No, it’s not as sexy as, say, a new Dreamliner or A350 launch, but still big news for Dallas’ other hometown airline. Southwest Airlines announced yesterday the first routes of its brand new 737-8 MAX aircraft. If you’d like to bum a ride on one, you’d better plan a trip to visit the Texas. The aircraft launches October 1, and Southwest plans special inaugural flights from Dallas to Houston, Houston to San Antonio, and San Antonio to Dallas.
Why the Odd Launch Routing?
At first glance, Southwest’s choice of launch routing might seem strange. After all, the appeal of the MAX is its efficiency. Boeing claims the aircraft burns 14 percent less fuel than the average 737, with 300-500 extra miles of range. Thus, you’d think a longer-range routing would make sense. However, Texas-based avgeeks may recognize the significance of the route:
That’s right – the trio of flights completes the original “Texas Triangle” of markets when Southwest originally started service in 1971. In that sense, I can’t think of anything more appropriate to introduce the fancy new wings to the public.
What’s New on Southwest’s 737 MAX?
Not much, really. The 737 MAX features the same “Heart” interior design that debuted on the 737-800 last year. While a significant improvement over the panned “Evolve” (or “Devolve” as I like to call it) seating, the planes will still look familiar to Southwest purists. The cabin features 175 Slimline seats clad in blue “E-leather”, with 17.8 inches of width and 32 inches of pitch. That’s not terrible for coach, certainly better than what most domestic carriers offer. Passengers can also enjoy the same streaming content and free TV currently offered on all WiFi-equipped aircraft. If you hoped for an announcement about extra legroom seating or power ports, though – well, no such luck.
As mentioned, the primary improvement is efficiency, and indeed, Southwest generally plans to use the MAX on longer flights. Looking ahead, I suspect the MAX will be the backbone of the carrier’s international operations to Central America and the Caribbean.
When Can I Book?
Southwest’s schedule currently takes bookings through November 3rd – which means you can snag a seat today! Indeed, it appears the launch flights are already loaded into the system. Fittingly, as Flight 1 (DAL-HOU), Flight 2 (HOU-SAT), and Flight 3 (SAT-DAL). The catch? It’s going to cost you. DAL-HOU prices out at $225, HOU-SAT at $218, and SAT-DAL at $154. The whole 679-mile trip will set you back a whopping $597. (NOTE: in my haste to publish, I failed to note, as reader Austin does below, a simple workaround. Book as a DAL-SAT roundtrip and force the connections, and the price drops to $316. Still high, but not as obscene.) The good news is, all three fares code as “Anytime” fares, meaning they’re fully refundable. If you really want to grab a seat, you can book now, wait to see if prices drop, and then re-book at the lower price later. You’ll receive a refund for the difference.
I’m absolutely planning to ride the entire triangle. Southwest usually puts on a pretty good launch party, and I can even be back
to work home by lunch! Sounds like a win-win for anyone based in Dallas.
Photo at top: “Boeing 737-8 MAX at BFI” by wilco737, via Flickr Creative Commons, license Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.