In my trip report last week, I mentioned that Southwest had brought me up to Seattle so I could go crawl around its newest 737-800, the 7th with its newly-designed cabin. This so-called “Heart” interior is going to be the standard going forward, and I was happy to have some time to poke around. Let’s take a look.
[Full Disclosure: Southwest provided flights and hotel in Seattle.]
Southwest took me up to ATS, which handles heavy maintenance for the airline and is a great place for spotting these days. See, Southwest has bought a bunch of old 737-700s from other carriers and this is where they are getting put into shape to fly for Southwest. Below you can see the remains of a Transaero 737. I saw WestJet and others inside.
Out on the ramp, Southwest’s newest 737-800 was just about ready to go. See, for new deliveries, ATS handles the split scimitar winglet and wifi install for Southwest. The very next day this airplane was going to be officially delivered.
Not to brag, but I’m a pretty awesome tour guide. That being said, if you’d rather hear it straight from the horse’s mouth, I did do a Busker live stream with Steve Jenkinson, Southwest’s project manager for the new interior. We crawled around that airplane and if you have the time, I think it’s well worth watching.
Having just been on a Southwest 737-800 the day before, the first thing I noticed when I got on was a completely different galley and bulkhead. When I walked on the old airplane, just to the right of the entry door was this odd half-bulkhead with a marble-y top to it. What I found out is that this bulkhead was far more useless than it should have been. Flight attendants weren’t allowed to prepare food on it (some food regulation), so it just sat there. Walking on the new 737, I found a big ole’ traditional bulkhead with a galley in it and another one just across the aisle looking about the same.
This may sound like a minor thing, but it’s actually huge. Southwest had always (as far as I know) done service without carts. The flight attendants take drink orders, go back to the galley to prepare them, and then come back out with a tray to deliver the beverages to each traveler. But when the 737-800 was rolled out, someone had the bright idea that the airline should start using some half-carts. That experiment bombed and they stopped it quickly, but the carts still remained in the galley. That wasn’t the only problem.
Somehow the airline decided to set the galleys up so that one person could work up front and three in the back (the 737-800 has 4 flight attendants unlike the 3 on the 737-700). But one of the people in the back had to then come back up front to serve passengers since the service is handled by 2 in the front half and 2 in the back. This problem has now been fixed.
As mentioned, there are now two galley workspaces up front. Then at the back, you can split the galley right down the middle and see a workspace for one on the left and another on the right.
The layout has also been improved. Before, they inexplicably had the two coffee pots right next to each other on one side of the galley, so the flight attendants were all falling over each other. Now it’s separate, so each of the 4 flight attendants has a functioning, individual workspace. It should significantly increase service speed, I’d think.
One more thing on galleys…. These new ones have been designed to stow emergency equipment. On the old layout? That took up the overhead bin space in the front and back. So this will free up more overhead room.
If this makes you think that the old galleys were designed by blind monkeys, then you are not alone. At least now they’ve put some real thought into creating a much more functional workspace. But enough about the galleys. Let’s talk about the seats.
Unlike the “Evolve” seats they’ve installed on nearly every aircraft today, these new ones were actually designed to be slimline seats.
That makes them more comfortable. Most importantly, while the cushion on the old seats sits on top of the frame, these new ones sit on top of a springy hammock-looking thing.
I didn’t sit in the seats for long enough to know how they’ll really feel, but I do know that they have to be better than the old seats.
These seats have adjustable headrests, something Southwest hasn’t done before. It’s also moved the seatback pocket up to the top to give more legroom below. That has made me feel claustrophobic on some airplanes where it feels too close to my face, but with the amount of legroom Southwest has given, the placement is actually a positive.
My biggest complaints about the seats? I have two, but only one matters to me. Those armrests are really tiny.
Yes, Southwest has been crowing about how it has the widest seats on a 737, but that’s a silly thing. After all, many of its competitors fly A320 family aircraft which have wider seats on them. Nobody cares if these are the widest 737 seats. They just care that they’re wider seats overall. But how did they achieve these wider seats when the 737 hasn’t gotten any wider itself? They made the armrest look like a toothpick. It’s hard enough fighting someone over the armrest (middle wins, by the way), but this makes it even worse.
The complaint I don’t really care about is the one that won’t impact me as a window-lover.
The way the tracks are designed on the airplane means that the underseat stowage space in front of the aisle seat is very tiny. Middle and window seats have plenty of room.
Like on the 737-800s that are flying today, the legroom is actually very good. Take a look at this photo showing how I fit into a 737-700, a current 737-800, and the new 737-800 seats.
Every seat in the cabin has 32 inch pitch and you can really sense the space. If you’re looking for tips, here’s what I was told.
- Quietest seats (aircraft noise, not obnoxious passenger noise) – rows 4 to 8
- Most legroom – 16A and F (exit row with no seat in front) or row 14 (exit row but non-reclining)
- Worst seats – row 30 doesn’t recline and has no extra legroom, so stay away
Finally, let’s talk about the lavs. Southwest went with those space-savers that carve the sink out of the small rectangular space instead of setting it back into the wall.
