What Happens to Old Plane Seats? Southwest's Answer Might Surprise You

Southwest's solution is sustainable and empowers women in recovery.

As a traveler, you may have a lot of questions about flying. How does an aircraft stay in the air? How do you actually get hired as a flight attendant? And, is it really unsafe to drink the airplane’s tap water?

Now, Southwest Airlines is giving you the answer to a question you may not have ever considered before: Where do an aircraft's seats go when a plane gets remodeled?

Southwest took to Twitter to pose the question, “Did you know that every Southwest airplane receives a full aircraft overhaul every four years? Ever wonder where all those leather seat covers go?” 

The seat backs of a Southwest Airlines airplane

Courtesy of Southwest Airlines

It explained in an additional tweet that, since 2014, it has donated more than “1.4 million pounds of leather aircraft seat coverings to various organizations that provide employment, skills training, and other social benefits for communities.” Those organizations include Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center, Help Heal Veterans, and the Metro Nashville Public Schools.

One particular nonprofit Southwest works with is Unshattered, which upcycles the carrier's disposed of leather into handcrafted travel bags and accessories. The nonprofit hires women in recovery with the mission to provide them with "pathways toward economic independence and sustained sobriety."

“By upcycling the leather seat covers through our partners like Unshattered, Southwest and our partners have transformed waste materials into beautiful new products, all while giving back to communities around the world," a Southwest spokesperson told Travel + Leisure.

All the products by Unshattered look to be tailor-made for frequent fliers. That includes its leather weekender bag, matching toiletry bag, wristlet, wallet, and travel tote — all made in that signature supple blue leather that’s unmistakable to Rapid Rewards members. And the collection’s name couldn’t be more fitting: the "Possibilities Take Flight" collection.

"Through a combination of community, employment, and personal development, Unshattered gives women the opportunity to find their purpose and live an addiction-free life,” Kelly Lyndgaard, Unshattered's founder, told T+L. “Just like the refurbished premium materials used to craft these gorgeous bags, the women of Unshattered are being made new again. We are grateful to Southwest Airlines for ‘Repurposing with a Purpose’ through Unshattered to enable women to thrive in recovery."

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles