Southwest to offer wider economy seats on new planes

Southwest is launching bold blue seats with 17.8 inches of seat cushion width next year.

Southwest is launching bold blue seats with 17.8 inches of seat cushion width next year.  (Southwest Airlines)

Southwest Airlines is planning to give passengers in the cheap seats more room for their buck on newer planes.

The new bottom seat cushions, which will measure 17.8 inches across, will be the widest seats available by more than one-half an inch in the coach cabin of any Boeing 737 aircraft in the U.S., according to Bloomberg.

Compared to the current 17.1 inches on most Southwest aircraft now and 17 on Alaska Airlines, 17.8 inches will be a welcome change. The new seats are designed to give larger passengers—and anyone feeling a bit cramped at 30,000 feet—some significant wiggle room. 

The new seats will have the same reclining pitch as older Southwest seats, about 32 inches—but this is still considerable larger than some Delta and United 737 aircraft which have as little as 30-inches of motion, according to On Spirit Airlines, the seat pitch is as little as 28-inches on Airbus 320 planes.

Southwest’s move is bucking industry wide trends of shrinking seats to make room for passengers in economy. But the new seat design is actually lighter than previous models, shaving about 200 pounds from each aircraft, which will reduce fuel consumed during each flight.

The new seats, designed by Southwest in conjunction with Florida based B/E Aerospance Inc., were unveiled today at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany.

In addition to being roomier, Southwest’s new seats will be a brighter blue hue, which more closely mirrors the blue in the airline’s logo. The headrest will move up and down, and the seat itself will contain a storage space at the top of the seat back. A slightly curved frame will ideally allow more room shins and knees. 

Looks like the knee-defender wars may be a thing of the past.

The new seats are set to debut in the middle of 2016 but the airline announced it will not be retrofitting old planes with the new seats.