Boeing’s Most Successful 737 Variant: The -800

The Boeing 737-800 is by far the most successful series of 737. It is a true workhorse. Despite coronavirus, it has 890 million seats this year – over three times more than all other Next Generation variants put together. We take a detailed look at the use of the type this year.

AA 737-800
American Airlines is the world’s third-largest user of the B737-800 this year. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

The Boeing 737-800: a true workhorse

The B737-800 is a true workhorse. Launched 27 years ago in 1994, the series (codes: 738; 73H with winglets; and 7S8 for Scimitar winglets) was first delivered to Hapag Lloyd in 1998. The German carrier (which ultimately merged with TUI fly Germany) was at one stage Europe’s largest operator of the series. That feels a very long time ago.

The number of seats ranges from 162 to 189, although the exact amount depends on how many classes there are and how many seats are within each. This dictates seating density which has an enormous impact on seat-mile cost. Of course, network operators with lower density offset it (or at least attempt to) with higher unit revenue.

Ryanair 737-800
Ryanair is the world’s largest user of the B737-800, although Stansted, its top base, has fallen out of the top-10 airport list. Photo: Getty Images.

Over one billion NG seats this year

All variants of the NG have a total of 1.1 billion seats this year, based on the latest available data from July 12th from OAG Schedules Analyzer. This will change further, but that is a very significant number.

If all NG capacity is combined, the B737-800 has three-and-a-half times more than all the others put together. And it has over six times as many as just the -600 and -700.

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Although barely visible in the following figure, the B737-600 is there. It has fewer than three million seats scheduled this year, more than when we examined the ‘baby’ last month. It has never been popular, and at its peak had just a 3.4% share of all NG capacity.

If 2021 is compared with 2019, capacity by the -800 has fallen by one-quarter, with the largest variant (the -900) down by 29%. In contrast, the two smaller examples have reduced by much more: the -700 by 38% and the -600 by half.

How has use of the B737 NG changed
The figures for 2021 will no doubt repeatedly change as capacity is further adjusted. Seats are just output to be sold; they don’t in themselves indicate revenue, loads, profitability, or anything else. However, too much or too little output (relative to demand) absolutely will impact those things. Image: Simple Flying using data from OAG Schedules Analyzer.

The 738’s huge dominance over other NGs

The trend has been for higher-capacity narrowbodies with lower unit costs and greater revenue opportunities in recent years. This explains the big rise in the popularity of the A321ceo and neo, especially with carriers like Wizz Air, VietJet, easyJet, IndiGo, Frontier, Bamboo Airways, and many more.

It’s the same for 737 NGs. Only the share of -800s and -900s have increased since 2010, as shown below. The 738 has eight in ten seats in the current year (78.5%), up from six in ten (62%).

Changing shares of the different B737 NG series
Only the larger -800 and -900 have grown their share of NG seats since 2010. Image: Simple Flying using data from OAG Schedules Analyzer

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Top B737-800 operators

Some 149 airlines are expected to use the series over the whole of this year, based on their schedule submissions to OAG. But it is really very much about the top-10 carriers, shown below, which together have almost half (48%) of all capacity.

As you would expect, ultra-low-cost-carrier (ULCC) Ryanair is the world’s leading operator, with 22 million more seats than Southwest. Most of the top-10 now also have MAX aircraft, including Ryanair, Southwest, American, and United.

  1. Ryanair: approximately 84.2 million seats in 2021
  2. Southwest: 62.0 million
  3. American Airlines: 57.0 million
  4. China Southern: 40.6 million
  5. Shandong Airlines: 36.9 million
  6. Hainan Airlines: 35.1 million
  7. Xiamen Airlines: 31.5 million
  8. Air China: 27.0 million
  9. Turkish Airlines: 25.4 million
  10. United Airlines: 24.2 million
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-8H4 N8696E (3)
Southwest is the world’s second-largest user of the B737-800. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

The 738 vs. the A320 for low-cost carriers

An age-old problem for LCCs and ULCCs is whether to operate the B737-800 or the A320. New entrants Avelo and Flyr, for example, both selected Boeing. With 189 seats in a single-class and high-density layout, it has three more seats than the maximum available in the A320.

