Exploring the flying marvels: An overview of Southwest Airlines fleet

How would you describe Southwest Airlines fleet in a few words? The answer would be an all-Boeing narrowbody fleet. The discount airline is the exclusive Boeing 737 series aircraft operator, amassing more than 700 units from the same family.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is a global airline renowned for its extremely efficient operations, low-cost pricing, and innovative practices. It popularized the concept of low-cost flying and became a template for carriers in the low-cost airline industry. It is the world’s largest LCC and has long been a massive commercial success. With an industry-leading balance sheet, Southwest Airlines is one of the most profitable carriers in the US. The carrier hugely owes its financial success to its efficient and effective fleet use. What type of aircraft does this low-cost giant operate? How many aircraft has Southwest amassed? Here’s a detailed overview of Southwest Airlines’ fleet in 2023.

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All-Boeing fleet

Southwest Airlines utilizes a single-type fleet revolving around Boeing 737 to simplify operations and gain flexibility in scheduling and resource allocation. The carrier relies on a huge but uniform fleet to serve its extensive network spanning 100+ destinations in the US and beyond.

Since its inception, Southwest Airlines has procured only Boeing 737 jetliners, except for a brief period (1979-1980 and 1983-1985) when it inducted a few B727-200 on lease. The Dallas-based low-cost carrier is steadfast in its devotion to Boeing and doesn’t divert its focus from the 737 family jets.

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Southwest Airlines fleet: Aircraft models

Southwest Airlines has an unwavering loyalty toward Boeing 737 series jets. But which 737 models does the budget carrier operate?

The systemwide fleet of US-based Southwest Airlines comprises:

  • 411 Boeing 737-700 Next Generation
  • 207 Boeing 737-800 Next Generation
  • 178 Boeing 737 Max 8

There are 796 Boeing-built aircraft in the Southwest Airlines fleet, 737-700, 737-800, and 737 Max 8 models. Let’s look at each model’s state, including no. of seats, cabin layouts, amenities, etc.

Boeing 737-700

Southwest Airlines’ fleet is dominated by Boeing 737-700 model, accounting for 411 of 796 Boeing 737 family jets. The mean age of 411 examples is 18.6 years, making them the oldest aircraft in the fleet.

Southwest Airlines is the launch customer of the Next-Generation Boeing 747-700 model, having welcomed the first unit in December 1997. Powered by new CFM 56-7 engines, the 737-700 flies up to 3200 nm and serves the carrier’s high-frequency, short-haul operation.

Boeing 737-700 Southwest: Photo Scource: Nick Young Photo

 The low-budget carrier has formatted its Boeing 737-700 units with an all-economy seating layout. Each 737-700 can accommodate 143 passengers in single-class leather seating. The seats are 17 inches (43cm) wide and offer 31 inches (79 cm) of pitch. Southwest follows an unassigned seating policy, so those who board the flight early can choose any available seat.

The Dallas giant has already begun setting out a course for retiring older Boeing 737-700s to vacate space for new 737 Max 7 jets. It will gradually phase out 737-700s over the next 10-15 years in favor of modern, more-fuel efficient jets. Sitting on its firm 400+ Boeing Max orders, the carrier plans to replace a significant portion of dominant 737-700 models in coming years.

Boeing 737-800

Another significant aircraft model in Southwest Airlines’ fleet is the Boeing 737-800, the highest-selling variant of the 737NG. The carrier has 207 examples of the Boeing 737-800 model, which averages around eight years.

Southwest’s Boeing 737-800 has cabin space for 175 passengers in a standard 3-3 configuration. The carrier doesn’t bother with the premium cabin and has rolled out all-economy seats onboard B737-800 aircraft.

South West Boeing 737-800; Photo by Dexter Greene

Passengers flying onboard the B737-800 jet will appreciate Boeing’s Sky Interior featuring ambient LED reading, quiet cabin, etc. The modern leather seats are 17 inches wide and offer a minimum of 32 inches of pitch. They develop proper headrests (with widgets), a full-size tray table, and a literature pocket. However, there are no power outlets, personal device holders, and seatback entertainment.

Southwest-operated Boeing 737-800 aircraft are outfitted with the Split Scimitar Winglets. These fuel-friendly devices add newly strengthened stringers at the wing, aerodynamic scimitar tips, and a large ventral strake while boosting annual fuel savings per aircraft.

The US low-cost carrier saves a million gallons of fuel annually by installing split scimitar winglets on the 737-800 models.

