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April 16, 2014

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Southwest Airlines weighs addition of larger aircraft

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Sun file photo

Southwest Airlines planes sit at McCarran International Airport.

Southwest Airlines, the busiest air carrier at McCarran International Airport, is considering a plan that would add larger aircraft to its fleet.

A company executive said today that the airline is considering converting some of its Boeing 737-700 orders to 737-800 series planes.

Southwest’s 737-700s carry 137 passengers while the longer 737-800s could have a capacity of 189 passengers. Southwest says it probably would configure its planes to carry 175 people.

McCarran routinely handles larger -800 and -900 series Boeing 737s at many of its gates.

Mike Van de Ven, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Southwest, said in a posting on Southwest Airlines’ blog that 737-800s could add flexibility to Southwest’s schedule. A final decision on the matter would be needed by Dec. 1 for Boeing to begin delivering the larger planes by early 2012.

“While the aircraft introduces additional complexities to our operation, we believe our existing network could be enhanced by converting some of our future 737-700 deliveries to 737-800s,” Van de Ven said in his posting.

“Introducing the -800, which has more seating capacity than the -700, would be a complementary fit to our current fleet by supplementing opportunities for longer-haul flying, while also potentially improving our unit costs. The -800 can also give Southwest scheduling flexibility by allowing for additional capacity in high-demand, slot-controlled, or gate-restricted markets – in other words, we can carry more passengers to some of our most popular destinations.”

Following the announcement, representatives of the Transport Workers Union of America, which represents 9,400 Southwest flight attendants, said that while they are enthusiastic about the potential of adding the -800 series to the fleet, they expect negotiations would be reopened on new rates of pay, rules and working conditions, including adding a flight attendant to the crews of the larger jets.

“Our plan is to reconvene our 2008 negotiating team and begin meeting with management immediately,” said Thom McDaniel, president of the Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants Union, TWU Local 556, in a statement released this morning.

“Our union supports the expansion and growth of Southwest Airlines,” he said. “While our managers have not made a final decision on acquiring the 737-800 series yet, we, at the flight attendants union, are doing our due diligence to insure that any changes in our business model are in the best interest of our members and our customers.”

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