Southwest Airlines' flight attendants have ratified a tentative agreement reached between their union's executive board and Southwest in September to add the Boeing 737-800...

Southwest Airlines’ flight attendants, represented by the Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 556, have ratified a tentative agreement reached between their union’s executive board and Southwest in September to add the Boeing 737-800 to their current collective-bargaining agreement.

The flight attendants’ positive vote brings the possibility of Southwest Airlines operating Boeing 737-800s significantly closer, though the company is careful to say its potential decision to order 737-800s is by no means yet final.

At present the biggest aircraft that Southwest operates is the 737-700, which the airline flies with a complement of three flight attendants onboard; the 737-800’s larger size and seat capacity would require a fourth attendant on each flight.

TWU Local 556’s newly approved, amended labor agreement also extends the flight attendants’ current contract by a year to May 31, 2013 and includes the potential for wage rate increases based on Southwest Airlines’ financial performance. TWU 556 comprises more than 9,700 flight attendants.

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“Since we began evaluating the opportunity to introduce the Boeing 737-800 into our fleet, the TWU negotiating committee and leadership team quickly grasped the potential benefits along with the added operational complexities associated with this decision,” says Mike Van de Ven, Southwest Airlines’ executive vice president and chief operating officer. “This was an important step in our due diligence process, and we are pleased that our hard-working flight attendants recognize the long-term benefits of adding this new aircraft to our fleet.”

Before deciding to order any 737-800s Southwest Airlines must still await a ratification vote from its Pilots’ Union, SWAPA, and the carrier says it is also continuing to evaluate network and configuration options. Any details regarding firm orders with Boeing, timing, and quantity of deliveries are still to be determined, according to  Southwest.

The carrier adds that if it does decide to operate the 737-800 a joint committee would meet to work on the logistical details related to scheduling and bidding procedures that adding a fourth flight attendant would require.

Southwest Airlines is the United States’ largest carrier in terms of originating domestic passengers boarded and now serves 69 cities in 35 states. The airline currently operates more than 3,100 flights a day and has nearly 35,000 employees systemwide.

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