Southwest Airlines is in the late stages of evaluation for a potential new seat for its fleet. The carrier confirmed its TechOps team is evaluating options for the next generation of its cabin offerings. This could serve to augment the existing Collins Meridian deployment or replace it.
We embrace innovation, but by nature we’re risk averse.– Larry Mabry, Strategic Sourcing Manager, TechOps Supply Chain Management, Southwest Airlines
The target timeline for a decision is the end of the year, or possibly early in 2023. But that does not necessarily mean the company will have an announcement or a plan to replace its existing seats on board. This process is focused on “being prepared for the future, staying abreast of the technology and comfort options,” explained Larry Mabry, Strategic Sourcing Manager, TechOps Supply Chain Management for Southwest Airlines.
Speaking on the sidelines of the RedCabin event in Atlanta this week, Mabry, confirmed that the carrier is several months into the process, with expectations to complete its research and make a decision. But that does not necessarily mean a new seat will fly, or that it will replace the existing seats currently in the air. “We’ll make a seat selection. And it may be an addition to the Meridian, or it could be something to replace the Meridian. We just haven’t committed,” Mabry continued.
A more involved seat selection process
The decision process to select Meridian, an offering for which Southwest was one of the first and largest customers, involved significant analysis by the company. By Mabry says the company is investing even more time and effort this time around, making it one of the largest efforts he’s seen in his decades at the carrier.
Starting with the broad list of all economy class seats available in the market, the company narrowed the list to a top 10 options. Those 10 were then brought in-house for a tear down “literally to the nuts and bolts” by the TechOps department.
Ultimately, the carrier wants to make sure it knows what the total cost of ownership will be, down to the most minute details of the maintenance processes that might be contracted out at a remote station. It was a major undertaking, documenting the pros and cons of each product. But Mabry also understands that his group is just one of the votes that goes into a decision.
“We’re looking out for the best interest of engineering, the maintenance technicians that might have to work on the seats. But we’ve also got to look at customer comfort. We got to look at the aesthetics of the seat. There are a lot of considerations.”
And seating changes just might be the most risky move the carrier can make. Southwest, like many other airlines, has seen its share of pushback with interiors changes over the years.
The company must also balance its desire to be innovative, with the typically conservative nature of the airline business. That risk aversion is even more pointed when considering the selection impacts more than 700 planes, and more than 100 million passengers each year.
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