Close To 800 Aircraft: The Southwest Airlines Fleet In 2023 (2024)

The fleet of US carrier Southwest Airlines continues to grow, and grow, and grow. When we covered the airline's fleet last year, the airline had just 736 aircraft. However, the carrier has since added over 40 more aircraft and continues to take vicelivery of more jets every month. Let's look at the state of the Southwest fleet in 2023 and see if any big changes have taken place for the airline.

The Southwest fleet at a glance

Anyone familiar with this airline knows it operates a single-type-fleet centered on the Boeing 737. The carrier is perhaps one of the most loyal Boeing customers on the market - utilizing jets from the American manufacturer since commercial services began in the 1970s. Indeed, Southwest started off with just three Boeing 737-200s back in 1971.

Going from just three aircraft to nearly 800 over the course of 50 years shows the tremendous journey the airline has been on. So, with data from Planespotters.net, let's see how the fleet is composed in 2023 with the following 737 variants, quantities, and average ages:

  • 431 737-700s with an average age of 18 years
  • 207 737-800s averaging about seven and a half years
  • 142 737 MAX 8s averaging roughly two and a half years of age

Looking at these numbers and comparing them with our "fleet in 2022" examination in early-February 2022, we can see that the airline removed 29 -700s over the past year, but also added 73 MAX 8s. The number of -800s remained the same, but overall, we can see that the carrier had a net increase in aircraft.

The airline took delivery of 16 aircraft over the course of December 2022 which represents an impressive rate of roughly one new aircraft every two days! However, when comparing months, December was on the higher end, and we can't expect this rate every month. Indeed, Southwest added just nine jets in November and four in October. With all this in mind, it's quite likely that fleet numbers will have changed slightly by the time you read this article.

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MAX 7 certification relief

So with such a simple fleet, what more can be said about the airline and its aircraft? Well, we can start with the fact that data from ch-aviation.com shows the airline having 239 Boeing 737 MAX 7s on order.

Reporting from PaxEx.aero indicates that the airline was expecting to take delivery of 70 of these aircraft over the course of 2022. However, in light of Boeing's certification progress (or lack thereof), the airline revised its estimate over the summer, taking it down to zero. This outlook proved accurate and, as of this article's publication, the MAX 7 has yet to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

For much of 2022, the MAX 7 - and its big brother, the MAX 10 - have been in a precarious situation, with a certification deadline looming. This deadline required Boeing to have any new variants certified by the year's end or else require modifications to its co*ckpit alerting system - modifications which would have introduced differences between the in-service MAX 8 and MAX 9 variants.

With the airline having a major stake in the outcome of the government mandate and potential changes to the MAX 7 co*ckpit, the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association or SWAPA went public in October to request that the MAX 7 and MAX 10 models receive a waiver from the government's new requirement to have the new alerting system installed. With SWAPA members having different 737s to fly throughout the duty day – the group was lobbying in favor of retaining co*ckpit commonality.

According to The Seattle Times, SWAPA President Casey Murray issued the following statement on October 7th:

“Our pilots fly many cycles in a day. Some of our pilots can touch three or four, even five, aircraft in a day. … The commonality is our issue, and we believe that it makes for a safer operation.”

Whether or not it was achieved with the backing of Southwest's pilots, Boeing would eventually get support from US Congress to lift the requirements of the government-imposed deadline. The new expectation for Boeing is that all aircraft are to be fitted with the new alerting system within at least three years of the MAX 10 getting certified. US Senator Maria Cantwell, who is largely leading the case, commented:

"The safety-first alternative is much stronger than the no-strings-attached approach that was first offered. Passengers need to know that the entire MAX fleet will be uniform and safer"

Boeing may just be trading one headache for another. That's because the requirement to retrofit the co*ckpits (in due time) covers all MAX aircraft, and will mandate the installation of manual shutoff capabilities for stall warnings and overspeed alerts. A synthetically enhanced angle of attack (AOA) system will also be a required retrofit.

Upgrades for passengers

While co*ckpit upgrades (or rather, retrofits), will come to the Southwest MAX fleet in a few years, the aircraft cabins will be upgraded sooner than later. In May 2022, the carrier unveiled its plan to spend $2 billion upgrading its passenger experience.

Key improvements will include enhanced WiFi and power ports at each seat on all new aircraft deliveries. Overhead bins will also be enlarged to increase their capacity. In terms of inflight entertainment for those bringing their own devices, the airline is boosting its extensive selection of entertainment options.

