Southwest defends new seat redesign after social media backlash

Users have cited a possible lack of legroom.

March 7, 2024, 10:19 AM

Southwest is onboarding a brand new look with re-designed cabins featuring larger bin space, device holders, power outlets, and premium aircraft seats -- but despite the much-needed enhancements, travelers were quick to criticize the upgrades after noticing a potential flaw -- a lack of legroom.

The Dallas, Texas-based budget airline first announced the changes in February, teaming up with transportation design firm Tangerine to enhance the seating experience based on customer research and product testing.

The changes are set to rollout in 2025.

VIDEO: The controversy over Southwest Airlines’ new seats
VIDEO: The controversy over Southwest Airlines’ new seats

"Southwest flies above our competition with industry-leading flexibility and our legendary Hospitality," Tony Roach, senior vice president and chief customer officer at Southwest Airlines, said in a statement at the time. "Our redesigned cabin interior significantly enhances our inflight Customer experience and will complement the amazing service that our Crews provide."

Mark Hiller, CEO of RECARGO Aircraft Seating, said, "Our new seat will be a great addition to the Southwest Customer Experience, as its durable design and comfort features will serve Passengers well."

However, enthusiasm has been delayed for the redesign and new seating, with nearly 20,000 negative comments on a TikTok video revealing a first-look at the new RECARGO seats, many of them criticizing the lack of space.

One user wrote that the cushions look like "Ozempic seats," referring to the weight loss medication.

Another wrote, "Why not just put wooden benches in -- they'd be just as comfy."

Travel expert and airline editor for Katy Nastro told "Good Morning America" that upon first impression, "I sort of felt like they were a trim, more slimmed-down version of what we currently know when we fly Southwest."

To some, the seats are a far departure from what the airline described back in February as "an intuitively designed seat for ultimate comfort while maximizing seat width and overall support." The seats are also said to feature "a multi-adjustable headrest cushion for enhanced head and neck support."

Other comments on TikTok questioned whether there are more rows and less legroom, but Southwest confirmed to ABC News that the new seats will still have the same width and legroom as the current ones.

A representative for the airline told ABC News that the "original images were 2D renderings to show the cosmetic look of the seats and were not scalable for illustrating seat comfort," and provided 3D photos of the RECARGO seats showing a bit more padding.

"But rest assured, we have our customers' back-even when they give us flak," the airline representative added.

British Airways is also upgrading seats in its Airbus Narrowbody fleet of planes rolling out this May.

Nastro explained that the post-COVID-19 air travel climb is still real, with many companies winging it to see what sticks.

"Each airline is sort of investigating where they can [to] differentiate themselves," Nastro said, "whether it's free Wi-Fi or updated cabins or ways that they can still retain and grow their customer loyalty."

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