Southwest has prided itself on keeping things simple when it comes to airplanes. Up until the acquisition of AirTran, they only owned 737s. And there’s no guarantee they keep the AirTran fleet, with over 70 new 737s on the way over the next two years.
They’ve now graduated to the 737-800. It’s a bigger plane, which definitely changes Southwest’s model. They’ve been awesome at filling all the seats on their current planes. And, since they’re all essentially the same configuration, it makes their fleet planning easier. So, this definitely adds a wrinkle, since the 800 is significantly bigger than the 700 (depending on configuration, 40 more than the 700).
What’s even more interesting is that the 800 can fly to Hawaii, where their current fleet can’t. There’s NO question I won’t end up on one of their planes for 5 hours to Hawaii. However, competition’s a great thing, and LCCs (low-cost carriers) generally have stayed away from Hawaii service. I’ll be interested to see what effect Southwest might have on the legacy carriers if they chose to throw their hat in the ring.
ETA: Cholula has pointed out that the 700 has been flying from the West Coast to Hawaii. I was under the impression that Southwest’s 700s were not ETOPS certified. It’s possible their engine combination is not. I’m researching….
More ETA: I thought I had remembered this blog post from a while ago. Essentially, it looks like in late 2010 Southwest started thinking about ETOPS certification.
For those that are not famliar, ETOPS (extended operations, or the alternative joke of Engines Turn or Passengers Swim) is a certification to fly more than X minutes from any airport (generally over large bodies of water). So, for a typical Hawaii flight, you’re generally required to have 180 minutes of ETOPS.