Commenting on Southwest's ambitious plan, Chief Executive Officer Robert Jordan stated:

"As we continue to welcome back loyal Customers and win new ones, these initiatives, combined with the best People in the industry, support our Purpose of connecting People to what's most important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel."

Close To 800 Aircraft: The Southwest Airlines Fleet In 2023 (2)Retro liveries

While the airline has just three different 737 variants actively operating at the moment, there's a little more diversity in terms of liveries. When it comes to newly-introduced liveries over the course of 2022, we saw two great retro paint schemes: A 'desert gold,' "Herb Kelleher" paint scheme and a 'canyon blue' retro livery - also known as "The Colleen Barrett."

It was in March 2022 that Southwest announced in a company memo that the special, Herb Kelleher-liveried 737-700 would be retired. In a statement, the airline said:

"Going forward, our desert gold livery will be a special feature of only the Herbert D. Kelleher plane as we will be retiring the classic dedication special livery...We expect to introduce these new aircraft to our fleet in the summer. There will be a brief period when you won't see the desert gold livery around the system after the retirement of N711HK and N714CB, but keep an eye out for more communication in the coming months when Herb's MAX 8 takes flight."

Well, enough time has passed since the airline's statement that we can report the new gold 737 has been delivered to the airline and is now in service. The jet, a MAX 8, is registered N871HK and joined the fleet in November 2022. In case you didn't notice, the initials of Herb Kelleher, HK, are included in the aircraft's registration code.

That same month, we saw the delivery of N872CB, which sports the canyon blue livery. Named "Heroine of the Heart," the 737 MAX 8 is dedicated to Colleen C. Barrett, the President Emerita of Southwest Airlines. Again, the initials of the livery's inspiration are included in the aircraft's registration, with CB - for Colleen Barrett - integrated into the six-digit code.

A bad end to 2022 (and start to 2023)

For Southwest Airlines, the last month has been particularly challenging. The carrier has struggled to keep its fleet flying amid severe winter weather. On December 26th, however, the budget carrier made the decision to cancel nearly 3,000 flights, which was approximately 70% of its total flights nationwide. This also accounted for more than 50% of all canceled flights worldwide for that day alone. In total, for its fourth quarter of 2022, the airline canceled a whopping 16,700 flights.

Flight cancelations throughout December were just the tip of the iceberg, as misplaced baggage became a fast-growing issue. Additionally, customers had trouble communicating with the airline, and rebooking flights over this busy holiday period was quite challenging.

The canceled flights were due to a combination of factors, including a shortage of ramp agents and flight and cabin crew. Mounting flight cancelations and delays also resulted in several crew members reaching their operating limits. Making matters worse was outdated software used by the airline.

Instead of adequately reassigning the crews to other flights, several employees struggled to even get through crew scheduling services. This left many airline employees unable to get reassignments or adjust their schedules accordingly, affecting their operating limit and rest requirements. Unable to change flights or get hotel rooms, many pilots and flight attendants were forced to sleep in airports alongside stranded passengers.

Close To 800 Aircraft: The Southwest Airlines Fleet In 2023 (3)

Photo: Southwest Airlines

Indeed, things got so bad that politicians have gotten involved, and the US Department of Transportation has officially opened an investigation into the airline and its canceled flights. The agency will investigate how the breakdown happened, and if the cancelations were avoidable. It will also examine airline compliance with regulations with what it owes to affected passengers.

Hopefully, with 2022 now past, 2023 for Southwest Airlines will provide a clean slate to do better - using all the hard lessons it learned from the past few months to improve on its operations and ability to manage chaos.

Have you flown with Southwest in recent months? Were you impacted by the winter chaos that swept across much of North America? Share your experiences by leaving a comment!

Sources: Planespotters.net, PaxEx.aero, Seattle Times

  • Close To 800 Aircraft: The Southwest Airlines Fleet In 2023 (4)
    Southwest Airlines

    IATA/ICAO Code:
    WN/SWA

    Airline Type:
    Low-Cost Carrier

    Hub(s):
    Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, Dallas Love Field, Denver International Airport, Harry Reid International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Houston Hobby Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Midway International Airport, Oakland International Airport, Orlando International Airport, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

    Year Founded:
    1967

    CEO:
    Robert Jordan

    Country:
    United States
Close To 800 Aircraft: The Southwest Airlines Fleet In 2023 (2024)

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