‘Reduce Costs’ and ‘Protect the Environment’: Southwest Airlines Cuts Legroom, Installs Thinner Cushions

Put up another point for going “green”: Southwest Airlines is retrofitting its planes in an effort to “reduce costs and ‘protect the environment,’” according to Mario Aguilar of Gizmodo.

“Sounds great,” Aguilar writes, “except that the redesigned seats will take away some of the precious few comforts you had left in the air.”

Really? Wait — there wasn’t much leg room to begin with. How much are we talking here?

“Your legroom will decrease from 32 to 31 inches, and the pitch of the recline will decrease from 3 to 2 inches,” Gizmodo reports. “The company is also outfitting its seats with thinner cushions cloaked in a fancy-sounding pleather.”

But why would they cut back the leg room? Surely they must expect some sort of customer backlash. They must have a good reason to do this.

Here’s how Southwest justifies its decision (via its website):

Dubbed Evolve: The New Southwest Interior, the cabin update utilizes durable and environmentally responsible products to reduce waste and create weight savings onboard the aircraft, while enhancing comfort for Customers…

The new interior design also provides the unique opportunity of greater revenue potential by increasing the number of seats onboard from 137 to 143, without sacrificing Customer comfort and personal space but, at the same time, increasing under-seat room for carryon luggage.

Ah, there it is: “…opportunity of greater revenue potential…”

Although the company says that they are retrofitting their fleet “for the environment,” the updates are most likely being done because new Evolve cabin interiors will save Southwest Airlines approximately $10 million dollars a year. As opposed to being an environmental decision, it’s just a business decision.

And probably in an effort to calm customers over the loss of leg room, Southwest has made sure to point out that the changes will actually make seats more comfortable because they are also making “ergonomic improvements” to their design.

“What’s more, because the seats recline less, you’ll have more ‘onboard personal living space,'” Aguilar writes. “Yeah, sure, we’ll believe its better when we see it.”

When can customers expect to see some of these changes take place?

Southwest will begin retrofitting its current fleet of 372 Boeing -700s with the Evolve interior in March 2012, anticipating completion in 2013, for a total estimated cost of approximately $60 million. As integration of AirTran Airways, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Southwest, moves forward, Southwest anticipates that AirTran’s Boeing -700s and 717s will also be retrofitted with the new cabin interior as those aircraft are converted into the Southwest brand over the next several years.  Other Southwest fleet types are still being evaluated for a possible retrofit.

Click here for 360 view of the new Southwest interior.

(H/T: Gizmodo)

(Front page photo source: Getty)