Southwest Airlines says its potential decision to add Boeing 737-800s to its fleet has moved a step closer, with approval from the board of...

Southwest Airlines says its potential decision to add Boeing 737-800s to its fleet has moved a step closer, with approval from the board of its flight attendants’ union to allow Southwest’s flight attendants to vote on the move.

The executive board of the Transport Workers Union  (TWU) Local 556, representing more than 9,700 Southwest Airlines flight attendants, unanimously approved a tentative agreement reached with the company. The tentative agreement will now be presented to the members of TWU Local 556 for a ratification vote.

“Southwest has been evaluating the opportunity to introduce the Boeing 737-800 into our fleet as part of our domestic network, and an important step in our due diligence was to discuss contract re-opener provisions for a new aircraft with our flight attendant and pilot unions,” says Mike Van de Ven, Southwest Airlines’ executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Southwest Airlines has the largest fleet of Boeing 737s of any airline in the world and is expected to remain the world's largest 737 operator for the foreseeable future

“The TWU negotiating committee quickly grasped the potential benefits along with the added operational complexities associated with adding the -800 to our fleet,” adds Van de Ven. “The fact that we can have these discussions over the course of a couple of meetings and quickly find a common ground that is a win for our Company and our Flight Attendants is a testament to the collaboration and long-term vision of the flight attendants’ union leadership.”

Southwest says that, if it decides (with union backing) to pursue the idea of ordering 737-800s for its fleet, 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. (Under FAA certification rules, the 737-800 – which has a maximum one-class certificated capacity of 189 passengers – would require one more flight attendant than the three that the airline’s Boeing 737-700s carry. Southwest configures its Boeing 737-700s to seat 137 passengers in single-class configuration.)

If a majority vote of the flight attendants approves the idea of the airline adding the 737-800 to its fleet, the attendants’ current contract also would be extended by one year, becoming amendable on May 31, 2013, according to Southwest. The contract would also include the potential for wage rate increases based on the company’s financial performance.

However, notes Southwest in a statement, “The decision to add the -800 still isn’t final; we are still in discussion with our pilots union, SWAPA, and are continuing to evaluate network and configuration options. As such, any details regarding firm orders with Boeing, timing, and quantity of deliveries are still to be determined.”