Southwest Airlines turns less legroom into $773M

At least according to a website that figures the carrier added that much revenue from placing seats just an inch closer together.

By Jonathan Berr May 17, 2013 10:28AM
A Southwest Airlines jet takes off from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on February 21, 2013 (© Karen BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images)Southwest Airlines (LUV) has theoretically managed to squeeze more than $773 million in extra revenue from the flying public by squeezing them tighter into their seats.
 
As the website Unwieldy.net has noted, the airline decided last year to reduce its "seat pitch," better known as legroom, on its Boeing (BA) 737s by an inch, from 33 to 32 inches. By doing so, the fourth-largest U.S. airline was able to add six seats per flight. The Dallas carrier runs about 93,450 flights per month that are about 80% full, with an average ticket price of $141.72.

By Unwieldy's math, that equals exactly $773,074,040 in additional revenue, which for a company that's expected to generate $17.7 billion in sales this year isn't too shabby. A Southwest spokesperson couldn't be reached for comment on the validity of the site's calculation. However, aviation consultant Mike Boyd tells MSN Money that "it passes the smell test. . . . (But) you better have tushies in those chairs."

Less legroom is one of the many reasons flying has become a chore for many people. Airlines last year earned more than $6 billion in fees from checked bags and changed reservations, according to USA Today.

Southwest seems to be doing better than most airlines, though it still faces plenty of challenges. It recently reported better-than-expected quarterly earnings but warned that demand from passengers was softening.

However, as Consumerist notes, shrinking stuff can be very profitable for businesses: "Knocking a single ounce of orange juice from your large jug of OJ might not seem like much to you -- aside from the utter annoyance at paying the same rate for less product -- but it means an ocean of money to the producer."

Jonathan Berr doesn't own shares of the listed stocks. Follow him on Twitter @jdberr.

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37Comments
May 17, 2013 12:58PM
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The airline CEOs made a startling discovery that people WILL let themselves be treated like animals on their planes, and they can make tons of more money without any complaints. 

 

If only they knew how stupid and lame the American people were way back; all the money they've lost by letting people be comfortable all these years thinking the passengers demanded it.

 

If fact, they should take away ALL the seats and just pile the people on top of each other with their suitcases and let them pee in their pants.  Who would complain?

May 17, 2013 12:23PM
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This sort of crap is why we drive every where we can.  I refuse to be folded up like a cardboard box so some damned airline can make yet another buck.
May 17, 2013 12:05PM
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I avoid SWA solely because of the lack of legroom. For those of you who enjoy being shoehorned into their planes, enjoy. It's not worth any potential savings for me to be miserable.
May 17, 2013 11:41AM
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More appropriately known as the Sardine section.  It may be okay for short flights, but those of us with leg issues can hardly move on most airlines anymore.  That is a health concern, especially on long flights.  I hope they keep this in mind as they remodel and revamp.  I appreciate the no baggage fees (such a hassle with other airlines).  The free snacks are nice, but not necessary for short flights...anything under 2 hours.  I hope SW doesn't go the way of the other airlines; we are not freight.
May 17, 2013 12:59PM
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I wish there was an airline that had beds, like a sleeper car in a train.
May 17, 2013 11:47AM
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I fly Southwest to Las Vegas twice a year. Yes close seating and yes snacks are free what bugs me is the delays to leave with so many who carry on half the house! Southwest needs to end half of the carry on and speed up push back from gate time.

Also they use a number system to load the jet. But I see and had so many who are to be at the back of the jet in front WHY they cut in line and lie about what there loading number is!

Southwest needs to check who goes on first via there own number system and speed up the lines.