There is not much room in there, so be prepared. The one good thing is that now all lavs have baby changing tables. Apparently on the old 737-800s, they only bothered installing those up front, which seems insane. Then again, good luck changing a baby in that tiny space.
Overall, this is a real improvement. It fixed a ton of mistakes that were made on the original layout, and the seats should be more comfortable. (I can’t really say until I’ve sat in them for a couple hours straight.) The biggest problem is that passengers can’t seek out these new interiors. It’s luck of the draw.
Here’s how the fleet is going to be outfitted.
- 737-300: retiring next year, no Heart retrofit
- 737-700: no Heart retrofit (will use seats from 29 737-800s to outfit new 737-700 acquisitions with Evolve seats)
- 737-800: 29 of existing aircraft will get new seats but not galleys, all new deliveries will get Heart interior
- 737 MAX: all will get Heart interior when delivery starts next year
So, if you’re on a 737-800, you have a chance, but there’s no way to know in advance if you’ll get it. Let’s hope you get lucky, because it’s a much nicer experience.
Super-interesting. I love the focus on working space for the FAs; it’s one of those “win-win” things in that it makes for a happier workforce and better service for customers. Amazing how many things are designed without use in-mind.
I appreciate your point about tracks, but I don’t think that’s unique to Southwest 737s. I fly 737s all the time on AA and DL, and ALL of them suffer from the problem of the under-seat storage being unequally distributed in coach, with the person on the aisle having almost zero space for a carry-on beneath the seat. I always want to be a good citizen and put my briefcase under the seat in front of me, but it often simply doesn’t fit and I have to put it in the overhead bin. It’s even worse on 737s with IFE; for some reason, the trend seems to be to stick the bulky IFE box on the aisle side of the under-seat rather than the middle. This is one place where Airbus has it right–the tracks are placed so that all three seats have equal under-seat storage in coach. #endrant
Quote:” It’s even worse on 737s with IFE; for some reason, the trend seems to be to stick the bulky IFE box on the aisle side of the under-seat rather than the middle.”
If they have to come on board and work on the individual unit for the row of seats, it is a lot easier to lay down in the aisle to access the unit than it is to squirm your way around in a row with little room to spare.
On WN, with their “Bags Fly Free” moniker, hopefully more of the casual flyers will check their bags to allow the business people to put both their carry-on and personal items in the overhead bins. Speaking of overhead bins – I see no mention of these in your review. I notice it looks like the SKY interior type bins, but are they using the more space type like Alaska on their new 737’s?
TC99 – All of the Southwest 737-800s (even the original ones without the new interiors) have the Boeing Sky Interior with those overheads. I didn’t know there were varying levels of Sky Interior bins, but these looked quite big.
I prefer flying on an Airbus for the reason stated above as well as the seats are wider. A Boeing is cramped, period!
I agree as well. I much prefer to be on Airbus aircraft over Boeing because of the seat width.
As I commented in the trip report column, I flew on an 800 on the 4th from LAX-MKE which had the new seats, but not the new galley. They are a huge improvement over the evolve seats! While the pocket for storage is small, I was able to fit an unopened can sideways and a cup in there. The only issue I had was trying to figure out how to release the armrest as I was on the aisle. Instead of pulling the latch in the current setup, there’s a button to push that’s all the way in the back.
I had one of these modified 738’s on my last flight from BOI-DEN. I thought the seats were a huge improvement, comfort wise. The legroom was very noticeable. I had my young son next to me, so the armrest issue wasn’t a problem for me, but I remember thinking how I might get annoyed if I was in the middle surrounded by 2 adults.
Flew 800 Oct 2 san to stl middle seat big improvement Sitting next to my large husband was not uncomfortable at all. Next leg stl to dca in 700 reminded me why I never sit middle seat. Love the new planes.
I wish they would get rid of the seatback pockets because people put things in there. I always feel their items pushing on my back and it’s very annoying.
Thoes sinks don’t look big enough to wash your hands without getting water all over the floor. Also will F/As be able to wash their hands following proper health guidelines food and beverage servers must follow?
Correction – you can only wash 1 hand at a time, since you need to hold down the button to run the faucet.
I’m sorry but you are on a plane not in a restaurant. The flight attendants don’t serve food and they probably wash their hands in more in an hour than you do all day!!!
If a F/A uses the toilet and doesn’t wash their hands properly and then grab a snack item or a drink and hand it to you, they could have passed germs from them to the item which you just touched. So yes F/As do handle food/beverage items and can pass off something to passengers.
The galley layout looks like a vast improvement, but those lavs look horribly cramped. As for the seat, I haven’t had the pleasure of the “Evolve” seats, but they look pretty good for slimline.
A little more colour in the cabin wouldn’t go amiss…why do so many airlines either go with “bland” or “Ryanair-yellowin-your-FACE!” schemes. There has to be a middle ground. (JetBlue is also guilty of “bland”, but at lest the emphasis on “blue” fits with the name. I do think “Southwest” worked better with an interior that had some brown to it.)
