For Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co., bigger may be better. Bigger planes, that is. The low-cost carrier confirmed Friday that it is kicking the tires of Boeing Co.'s 737-800 planes, which are larger and can carry more passengers than the series -700, -500 and -300 Boeing 737s that Southwest currently flies. More seats on each plane would give Southwest flexibility to have fewer daily flights out of cities where slot controls limit the airline's ability to add more individual flights, such as New York's LaGuardia Airport. Bigger planes also would lower the carrier's cost per seat flown on long-haul flights where profits are thin. "Since the decision to add the -800 has not been finalized, any details regarding configuration, timing and quantity of deliveries are still to be determined," Mike VanDeVen, Southwest's executive vice president and
chief operating officer, wrote on the carrier's blog Friday.
Southwest's -700 and -300 series planes seat 137 in its all-coach configuration.
Boeing says the -800 series would seat up to 189 passengers in a single-class configuration, but the model would hold 175 passengers the way Southwest would configure it.While Boeing seems willing to let Southwest substitute the bigger models for current orders of -700 series planes, Southwest will need to reach agreements with its pilots' and flight attendants' unions before making the order. A spokesman for the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association said the union's current contract lets the parties reopen it to discuss rates of pay for flying new types of aircraft. The Transport Workers Union,which represents flight attendants, plans to start immediate
negotiations, president Thom McDaniel said in a message to members Friday.The carrier said it needs to have its new labor deals in place and decide to buy the planes by Dec. 1 in order to take delivery of the planes in 2012. If it can't meet that deadline, it wouldn't rule out a purchase with later deliveries, said spokeswoman Katie Coldwell.
"Response from our employees has been very positive" regarding the prospect of flying larger planes, she said.A bigger plane might take longer to load and unload than Southwest's current fleet, but schedule planners have built more flexibility into
the airline's schedule to allow for longer "turn times" – the time it takes to get a plane in and out of a gate.The list price for the bigger plane ranges from $72.5 million to $81 million, Boeing's website says. That compares to the range of $58.5 million to $69.5 million for the -700 model. Southwest, which buys all its planes from Boeing,
receives significant discounts from those list prices.Southwest shares fell 3 cents to $11.40 Friday.
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