The Tale of The 737 MAX US Debut – In Two Parts

The Boeing 737 has been a mainstay of U.S. Aviation for over 50 years so it was quite a big deal when a new version of the airplane was announced in 2011. The 737 MAX is Boeing’s new and improved version of the 737 narrow-body jet with improved engines that increase the fuel economy and distance these jets can fly. Any introduction of a new airplane is met with excitement by the Airplane Geek community so it was interesting to see the reviews of the first two U.S. airlines to fly the 737 MAX, Southwest and American.

Southwest was very proud to be the first U.S. airline to fly a 737 MAX flight, as they were the first to get the 737-8 MAX variant delivery.

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Here’s the press release for the inaugural flight, on which Southwest CEO and Chairman Gary Kelly was a passenger:

DALLAS, Oct. 1, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV) achieved an aviation  milestone today by becoming the first airline in North America to offer scheduled service utilizing the Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. In a nod to Southwest’s history, the inaugural MAX 8 flight departed Dallas’ Love Field and flew to Houston, one of the carrier’s original markets first flown in 1971.

“Today, we begin a new chapter in Southwest’s history by introducing the Boeing 737 MAX 8 to our Customers and Employees,” Chairman & CEO Gary Kelly said from aboard the inaugural scheduled flight. “The MAX 8 is the future of the Southwest fleet, and we look forward to connecting Customers to the important moments in their lives through our legendary service delivered with this more fuel efficient* aircraft designed to produce less noise in the communities we serve**.”

Southwest launched nine Boeing 737 MAX 8 into service today and expects to end 2017 with 14 of the aircraft. Based upon the delivery schedule, as of July 25, 2017, the airline has 200 firm orders for a combination of MAX 7 and MAX 8.

Southwest’s MAX 8 aircraft feature a single-class cabin with 175 seats that offer industry-leading personal space with 32 inches of seat pitch. The new aircraft is further enhanced by the Boeing Sky Interior which offers an LED lighting sequence for each phase of flight and a music-infused cabin experience featuring playlists for boarding and deplaning. Additionally, the MAX 8 is powered by CFM International’s all-new LEAP-1B engines, which are designed to be more fuel efficient* and produce less noise**.

Southwest served as the world’s launch customer for the Boeing 737 MAX 8 when it announced an order for the new jet in December 2011 and continues a legacy of being the launch customer for the Boeing 737 aircraft series. Southwest has been the world’s launch customer for the Boeing 737-300, -500, -700, and MAX series of the world’s best-selling, narrowbody airplane.

I’d imagine it was quite the embarrassment that the plane broke down after the first flight segment and couldn’t return to Dallas from Houston and the passengers had to be flown back to Dallas on a different aircraft.

Despite the minor snafu, the reviews of the Southwest 737-8 MAX were generally positive from people on the flight. Southwest’s configuration of 175 seats each with 32 inches of pitch (distance between seats) and 17.6 inches of seat width seemed to be suitable for most people who were on the flight.

Here’s some reviews of the debut flight from the Points Guy, Airline Geeks and Travel Codex.

I was somewhat interested in what people had to say about the second U.S. airline to take delivery of the same 737-8 MAX aircraft, American Airlines.

Since many travel bloggers are (or were) American Airlines flyers, there were several of them on the inaugural flight from Miami to New York. I wasn’t looking for the same glowing reviews as Southwest received, as American crammed as many seats as possible onto the plane. While Southwest has 175 seats on their planes, all of them are the same type of economy seat. American has fit 170 seats onto their planes, but that includes 16 first class seats, 30 Main Cabin Extra and 124 coach seats. Those coach seats only have 30 inches of seat pitch (remember Southwest coach seats have 32 inches, and those 2 inches make a big difference).

Here’s some of the comments after the first flight:

And here’s a quote from the Points Guy website:

But, the real pain is in the back of the plane. Standard economy seats have just 30 inches of pitch. Because of the narrow seats, 30 inches of pitch isn’t bad on legroom. I’ve seen a 6’4″ man sit in these seats without his knees mashed up against the seat in front. However, there’s no substitute for pitch when it comes to personal space. And, I experienced first-hand how cramped these seats can feel, having turned down an upgrade to first so I could fly the inaugural in a 30-inch pitch seat.

Now, while most of the press before the flight was about the seats, the talk after the flight was about the restrooms and how they had to narrow the room and shrink the sink to fit them into a smaller space.

Here’s one image from View from The Wing. Does this even count as a sink?

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While I’m not surprised to see American shrink the space for coach passengers even more than they had previously, it should give pause to any leisure traveler before booking a flight on one of their planes.

We just flew from Chicago to Orlando on an older version of the 737-800 and I couldn’t even work on my laptop without leaning it forward on my lap because the seat in front of me was so close. That was only a two hour flight and these new 737-8 MAX planes are eventually scheduled to fly for 5 hours from Miami to Seattle. I couldn’t imagine being crammed into a seat that small for that long.

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