Southwest’s New Plans | Boon Or Bane For Hawaii Travel?

Southwest Airlines is undergoing a significant overhaul including its aircraft interiors, part of which is introducing state-of-the-art new slimline R2 seats by Recaro. These move continues to spark debate among frequent flyers, particularly those traveling to and from Hawaii.

A key question is how these changes will impact comfort on long-haul flights to the islands.

New Recaro R2 Seats were just unveiled at the Aircraft Interiors Expo (AIX) in Hamburg. The latest German company seats, revealed in person for the very first time, are designed with customization unique to Southwest’s Boeing 737 MAX aircraft and are slated for delivery starting next year. This is the first time that Southwest will be partnered with Recaro, with current seats being from competitor Collins Aerospace. The seats feature several enhancements aimed at improving passenger experience, including:

  • Multi-adjustable headrests for better support and comfort.
  • Dual Cup Holders that accommodate right and left-handed passengers.
  • Seatback device holders that facilitate easy use of personal electronics.
  • USB-A and USB-C ports for in-seat charging.

As we’ve written about before, there are concerns about overall comfort in these oh-so-thin seats, particularly on long-haul flights to Hawaii. The seats are ultra lightweight, characteristics associated with space and fuel savings, but nothing that we think of in relation to improved comfort.

A primary concern among passengers in scores of comments relates to how these new seats fare on flights of five or more hours. Southwest’s existing seats are already criticized for being challenging in terms of comfort for long durations.

The introduction of thinner seats raises fears about reduced comfort despite the airline’s strong assurances of maintaining or increasing usability.

Where is assigned seating, premium seating, and perhaps more change?

Southwest seems to veer in opposition to the broader industry trend of adding more highly profitable and in-demand premium cabin options, at least for now. Their simplicity and affordability concept is still an evolving one in relation to the complexities and costs of adding at least some reserved seating, premium economy, or even first-class. All of these offerings are being widely rumored at this time.

New seats suggest something else is afoot at Southwest!

The addition of these new slim seats seems to say a shift towards the possibility of more segmented seating options and the possibility of Southwest adding any number of premium seating option in the near or long-term future.

Your recent comments about recent and proposed changes coming to Southwest.

  • “It’ll be great to book an assigned seat with extra legroom for a cheaper price than other airlines that fly from Hawai’i to the mainland.”
  • “I do fly SWA but not to Hawaii. I might consider it with a premium seat, a meal, legroom and a cocktail-if the price is right.”
  • “The cattle call seating that was their unique feature is now a disaster. I recently booked a flight to the West coast on SWA, paid for biz class, then canceled and booked a flight on Hawaiian. The only reason I did that was that I wasn’t willing to roll the dice on what kind of seats would be left after the shenanigans happening at the gate with preboard. It is ridiculous in some markets, and I am not willing to take the chance with a 6+ hour flight.”
  • “We love everything about Southwest & book it whenever we can get a nonstop flight. Leg room distributed equally, boarding process, ability to bank canceled flight, 2 bags frees all unique to Southwest. No worries. Don’t change a thing!”
  • “Southwest should stay the course. They have the best leg room than all airlines for standard seating. My knees never hit the seat in front of you. Love southwest.”
  • “All in for these improvements and keeping the morning flights to the mainland.”
  • “Factor into the options that the CEO stated the new option will not include curtains. Thus, special rows become a problem. I think reserved seating with middle empty plus special food and drinks for an increased fee is where they are headed.”
  • “The new seats look really uncomfortable.”
  • “SWA is absolutely not the most affordable airline with the best leg room/seat pitch/overall comfort flying in or out of the SF Bay Area.”
  • “I do not fly SW to Hawaii ever!!! If they had premium seats and assigned seats I would consider it.”

For flights to Hawaii, comfort is paramount, therefore…

We would suggest that Hawaii flights are among those most in need of premium options. Not only that, but Hawaii routes are also ones where passengers have proven they are willing to pay extra for added comfort. Hawaii travelers endure long flight times that can reach up to six or more hours including delays, on-boarding and off-boarding.

Despite a plethora of attractive, modern amenities, these new Recaro seats might still fall short in providing the desired comfort for longer journeys.

It’s worth noting that Southwest has opted not to retrofit their existing aircraft with these new seats. Thus, passengers currently not satisfied with seating to Hawaii may have to endure the existing situation much longer than desirable.

Word from those who had the chance to experience the demo seats at the AIX conference in Hamburg was not universal in acceptance. So, while Southwest Airlines’ introduction of these new Recaro R2 seats marks a big shift in its approach to cabin design, and modern improvements, the core issues surrounding passenger comfort on long-haul flights to Hawaii remain unresolved.

As Southwest confirms that it is continuing to explore new seating configurations, in part made possible by these new thinner seats and the possibility of premium seating options, the future of the Southwest passenger experience will take some time to unfold.

Do changes coming to Southwest Hawaii flights make you more or less inclined to fly them to the islands?

Images courtesy of Tangerine.

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29 thoughts on “Southwest’s New Plans | Boon Or Bane For Hawaii Travel?”

  1. As new seats are installed, I expect SWA will add a premium seating/additional leg room product to the first 5 or 6 rows – and the two emergency exit rows.

    This may resolve all of the “seat savers” and the numerous amount of fake cripples who gobble up the front rows.

    This also allows SWA to “reward” their A-List and A-List Preferred members with those premium seats, as well as paid Business Select passengers. Any of the premium seats leftover on a given flight can be sold at the gate, or on the app.

    With the increased pilot (44% raise by 2028) and flight attendant contract costs – SWA has to raise money/fees somehow.

    The good news is, per the pilot bargaining agreement – no more added seats on board (except the MAX 7 increases to 150 seats). Probably tighter seating and less legroom to make-up for the added legroom premium seating.


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