Indeed, both aircraft are, to all intents and purposes, very similar overall. However, this year, LCCs/ULCCs have 36% of total seats by the 737-800, against 46% for the 320. On this basis, the Airbus alternative is a more popular aircraft.

Avelo B737-800
US new entrant chose the series. Photo: Avelo Airlines

China is #1 for the B737-800

Not surprisingly, China is by far the main country for the series. (The country also leads for the A350.) China has nearly three in ten 738 seats (28%), according to OAG. Indeed, Asia is the single-largest continent, with seat capacity of over 360 million, followed by Europe (234 million) and North America (181 million).

  1. China: approximately 251.1 million
  2. US: 165.6 million
  3. Russia: 39.6 million
  4. Turkey: 37.8 million
  5. Japan: 36.8 million
  6. Indonesia: 34.4 million
  7. Australia: 31.5 million
  8. Spain 26.8 million
  9. Italy: 23.4 million
  10. Brazil: 20.6 million
Air China Boeing 737-800
Air China has more B737-800s in its fleet than any other aircraft. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia.

Dallas takes the lead for most-served airport

Helped by the fast recovery in the US, Dallas Fort Worth is the world’s top airport for B737-800 seats this year. It has risen from third in pre-pandemic 2019, overtaking Jakarta (which was first and is now second) and Beijing Capital (second and now third). Dallas has performed strongly despite coronavirus; we recently looked at American’s hub there.

  1. Dallas Fort Worth: an estimated 12.1 million seats
  2. Jakarta: 10.9 million
  3. Beijing Capital: 10.6 million
  4. Guangzhou: 10.5 million
  5. Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen: 9.3 million
  6. Denver: 9.2 million
  7. Tokyo Haneda: 9.1 million
  8. Zhengzhou: 8.8 million
  9. Shenzhen: 8.7 million
  10. Xiamen: 8.4 million
United 737-800
United and Southwest help to ensure that Denver ranks #6. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Some airports have fallen out of the list

Some very familiar airports have (temporarily) fallen out of the most-served list. These include London Stansted, Ryanair’s largest base, which was fourth and is now 28th. This is the result of the UK being far behind other main European nations in the recovery race.

And it also includes Oslo, which was sixth but is now 26th. This is from Norweigan cutting over four million seats from the capital together with a loss of two million from SAS. High-frequency domestic services have taken a hit.

Norwegian 737-800
Norwegian has cut three million B737-800 seats from Oslo this year. Photo: Norwegian.

Australia is key for domestic routes

As you might have noticed, no Australian airline or airport made it into the respective lists, above. Nonetheless, the country is all-important for domestic B737-800 routes, largely because a small number of them are very heavily served – despite the pandemic.

Qantas B737-800
The 439-mile route from Melbourne to Sydney remains the world’s number-one by the series.
Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikimedia.

Four Australian make it into the top-10 list, as shown in the following table, down from seven in 2019. Melbourne to Sydney, number-one then and now, has up to 79 daily flights each way this year just by this 737 variant. This is across Qantas, Virgin Australia, and pretty new 737 operator Rex.

Top domestic routes in 2021 B737-800 seatsTop international routes in 2021 B737-800 seats
Melbourne-Sydney5.2 millionMiami-Panama City835,000
Cape Town-Johannesburg3.2 millionAtlanta-Mexico City588,000
Brisbane-Sydney3.1 millionCancun-Panama City563,000
Jakarta-Makassar2.9 millionDublin-Stansted455,000
Durban-Johannesburg2.6 millionCasablanca-Paris Orly410,000
Jeju-Seoul Gimpo2.5 millionDublin-London Gatwick397,000
Brisbane-Melbourne2.3 millionAmsterdam-Malaga392,000
Jakarta-Pontianak1.9 millionParis Orly-Porto385,000
Fukuoka-Okinawa1.8 millionAmsterdam-Madrid370,000
Adelaide-Melbourne1.7 millionAmsterdam-Barcelona353,000

Panama rules internationally

Unusually, Miami to Panama takes the top spot internationally. It has up to 10 daily flights each way, mainly with Copa but also American. This route displaces Oslo to Stockholm Arlanda, which has fallen out of the top-10; this was number-one before the COVID struck.

Although the B737-800 is undeniably a standard aircraft, it plays a very important role. What is your best memory or experience of it? Let us know in the comments.

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