Boeing 737 Max 8

Boeing 737 Max 8s are the latest additions to Southwest Airlines’ fleet, averaging roughly three years old. The no-frills carrier is the largest Boeing 737 Max type operator, with 178 Max 8s in service and 435 (189 Max 7s and 246 Max 8s) more in order books.

The 737 Max 8 is gradually increasing its presence at the carrier, with 70 more units scheduled to join this year. Fitted with CFM LEAP 1-B engines, the aircraft offers a fuel range of 3,610nm and has lower fuel burn, emission, and noise than competing jets. The improved range enables the budget carrier to open new routes that were once out of reach and take its low fares ever farther.

Southwest’s Boeing 737 Max 8 features a cabin configuration consistent with the existing 737-800 model, i.e., 175 seats in a single-class setup.

Highlights of Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in Southwest Airlines fleet

  • Single-class layout with 175 passenger seats
  • 17.8 inches wide seats with 32” pitch
  • Modern seats with an adjustable headrest, lower-profile armrest, advanced cushion support, and an elevated information pocket
  • Boeing Sky Interior with spacious overhead compartments, LED flight sequence.
  • A music-infused customer experience during boarding and disembarking
  • A new cabin crew-designed galley

Southwest Airlines received its first 737 Max 8, registration N8710M, in August 2017 and deployed it on scheduled service on October 1. The arrival of a new Max 8 marked a new chapter of efficiency and reliability to the Southwest fleet and the retirement of fuel-guzzling 737 classics.

Although the Boeing 737NG series make up the bulk of Southwest’s current fleet, the 737 Max line is poised to take the lead soon. The latest narrowbody developments will be the mainstay of Southwest’s operations and form the backbone of its ever-growing fleet.

Photo by Jason H

More Max jets are coming.

The leading ULCC Southwest has a strong Boeing 737 Max order book. The carrier has 189 Boeing 737 Max 7 and 246 Boeing 737 Max 8 outstanding orders with the US aerospace giant Boeing. The firm Max order book supports the carrier’s low-fare, high-value strategy and preserves the low-cost benefits of a single fleet type.

Southwest is set to receive a portion of Boeing 737 Max 7 deliveries in 2023. Initially scheduled for delivery in 2022, Max 7 suffered a setback due to the -7 certification issue and supply chain challenges. Once these new jets come onboard, older Boeing 737-700s will make their way into retirement.

Wi-Fi on Southwest’s newest airliners

Southwest Airlines will elevate the flying experience by offering new and improved Wi-Fi connectivity on its newest jets. Viasat’s high-speed Ka-band connectivity features will be available on all new jets arriving with the carrier. The Viasat-equipped aircraft will serve routes around North America but aren’t confined to specific routes.

To sum up: Southwest Airlines Fleet.

Southwest Airlines’ fleet encompasses a staggering 796 all-Boeing 737 family jets. The low-cost carrier operates a modern, well-structured, uniform Boeing 737 series airliners fleet that effectively serves its needs into the next decade. The carrier is a key customer of Boeing and procures new jets from the same B737 family to retain the low-cost advantages of a single fleet type. By maintaining a fleet of single-family type, the carrier leverages the benefits of streamlined operations, economies of scale, and maintenance efficiency.

As a low-cost carrier, Southwest Airlines strives to utilize every inch of the plane for revenue generation and cost optimization. The carrier can accommodate more passengers by maximizing space in the aircraft. Flying a full plane allows the carrier to spread the operational costs amongst passengers, resulting in a low average cost per passenger. So, the low-cost giant uses the available space on the aircraft thoughtfully and efficiently.

Where does Southwest Airlines fly?

Southwest Airlines has an impressive route network that spans 100+ destinations in the US, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. With affordable and competitive pricing, the carrier makes flying accessible to all and allows them to fly cheaper.

Southwest Airlines flies domestically to 42 mainland US states out of its operating bases in 14 airports. Denver is the number 1 in Southwest’s hub network, followed by Chicago Midway, Las Vegas, Baltimore, and Dallas Love Field.

Outside the US, the discount carrier spreads its wings to-

  • Oranjestad, Aruba
  • Nassau, Bahamas
  • Belize City, Belize
  • George Town, Cayman Islands
  • Liberia and San Jose in Costa Rica
  • Havana in Cuba
  • Punta Cana in Dominican Republic
  • Montego Bay in Jamaica
  • Cancun, Cozumel, Puerto Vallarta and San Jose del Cabo in Mexico
  • Providenciales in Turks and Caicos Islands
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