Two U.S. airlines have started to take delivery of the next generation of Boeing’s iconic 737 jetliner. One of them just started flying it in commercial service, and there is speculation that airline could use the plane to shake up the Hawaii market.
The aircraft is the 737 MAX. The two airlines are Southwest and American.
Southwest, the U.S. launch customer for the aircraft, put its first nine 737 MAX 8s into service this week. It expects to have 14 of them in operation by year’s end, and has placed firm orders for 200 of the new planes, including MAX 7s and MAX 8s.
The new Southwest 737 MAX 8s have 175 seats in a single-class configuration, offering 32 inches of pitch and the Boeing Sky interior with LED lighting sequences. Southwest’s existing 737-800s also have 175 seats and 31-32 inches of pitch, while its 737-700s have 143 seats and 31-inch pitch.
If the seat count is the same, what’s the difference between Southwest’s 737-800s and its new 737 MAX 8s (other than the new-plane smell)? The new aircraft are quieter, 14 percent more fuel-efficient and can fly 500 nautical miles farther than the -800s.
“Our new seats feature an adjustable headrest; it’s the widest economy seat in the 737 market with a lower-profile arm rest, advanced cushion support, a raised information pocket, and elevated rear seat beam that together allow for additional space for personal devices,” Southwest said.
If you wind up on one of Southwest’s new MAX 8s, it will probably be by chance, because the airline plans to deploy them here and there on scores of routes over the next few months. You can see a full listing here.
The initial scheduled deployment of Southwest’s MAX 8s only mentions domestic routes, but the company’s executives have said they might use the aircraft’s longer range to begin service to Hawaii. They didn’t say when, but the financial publication Seeking Alpha said recently it believes “that Southwest is likely to enter the Hawaiian market by 2018, and a formal announcement could come at any time.”
If that happens, the publication said, it could usher in a major fare war on mainland-Hawaii routes. “We think the only reason that Southwest’s entry (to Hawaii) hasn’t already been announced is due to Hurricane Harvey,” the publication said.
Analysts noted that the new planes’ greater range could also allow Southwest to fly deeper into Latin America and even from the East Coast to northern Europe, a market where Norwegian has introduced the planes.
American, meanwhile, took delivery of its first 737 MAX 8 from Boeing last week. It should receive four of the planes by year’s end, followed by 16 more next year and 20 in 2019. American will put the first aircraft into service on November 29 between Miami and New York LaGuardia. It has ordered a total of 100 737 MAX models from Boeing.
American’s version of the MAX 8 has 172 seats, but with three seating categories – 16 in first class, 30 in Main Cabin Extra and 126 in regular economy. By comparison, American has two versions of the 737-800, one with 160 seats in three classes and one with 154.
Earlier this year, American caused a stir when it said a few rows of economy on the new aircraft would have 29-inch pitch, a new low in legroom for a major U.S. carrier, and the rest would have 30-inch pitch. But after negative feedback from customers, the airline changed its mind and said all economy seats would offer 30-inch pitch, causing it to ditch one row of Main Cabin Extra in the planes. (That compares with 31-inch pitch on AA’s 737-800s.)
Neither American nor Southwest will offer seatback video monitors on the new planes, citing a growing passenger trend toward streaming entertainment via personal electronic devices.