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Southwest shows off new seats, says they have more cushion — not less

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Southwest Airlines is showing off the newest seats planned for its fleet — and doubling down on dispelling earlier outcry that they’re too thin.

Appearing alongside seat manufacturer Recaro, the Dallas-based carrier unveiled the new seats Tuesday at the Aircraft Interiors Expo in Hamburg, Germany.

Southwest representatives talking

Seat features

The carrier says the new seats, adorned in navy blue and sporting a signature Southwest heart logo on each headrest, are a distinct improvement over what customers currently find on its Boeing 737s.

New Southwest seats on Boeing 737s

Planned for new aircraft deliveries starting in 2025, the seats sport some distinct upgrades over Southwest’s existing ones, to be sure.

Recaro customized both the headrest and armrest specifically for Southwest, offering a longer armrest and a headrest that the passenger can fold out for neck support — or slide up or down for comfort.

Where to sit: Everything you need to know about the best seats on Southwest Airlines 

Close-up of a Southwest seat

On the back of the seats, you’ll find both USB-A and USB-C charging ports, along with a sizable personal device holder and a tray table featuring two cupholders.

“Ten percent of the world is left-handed,” offered Bill Tierney, Southwest’s vice president of customer experience and digital experience, at Tuesday’s unveiling.

“Every part of the design is meant so you don’t have to put too much effort into moving around, keep your neck comfortable, and you can be productive with your devices,” Tierney continued, noting the seats sit at the intersection of comfort and functionality.


Larger cabin refresh

In fact, this seat reveal is just one step in a larger cabin refresh Southwest is planning for its new aircraft, which will see jets come off the line with a variety of aesthetic upgrades over its current aircraft, TPG reported in February when the carrier first announced the changes.

But seat design renderings Southwest shared at the time weren’t without backlash — namely, concerns about how thin they looked in the mock-ups; it helped reignite the decadeslong conversation about legroom, seat pitch and width on commercial aircraft.

Southwest seats in a cabin
A rendering of the new seats shared in February. SOUTHWEST AIRLINES

Ultimately, those design renderings weren’t exactly an accurate depiction of the seat itself, said Christopher Parker, Southwest’s managing director for inflight experience and voice of customer, speaking to TPG on Tuesday.

“There were a lot of things in the news when it was released about it being a ‘slimline seat.’ This is not a slimline seat,” Parker said, noting the company went through exhaustive testing with staff members and customers — who concluded, he said, that the seats were the most comfortable among those the carrier considered.

Side view of a Southwest seat

“When we went through the process of adding the actual seat cushion, we actually added more cushion,” he said. “None of this was intended to make a thinner seat for cabin densification purposes.”

The carrier also went to great lengths, Tierney added, to test ergonomic features to make the seat as comfortable as possible. I certainly noticed those elements, and the improved back comfort, when I briefly tried the seat out at the unveiling.

Writer Sean Cudahy seating in a Southwest seat

Of course, the ultimate test for these seats will be how they perform over time — and over the duration of a multihour flight.

But Recaro CEO Mark Hiller, the man in charge of making the seat, was confident Tuesday.

“We are sure that our product … is a great addition to the Southwest fleet,” he said.

Plans to integrate into fleet

It’s worth noting that Southwest won’t retrofit its existing aircraft with the new seats or design. The new aircraft it receives in 2024 won’t have the refreshes, either.

They’re planned for new deliveries starting next year — though the carrier’s delivery schedule has remained very much in flux amid troubles at Boeing.

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