As for quietest section, what’s the best seat to minimize noise from excessively-chatty/standup-comedian/rapper FAs? (I do find WN’s “folksiness” annoying sometimes…well, most of the time. Especially when their reputation for friendliness doesn’t align with my experiences. And “Heart”…really?)
I’ve used those half-lavatories on the slimlined UA 737-900’s. They put them in for both first class lavatory and right behind first class. It’s basically the same/smaller width as a metal detector, with the same concept that you should not touch the walls. The locations of the paper goods and trash receptacle are not logical, since they squeeze them into where they could find space. It’s basically terrible overall.
Seats… OK. Restrooms…we are talking about WN, are we not? I guess we should just be glad their 737s are still equipped with ’em, any size.
You didn’t ask, but…,with WN, how about how WN markets, lists, labels its plethora of 1-stop flights–you are sitting in your nice new seat, you have no idea you are going to have to change planes at your intermediate stop, when on comes the announcement…”For those of you going on to our next stop, Podunk, you’ll have to change planes here.” [Nothing in the marketing, in the flight listing or how the flight has been labeled, when “bam,” you are kind of taken aback!].
I’ve screamed bloody murder to UA when they do this, which is about 50% of the time, but they don’t operate nearly as many 1-stops as does WN. When I complained to DOT, they said these flights become “operational change-of-gauge flights,” like they occur for reasons beyond the airline’s control, something I reject vehemently, but apparently DOT doesn’t see it my way.
Just wondering, are there any stats on how often WN does this on its 1-stoppers?”
Anyway, nice seat pictures!
JayB – That’s a rare occurrence. Southwest is the one airline that, when it markets a one stop, usually actually means it. Of course there are always occasions when they need to swap airplanes, but nearly every time the same plane sticks with the same flight number. It’s a far cry from how the other airlines operate.
Excellent article. Don’t forget SW is also retiring their handful of 737-500’s they are still using, mainly in the Texas market.
WHEN YOU GET OLD ENOUGH TO SIT IN THE COCKPIT OF AN F-4 “LEAD-SLED”, please reveal your career “Pilot In Command hours” in the F-4 (all varitens). Thereafter, your comments will be appropriate and welcomed.
Those beverage carts cost $7-$8,000, so cost is also a reason they were not utilized.
I don’t understand if the carts were already purchased for whatever amount and they are already on every 800 SW has how does that save them money by not using them? They are already paid for.
The FA’s over whealming hated those carts. They were top heavy and took time to set up and on short hops time is of the essence because SW unlike some carriers attempt to do a beverage service on every flight even if it’s 35-40 minutes.
I’ve had the new seats on a few of my 737-800 flights over the past two weeks (based on the fact these planes had the bulkhead up front instead of the island). The seat cushions hurt BAD after a couple hours (and we’re talking short DEN-PHX flights here), they are ROCK HARD. I would say Spirit is the most comparable comfort-wise to these new seats. I really miss the older ones, they were so much more comfortable than most other carriers’ offerings.
Howdy, while I have not measured, there is only 7 inches difference between 737 and A320 cross fuselage. My guess is that a given airline flying both types do not have diff seats to allow interchangeably , if so that would be 1 inch per seat and the aisle diff and un-noticable. Remember to… The owner buys the seats not the maker.
Depends on the length of the flight. Under an hour, it’s irrelevant I guess. Anything longer, and it makes a difference.
Also, for a plus size passenger, that extra inch is important on shorter flights as well. Not to mention for the person in the next seat.
While you Monday be a window flyer, I’m an isle guy. The new seat brace configuration really sucks. You can’t even get a small duffle in it. Worse than that, you have to play footsee with the middle seat, as there its no way to keep both of your feet on one side unless you pitch sideways. In a day with crowded overhead bins, I don’t understand why they would make 60 storage locations under the seat useless.
Otherwise, I like the new layout. The bathrooms are small, but functional.
This was a good article. A couple of things I would like to add. The lap tray was a very pleasant surprise to have it drop straight down and pull in and out. And second the way the ceiling is raised and lighted making it seem so open and airy is great. I do agree that the track for the aisle seat is hard on your feet and I’m a woman so I can imagine a man with bigger feet and longer legs would really have a problem with it. But over all this is a huge improvement. We were really please and wished we could always choose this plane. I see our next flight is a 73H so I’m smiling!
I have a question, not a comment. How much legroom is there in the bulkhead section? My sister is handicapped and needs to be able to stretch her right leg out. She Has to be in the bulkhead since she can’t get any further down the airplane Aisle.
We fly from Kansas City to Orlando, and Orlando to Kansas City. Please help.
Mary – I’m afraid it’s not necessarily an easy answer. Southwest has different configurations on different airplanes. In general, however, the bulkhead doesn’t have the kind of legroom that would allow a her leg to be stretched out fully. I would talk to the airline about your needs.