May 17, 2013 1:22PM
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If ever any customer suffers strokes or other health problems, problems with immobility in such tight seats, they should sue the airline for selling a product they know is hazardous to your health.  They stopped smoking in the plane.  Then legroom was not a problem.  Now, the inability to stretch, move, is a health hazard.  Consumer protection agency and legal teams, are you listening?
May 17, 2013 2:40PM
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another reason for bullet trains.  the fuel savings would be immense.
May 17, 2013 2:14PM
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Back when airlines weren't quite so bad, Miss Manners said that there were two classes of airline travel:  Steerage, and Steerage with free drinks.
May 17, 2013 11:08AM
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Southwest is best airline out there no baggage fees, free snacks, reasonable prices, I will nt fly anyone but southwest from now on I dont know why anyone would, yea Southwes,t thanks for coming to my neck of the woods ]Flint MI]  thanks again love Southwest Airlines .....
May 17, 2013 2:23PM
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as if the normal seat spacing wasn't already hard enough for anyone over 6' tall...

 

this is height based discrimation!  good thing I live up north. no southwest up here XD

May 17, 2013 12:10PM
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Screw em' long as one can is life 101 for this country anymore. How much can people take is my only question?
May 17, 2013 5:20PM
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 The article says the planes are 80% full. So then that means the 6 extra seats are not in use since the planes are not fully booked. So there for they did not make the money the writer states. All it did was cram the people into smaller seats for no reason.
May 17, 2013 2:41PM
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they should go back to the days of the Zepplins (helium filled of course), luxury and class.  Although  in this fast paced society, probrably would'nt go over to well

May 20, 2013 1:48PM
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You know they can cut whatever they want to cut.  I give up!

 

Has anyone ever done a study to see how many billions that airlines have lost due to people that just said "no" to flying unless they abosolutely have to?  I used to fly 10-15 time a year for conferences long weeekends and vacations.  I still could fly that many times a year, but choose not to.  I am flying, 3-5 times per year, less than 1/3rd of what I used to fly.  That is a heck of a loss, I doubt $25-$45 makes up for all of those full fares lost...

 

Seats are so tight and my hip to knee length allows me to feel any and all movement in the seat in front of me, and if it is a large person or a flopper, I can barely walk down the aisle when deplaneing.  Add to that charges for luggage, food, tissues and reduction of the number of economy class toilets.  The fact that it now takes a day to go anywhere due to fewer flight choices.  We as flyers do have the oportuntiy for great long waits in fithy packed airports,and security lines that wrap around themselves, since everyone flys at the same prime times.

 

No thanks, I now only fly when I absolutely have to.  If they would add 2" to my  legroom, include a meal and a checked bag into my ticket price and put at least two toilets in ecomomy class, I for one would probably choose to fly more, adding $4-5,000 into their coffers every year.  Oh wait, that is what they did in the 80's and lost money...I guess I will keep driving and taking the train.

May 17, 2013 1:38PM
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just why cant people wake up and dont fly for 6 months and see what happens to the airlines i guess you all are just plain stupid
May 17, 2013 12:56PM
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I've been flying Southwest for years on the west coast.  Enjoy them very much and own a small amount of their stock.

 

When I fly coast to coast or to Hawaii, I fly Alaska first class.  Long flights require stretching of the legs.  All you need is the money.  Alaska first class is nice.

 

 

May 17, 2013 1:09PM
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Don't place the biggest share of blame on the airlines, blame OPEC and the Evil Religion for driving up fuel prices.  If fuel prices were at reasonable levels (not inflated as they are presently) the airlines wouldn't need to find new and exciting ways to pass the costs on to the customer.  It's not like the airlines are rolling in profits...inflated fuel costs are the biggest expense, with high labour costs and corporate mismanagement a distant second.
Jun 19, 2013 2:16AM
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My God!

I am on one of these new planes now. That money certainly is "theoretical." 

This is just absurd. I have never even looked at another airline or their fares. Believe me. I am now.

Most miserable flight I have ever had.
Jun 4, 2013 11:52AM
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I have flown many airline if not all the airlines.  I check with SWA first. I get a good product for a fair price. Yet I too have slowed down my travel as it is too much of a pain... scanners, shoes off, weighing suitcases. The carriers/government have managed to make flying no fun... Living is S. Fl.  we simply jump on cruise ships as enjoying the ride is half the fun!
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