Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row seats: the cheap way to feel baller AF

Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row seats: the cheap way to feel baller AF

Scoring a Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row seat was far more eventful than I thought it would be. On one hand, the leg room is excellent, and I very much enjoyed spreading out like an absolute boss on my flight to Phoenix.

On the other hand, thanks to their open seating policy, I didn’t actually know that I’d be able to sit in the exit row exit row until I was on the plane (looking at said exit row).

I don’t even want to know what kind of permanent damage the palpitations – and acid reflex – I suffered in the moments leading up to the boarding process did to my innards. And should I be concerned that it hurts when I pee now?

San Diego, CA (SAN) – Phoenix, AZ (PHX)
Wednesday, January 17, 2024
Aircraft: 737 MAX 8
Registration: N871HK
Duration: 48 minutes
Seat: 16A (Exit Row)

Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8 Herbert D. Kelleher Desert Gold retro livery side view
Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8 (wearing the Herbert D. Kelleher Desert Gold retro livery) side view illustration by
wn397 flight track
Our route from San Diego to Phoenix this morning as WN397.

My full review of the Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8 exit row seat from San Diego to Phoenix

If the intro to this review didn’t make it obvious, let me just come out and say it: yes, the exit row seats on the Southwest 737 MAX 8 are really good. It’s just that the novelty of them are greatly diminished when it’s not something you’re able to book / confirm ahead of time. The stress of trying to get an exit row seat almost cancels out of the comfort of the seat itself IMHO.

Arrival at the airport

Southwest Airlines operates out of Terminal 1 of the San Diego International Airport. T1 is the crappiest (and smallest) terminal at a SAN. For now anyway. Timing my arrival was absolutely crucial, as I didn’t particularly care to wait more than I absolutely had to before this flight to Phoenix. I ended up arriving an hour before scheduled departure. Good enough.

Entrance to terminal one San Diego international airport
Am I 100% certain that I’m going to be able to obtain the footage I need to do a Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row seat review today? Hell no. Am I plowing forward anyway? Damn right I am. Welcome to Terminal 1 at the San Diego International Airport!
Ticketing and check in entrance T1 SAN
Thank goodness I didn’t have to plow over anyone as I plowed forward. It gets messy when that happens.
Southwest airlines check-in counter San Diego airport terminal one
If it’s any consolation, there’s nobody else here at the Southwest Airlines check-in counter that knows where they’re going to be sitting either. You basically gotta plan for the worst (but hope for the best) when you fly this airline.
San Diego airport terminal 1 pre-security
You also gotta time your entrance into the T1 gate area (past security) just right. Going in too soon is a sure fire way to berate yourself for being a bigger idiot than you thought you were.
SANspotter sitting in terminal 1 San Diego airport
“It’s a miracle I can tie my own shoes every morning…”
Empty gate terminal 1 San Diego airport
In my defense, the timing wasn’t all that bad. I ended up with 7 whole minutes of peaceful solitude after this gate cleared out for a departing flight to El Paso.
San Diego airport terminal one circle of death
I even did a few laps around the Circle of Death as I strategized my strategy for strategically nabbing one of those coveted exit row seats.
Southwest 737 MAX 8 Desert Gold special livery
Sh*t! This is my plane to Phoenix, and the fact that it’s wearing a special livery has added additional complexity to my situation this morning. I’ve already reviewed the Southwest 737 MAX 8 standard seat experience (and there’s no need to review it again), so…I’m going to be especially miffed I can’t score an exit row seat today!
Gate 9 boarding group a Southwest Airlines terminal 1San Diego airport
Thankfully I have boarding position A05 this morning. The tension builds…

The boarding process for flight number 397 to Phoenix

Because I knew that I wanted an exit row seat, I opted for the Business Select experience when booking this ticket. Not only would that guarantee me one of the first 15 spots in the boarding process, it was nice to know that I would get a free drink once onboard as well (hopefully to celebrate the acquisition of an exit row seat).

Southwest Airlines mobile boarding pass boarding group A
Of all the cheesy Top Gun movie quotes I have stored in my head, “you’re mine!” is the one I’m muttering to myself at this very moment. That exit row seat will be mine.
Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8 boarding door
I’m not saying that I’d be willing to trample over old ladies and babies in order to score an exit row seat today, but..let’s just hope that I hope that I don’t encounter any old ladies or babies in the next few moments.
Southwest 737 MAX 8 seats
I kinda hate what the Southwest Airlines open seating policy does to me lol.

