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Southwest Airlines Just Invested $4.68 Billion In the Planes That Offer Miserable, Tiny Bathrooms (Here’s the Good News)

Is no one immune from uncomfortable planes?

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BY Chris Matyszczyk - 29 Apr 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.

 

There's one airline that still cares about its customers.

That is, at least, a popular view about Southwest.

It's more likely, many feel, to do the right thing.

It's less likely, many feel, to drag passengers off planes.

Although that may not be entirely true.

Still, the airline's loyal customers believe that Southwest has their best interests at heart.

At least sometimes.

This, you might think, is therefore a time for worry.

The airline has just invested $4.68 billion in buying 40 brand new Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes.

These are the ones that some say offer a level of discomfort akin to having your eyeballs tattooed.

Airlines love them, you see, because they're more fuel efficient and executives can shove more seats inside them.

Passengers and Flight Attendants love them less because, with many airlines, legroom is reduced and the bathrooms are a mere 75 percent of their previous size.

Indeed, one American Airlines pilot recently described his airline's MAX bathrooms as "the most miserable experience in the world."

And one imagines that, being a pilot, he's lived a little.

Naturally, there's a kink in all this.

Airlines have a say in how these aircraft are configured.

They have a choice as to whether the bathrooms stay the same size as previous 737s or whether they're reduced to the point at which, as one senior airline executive described to me this week: "You have to back your way into those things."

The first of the latest batch of 737 MAX 8 planes will be delivered to Southwest next year.

Southwest announced that, even thought the MAX 8 can accommodate 189 seats, it will limit its versions to 175.

Which seems relatively human. But what about the bathrooms?

I contacted Southwest to ask which bathroom configuration it had chosen.

"Our 737 MAX aircraft feature the standard-sized Boeing lavs on every aircraft, which are the same lavs our newer-model 737-800 fleet offers. We did not downsize the lavs on the MAX flying today or the ones on order," an airline spokesperson told me.

Which made me want to sit down, rub my forehead and reach for a soothing tincture.

Especially as the LUV airline calls its bathrooms Lav's.

It's not that I'm in love with Southwest. Not even in LUV.

Eighteen months ago, the airline happened to give me the most miserable, annoying experience of my last several years of flying.

Yet it's instructive for passengers that airline CEOs have a choice when they configure aircraft.

American Airlines chose to squeeze in as many passengers as possible and make them squeeze even when they're in the toilet.

Some might conclude that American cares less about its brand image and more about its ability to make more money.

Its CEO, Doug Parker -- who can be refreshingly, disarmingly honest -- recently admitted he'd shove even more people onto planes if he could.

And that it's his own Flight Attendants who work to stop him.

He also confessed that he'd never actually flown on a MAX.

Southwest, on the other hand, appears to believe that its brand image contributes to the success of its business. So it won't go to the, excuse me, max in giving its passengers cramp.

Why, it still doesn't have baggage fees.

(Of course, it doesn't mean that, some time in the future, it won't decide to shrink its bathrooms too.)

The problem with flying, of course, that passengers are increasingly being given less, in the hope that they'll regard this as the new normal.

Perhaps, one day, it will be normal to pay for the restrooms.

Please, never say never when it comes to airlines.

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