Southwest Delays Retiring Older 737s Due To MAX Problems

The worldwide 737 MAX groundings have impacted many carriers. Southwest Airlines is one of those most acutely affected. As the world’s largest operator of the type, Southwest’s schedule and fleet plans have taken a hit. In order to preserve as much capacity as possible, Southwest is keeping their 737-700s in service for a little bit longer.

Southwest Boeing 737-700
Southwest Airlines is delaying the retirement of Boeing 737-700s amid the 737 MAX crisis. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Southwest’s Boeing 737-700s

Most of Southwest’s fleet is comprised of Boeing 737-700s. Some of these came from AirTran after their merger was completed in 2012. A fair number of Boeing 737-700s were delivered in the late 1990s, making some of them 20 years old if not more.

For a low-cost carrier, old planes are expensive to maintain. So, when Southwest Airlines examined its fleet strategy, it was decided that the -700s would be replaced sooner rather than later. The Boeing 737 MAX was intended as the aircraft’s replacement.

AirTran and SWA
Southwest Airlines acquired Boeing 737-700s from AirTran. Photo: Southwest Airlines

The 737 MAX grounding hurts Southwest

CH-Aviation reports that Southwest Airlines is delaying the retirement of several Boeing 737-700s. Originally, 18 Boeing 737-700s were to end their service life with Southwest Airlines in 2019. Now, Southwest Airlines is keeping seven for a longer period. Thus, only 11 Boeing 737-700s will exit Southwest’s fleet in 2019.

This capacity crunch has hurt Southwest. Recently, Southwest announced that they were removing the 737 MAX from service until early 2020. This represents a much later timeline than Boeing had previously stuck to. In addition, Southwest is suspending flights to Newark-Liberty and will instead beef up operations to LaGuardia- an airport focused on key domestic flights.

Southwest Airlines, once a celebrated Boeing 737 MAX operator, is now altering their plans amid the Boeing 737 MAX grounding. Photo: Boeing

The Boeing 737-7

One of the replacements for the Boeing 737-700 was the smallest member of the 737 MAX family: the Boeing 737-7. Seven 737-7s were supposed to join Southwest’s fleet in 2019. Until the grounding is lifted, no 737-7s will enter Southwest’s fleet. Ultimately, the Boeing 737-7 offers better operating economics than the older Boeing 737-700.

Boeing 737 -7
The Boeing 737-7 offers better operating economics than older Boeing 737-700. Photo: Boeing


Until the grounding is lifted, however, Southwest will have to operate Boeing 737-700s for a little longer. This will have an impact on Southwest’s operations and affect their bottom line. Whether or not there will be more news coming from Southwest Airlines remains to be seen.

Boeing 737-700
Southwest’s Boeing 737-700s will fly for a little bit longer. Photo: Southwest Airlines

The 737-700s seat up to 143 passengers in an all-economy, six-abreast configuration. Once the 11 are withdrawn from service this year, Southwest will operate a total of 501 Boeing 737-700s. This means that a majority of Southwest’s fleet will still be comprised of Boeing 737-700s.

Have you flown on a Southwest Boeing 737-700? What are your thoughts on the Boeing 737-700? Let us know in the comments!

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The real problem happens when the aircraft comes due for it’s deep maintenance checks, C&D. Yes, it is less efficient to operate older aircraft; the engines aren’t as stingy on fuel, equipment isn’t as new and the cabin may be dated – but it’s those checks that are the financial killers.

I’m betting that those 11 that are going away this year are due for them…


Southwest will hopefully just send the bill for the C and D checks to Boeing. And also send a bill for the increased fuel consumption of the older planes compared to what Boeing had promised for the MAX8. Together with bills associated with having to pull out of Newark, and reschedule other routes.
Boeing were bragging just a year ago that they had huge cash reserves, so they won’t mind these extra bills at all 😉


Sure, the 737-700 is not as efficient to operate and the maintenance will be somewhat expense, but they are a reliable, safe airplane. And they are available and in service. The public has no qualms about flying on one. Southwest made lots of money with this aircraft. Speaking for myself, I will be hesitant to travel on the MAX, as long as that MCAS system is in place. I want the flight crew to have ultimate control.


You could argue the flight crew always did have “ultimate control”. Turn off the Stab Trim Cutout switches, which has been the procedure since the 707, and the electric trim/MCAS is isolated. You don’t want to delay doing this, as it’s never been good, and it still isn’t, to get too far out of trim on a jetliner.
I have flown the 707, and fly the 737 NG. I admit that I got better training in this procedure on the 707.


Good points!


Great…another troll who thinks that the two MAX crashes were caused by incompetent pilots.

Note, in particular, the text:
“A feature in previous 737 models that allowed pilots to manually override an “electric trimming” process – which can automatically nudge the nose of the plane downward in certain situations – does not work in Boeing’s 737 MAX8 planes, Boeing explained in a November 7 bulletin.”


Uh, Nigel, do some more research before calling someone a troll. It’s a complex issue with many angles to it. The investigations are not complete.

The Stab Trim Cutout switches do neutralise MCAS inputs to electric trim. Fact. But, I can see that there’s more to this. No trolling mate. Do some more reading


Hi Nigel , We all have opinions, but I’ve seen trained and competent pilots easily handle a runaway stab trim and airspeed disagree emergencies in simulators for many years. Training and experience matter. That’s why so many foreign carriers offer very high wages to experienced Western pilots. It’s not racism or trolling, just an easily verifiable fact that doesn’t always align with everyone’s social justice moral compass. Globally, all pilots really aren’t the same. Just ask yourself the simple questions of “Would you fly or place your family on an aircraft requiring two pilots where one pilot has 20% of… Read more »


Great…so now we have two trolls. Here’s a point. LionAir have 102 NGs, and Ethopian have 26. Since those NGs aren’t falling out of the sky on a daily basis, we can assume that they’re being piloted competently. Now, take those same pilots and put them in a MAX…and we start to get crashes. And you’ll still pontificate about below-standard “foreign pilots” rather than a below-standard plane? What about the 737 rudder issues in the 90s, and the prominent US crashes that occurred until that issue was fixed (United 585, US Air 427)? Based on your stance, we have to… Read more »


I’ve flown SW far more than I ever thought I would, but the bottom line with passengers really is just getting there on time — reliably and safely at a fair price. That’s what SW delivers, w/o any hidden costs for luggage, calculations/changes. The vast majority of SW passengers don’t know, or care what plane they’re flying as shown by interviews at one of their major “hubs”, Phoenix, AZ. I was really surprised most had never even heard of the MAX, or it’s issues. SW won’t fly it until they determine it’s safe, it’s the future of their airline. When… Read more »


We could be an Sorbis troll just waiting for a plane to crash so we can let out our Airbus propaganda. We all know if an Airnus crashes its ALWAYS pilot error.


I have flown on Southwest hundreds of times in all their 737 models 300 and later including, I suspect, some MAXs. I am completely confident I will get where I am going on Southwest safely and without being terrified. Their pilots are the best. If Boeing’s manufacturing and software problems were a factor in any of those flights, the Southwest pilots compensated without the passengers knowing it. That said, Boeing management let down all their employees, all their customers, all their suppliers, the entire flying public, their stockholders and their country’s whole economy by slamming out a product without employing… Read more »