A closer look at the glorious exit row seats

The fact that you’re reading this review is all the confirmation you’ll need to know that my acquisition of an exit row seat was successful. Was it worth the stress? Well…

Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row
I did it! Welcome to the Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row.
Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row 15
Now I’m faced with a new conundrum. Do I take seat 15B (the one with no seat directly to the left of it), or do I take 16A (the one with all that glorious leg room)?
Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row seat 16A extra legroom
16A is the only correct answer. Boom!
SANspotter in a Southwest Airlines 737 max 8 exit row seat
Straight ballin’ is the only caption I can think of for this pic. Unfortunately, I’m about as gangster as Martha Stewart is. Oh well.
Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row door handle and instructions
“Righty-tighty lefty-loosey.” I got this!
Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row 16 passengers
At least I hope I do. Whether I like it or not, it kinda looks like it’s going to be my responsibility to pop open that door if we go skidding off the runway (and into a ditch) this morning. *gulp*

It worth mentioning that Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row seats are exactly the same as the standard seats – but with significantly more legroom.

Southwest 737 MAX 8 USB-A and USB-C power outlets
“Oh look, Southwest Airlines has finally got around to installing USB power outlets in their planes!” (Anything to take my mind off the fact the lives of nearly every person on this plane this morning are in my hands).
Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row seat back
Good news: I can’t even reach the seat in front of me!
Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row under seat storage
Bad news: I can’t reach my carry-on bag either. So long, good buddy.
Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row lighting
Shhhh! They’ve started the safety briefing. I probably need to pay attention to this.

The departure out of San Diego

Sitting in an exit row seat requires mature-adult levels of responsibility (something I didn’t even know that I had in me lol). Paying attention to the safety briefing is mandatory. Assisting the crew in the event of an evacuation is also mandatory. I was so nervous about screwing up that I barely even noticed our on-time push off of gate 9.

Southwest 737 MAX 8 pushing off gate 9 at SAN
Here we go. Never in my life has that quote from Spider-Man (“with great power requires great responsibility”) meant more. Can you believe they actually let me sit in the exit row?
Southwest 737 MAX 8 taxiing to runway 27 San Diego airport
“Please don’t skid off the runway, please don’t skid off the runway…”
Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row layout
For the record, I’m not actually scared of skidding off the runway. It’s just that I’d be really bummed if I had to give up a such a comfortable seat so prematurely, that’s all.
Taking off from San Diego international Airport in a Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8
The takeoff roll (and a pretty sweet picture of the progress of the all new T1 build, thank you very much).
Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8 departure San Diego airport
By the way, we’re 7 minutes ahead of schedule so far.
Sitting in the exit row Boeing 737 max
The best part? I don’t even have to worry about something as silly as an exit door blowing out midflight. Boeing 737 MAX aircraft are the best.

In-flight entertainment

Seriously? Who needs in-flight entertainment with near unlimited amounts of legroom? It’s good to know it exists though. As a matter of fact, I consider this to be one of the best streaming in-flight entertainment systems of any US airline. Content is plentiful, streaming is fast (buffer-free), and the Wi-Fi is fairly decent as well. I didn’t even miss having a video screen built into the seat.

Southwest Airlines 737 max 8 streaming in-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi
If I’m being honest, the near unlimited legroom here in seat 16A is all the in-flight entertainment I really need. But (for the sake of completeness) it’s probably worth showing you the streaming content offerings anyway. This is the welcome screen.
Southwest Airlines 737 max 8 streaming in-flight entertainment menu
Free texting (to brag to your buddies about the fact that you’re sitting in a row), free TV shows and movies (which you probably won’t watch because you’ll be too psyched about the unlimited legroom), and $8 Internet access (which you’ll gladly pay to be able to share your exit row experience to the world via social media).
Watching TV shows and movies on a Southwest Airlines 737 max 8
I’d love to see the data on how many people who sit in the exit row actually get this deep into the in-flight entertainment. My hunch is that anyone with even a *twinge* of narcissism in them will be spending the entire flight taking pictures of their unobstructed feet for the entire flight instead.
Watching in-flight entertainment in the exit row on a Southwest Airlines 737 max 8
Plot twist! The exit row isn’t perfect. Basically, there’s no place to put your phone here in seat 16A if you can resist the narcissism and choose to partake in the in-flight entertainment. BTW, I can neither confirm nor deny that I’m actually taking pictures of my feet here.
Southwest Airlines 737 max 8 in-flight map
Am I admiring the in-flight map, or the legroom? I’m not telling.

Snacks and drinks

Why are people always surprised when I tell them that drinks and snacks are free on Southwest Airlines? Maybe it’s because many assume that Southwest is a low-cost carrier who scrimps on everything. They’re not. And they don’t. On this flight to Phoenix today, they even came down the aisle a second time offering additional snacks to anyone who wanted them.

