes me to fly the airline after 2025.