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Rear-facing seats out the door at Southwest

They have been the site of high-level business meetings, exuberant parties and budding romances. Yet Southwest Airlines Co. soon will strip its jetliners of the rear-facing lounge seats where such potentially life-changing events have occurred.

The reason? The largest low-fare airline recently adopted a new paint scheme for the outside of its Boeing Co. 737s and new leather seats for the interior. It will take advantage of that work to pull the bulkier, heavier rear-facing seats and replace them with forward-facing versions.

Depending on the model, Southwest's planes had as many as 14 rear-facing seats. Removing them will increase legroom and take about 600 pounds of weight off the planes, making them more fuel-efficient. The Dallas carrier also will save money because it won't have to stock a special inventory of the seats, which aren't the same design or material as traditional seats.

"These seats have been particularly popular on flights to Las Vegas, where groups would grab the lounge sections to talk," Southwest spokeswoman Linda Rutherford said. "I have heard of love relationships starting up while people were staring at somebody across from them."

Yet the seats apparently aren't as popular as they once were because they lack tray tables, a necessity once Southwest started offering a snack bag on long flights.

Travelers who favor the rear-facing seats may have a chance to fly them again before they disappear. Southwest estimates it will be five to six years before changes are completed on about 200 planes that still have the rear-facing seats.

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