Alaska Airlines put its newest, biggest and most efficient plane yet into service this morning at Sea-Tac Airport celebrating its first flight, a trip to San Diego, with speeches and press tours.
The plane, Boeing’s 737-900ER, is the first of 38 the airline expects to put into service between now and 2017. Three more of the aircraft will join Alaska’s fleet this year with nine more joining the airline next year.
The plane is the largest in Boeing’s 737 model lineup. In Alaska’s configuration, the plane will seat 181 passengers, 16 in first class and 165 in coach.
Alaska was the launch customer for the 737-900 in 1997. It has 12 in its fleet. The 737-900ER, however, can fly farther and carry more passengers than its older brother.
At Alaska, the 737-900 carries 172 passengers. The -900ER has room for nine more seats because Boeing reshaped the rear cabin pressure bulkhead, making it flat instead of curved to allow for more seats and because the plane’s main closet was downsized.
From the outside, the plane looks like other 737s, but inside the addition of new seats and Boeing’s “Sky Interior” gives the plane a new look.
Those seats, furnished by seat-maker Recaro, have been reshaped to allow more knee room. The magazine pocket has been moved from the lower back of the seat to the upper part of the seat to allow indentations for passengers’ knees. The padding on the leather seats is also thinner, though Recaro contends the comfort level hasn’t been diminished.
New seats offer more knee room where magazines used to be
The seats weigh less saving Alaska about 8,000 gallons of fuel a year per aircraft.
The greater capacity and lighter weight makes Alaska’s new 737-900ER the airline’s most efficient plane per passenger.
On a transcontinental trip from Sea-Tac to Newark’s Liberty Airport, the -900ER uses about three percent less fuel per passenger, said the airline.
The new interior treatment features larger overhead bins that pivot up into the ceiling. New light-emitting diodes provide light whose color can be adjusted based on the time of day and the conditions outside.
Brad Tilden, Alaska’s president, said the airline had readjusted its 737 delivery schedule with Boeing to accept delivery of more 737-900ERs in part because the plane will offer more capacity on heavily traveled routes now serviced by the smaller 737-800, which has 157 seats.
Alaska operated its flights more than 90 percent full during peak times last summer. A larger aircraft would have allowed the airline to accommodate more business.
The new planes will likely be used on the airline’s transcontinental and Hawaiian flights and on flights like those to Las Vegas and Anchorage where a higher capacity is needed.