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Saying Goodbye to a Classic: The Last Flight of Southwest’s Boeing 737-300s Is Near

Southwest will retire their Boeing 737-300 fleet this month. By Brian from Toronto, Canada (Southwest 737) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Southwest Airlines’ Boeing 737-300s, dubbed the Classics, will make their last and final flight on September 29th. The 737-300s have been in service since the 1980s making them among the oldest planes in the Southwest fleet, and now like spandex pants and big hair, these old reliable aircraft have run their course.

Fast forward to April 2016 and the Southwest Airlines pilots’ union dispute over training requirements. Southwest suggested separating a group of pilots that would specialize in flying the 737-300s exclusively, since the FAA had varying, independent training requirements for the Classic airplanes. The proposed separation went over like a led zeppelin, however, and there is speculation that the pilots’ flat out refusal to accept what they believed was divisive action by Southwest led to the rapid replacement of the classic fleet in favor of the Boeing 737 Max 8.
Observers noted a lack of hoopla surrounding the arrival of the new Boeing 737 Max 8 fleet. Southwest spokespersons cite the hurricane as the reason for the lack of fanfare around the Max arrival, saying a celebration would be inappropriate in the face of such devastating losses in the Houston area. The airline has suffered when catastrophic Hurricane Harvey caused havoc in Houston.  Houston Hobby is the second largest Southwest hub in the country. The category 4 hurricane caused torrential downpours and flooding that closed down airports and roadways.

Regardless of the underlying reasons for the quick switch, Southwest Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly says this situation is a cloud with a silver lining since this new Max fleet will provide significant fuel savings and lower maintenance costs. The expected 14% fuel savings will contribute to the carrier’s bottom line by reducing the cost of transport for each passenger. In addition, the Max have advanced technology winglets and other technological advancements designed by Boeing that make them more efficient than other narrow body aircraft.

Customers will certainly appreciate that all Max planes are equipped with modern satellite-based broadband internet. The 737-300s were not wifi-enabled so the upgrade to the Max modernizes the entire Southwest fleet. You could say it is the end of an era, as these Classic airplanes go by the way of the dinosaur. Southwest will officially launch the Boeing 737 Max 8 October 1 under this new accelerated fleet modernization effort. The fleet drawdown will coincide with the end of the busy summer season. With -800 and -MAX deliveries, Southwest will return to a similar fleet size by early next year. Southwest is the last major US carrier to fly the -300 series aircraft. Once they retire their fleet, ‘avgeeks’ will have to fly on second-rate carriers like Jet2, Ukraine International, or BoA in Bolivia.

Retired Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-300 classics await their final fate at Tuscan International Airport in Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Gilmore)

Related: Southwest retires the Boeing 737-500

Related: Southwest retires the original Lone Star One

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Kim Clark

Written by Kim Clark

Former CNN Radio News Network anchor Kim Clark is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in the aviation industry and financial markets. She currently freelances for S&P Global and works as a club and event Disc Jockey in Atlanta, Georgia, after having held positions doing news on radio morning shows and holding down the position of Music Director of commercial radio stations owned by Cumulus and Clear Channel.

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