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.