Southwest Airlines 737 max 8 drink menu
The drink menu! I’m not exactly sure what pairs best with an unlimited legroom exit row seat, but it’s safe to say that whatever it is probably has an alcohol-by-volume level of 5% (or higher). Choose wisely.
Southwest Airlines 737 max 8 free snacks and drinks
Why can’t I ever take my own advice? Sorry, orange juice is about as hard-core as I get.
Southwest Airlines 737 max 8 Remy's Grahams snacks
Yeah, I may have successfully avoided an alcohol buzz, but the sugar high was unavoidable.
SANspotter eating snacks in Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row seat
Nitro-laced snacks FTW!

Seat comfort

Any seat in the exit row on the MAX 8 will be good. 16A and F are the seats you want for longer flights though. As a matter fact, it’s one of the reasons why flying Southwest Airlines to Hawaii doesn’t have to be all that miserable of an experience. Heading out to the islands with near-unlimited leg room sounds like a pretty good time to me!  

SANspotter stretching out in a Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8 exit row seat
I can’t recommend seat 16A (or 16F) highly enough. This is easily one of the cheapest ways that you’ll ever find to feel baller AF.

It’s important to note that these exit row seats are just as narrow as any other seat on the plane – but the added legroom certainly helps to make it feel less claustrophobic.

The descent (and arrival) into Phoenix

OK. You’ve stretched out for a bit. You’ve had some snacks, and an ice cold drink to wash it all down. Business Select passengers might even be feeling a slight buzz from their free alcoholic drink. It’s time to sit up straight, focus, and get ready to jump into action at a moments notice if anything goes awry during the landing. Sitting in an exit row requires a lot of responsibility!

Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8 speed brakes
Seeing the speed brakes being deployed takes on a whole new meaning when you’re seated in an exit row seat. I’m kinda feeling guilty (and worried) that I didn’t pay close enough attention to the safety briefing earlier. Ruh-roh.
Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8 on approach to PHX
“You’re a little low Cougar, pull up…” (Because not focusing on 100% of my attention on the approach and landing would be irresponsible of me).
Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8 landing at PHX
Welcome to Phoenix!
Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 thrust reverser
The engine is coming apart! Quick…pop the exit door!!
Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row under seat carry-on bag
False alarm. However, pulling up to the gate revealed one thing that maybe I don’t like so much about sitting in the exit row: I can’t reach my freaking carry-on bag.
Southwest 737 MAX 8 exit row carry-on bag
Disaster averted (except for the part about my tweaked lower spine).
Southwest 737 MAX 8 cabin view looking forward
Tweaked spine or not, that was so totally worth it.
Southwest 737 MAX 8 aisle
RIP to the poor souls who had to endure these seats. It must’ve been horrific.
Southwest 737 MAX 8 forward exit door
Probably not as horrific as being hit with a surprise pop quiz from the lead flight attendant about the responsibilities of being seated in an exit row though. Luckily I was able to escape before that happened!
Southwest 737 MAX 8 special livery parked at gate D8 PHX
Adios, amigo. Thanks for a great (and hellaciously spacious) flight.

Pros and cons of the Southwest Airlines 737 MAX 8 exit row experience

I’d be lying to you if I said that I can’t wait for my next Southwest exit row experience. Sure, it was very comfortable. I have no complaints about the seat itself. My problem with it is the preflight experience. I’m the kind of guy who likes structure and order. Not knowing where I’m going to be sitting until I step foot on the plane gives me anxiety. Basically, worrying about the unknown makes it a little more stressful than I like.


  • The exit row seats (especially 16A and F) are undoubtably the most spacious and comfortable seats on the entire plane.
  • There’s zero chance of having to sit next to a crying baby (or fidgeting toddler) in the exit row. It’s for abled-body adults only!


  • Southwest’s open seating policy means that there’s no way to guarantee sitting in an exit row seat beforehand. It’s basically a big fat gamble.
  • There’s a high chance that you’ll be the last to be served drinks and snacks. This is because the flight attendants start at both the very front and very back of the aircraft (and meet in the middle).
  • You’re good under pressure, right? You’re basically in charge as soon as the plane skids off the runway!

Comments (9)

  1. Kevin

    January 31, 2024
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      February 1, 2024
  2. Dylan

    February 1, 2024
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      February 2, 2024
      • Dylan

        February 2, 2024
  3. Peter

    February 3, 2024
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      February 3, 2024
  4. Ann Davis

    February 3, 2024
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      February 4, 2024

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