A Caribbean Airlines Boeing 737-8 on the tarmac at Piarco International Airport. Photo: Nisar Mohammed

A Caribbean Airlines Boeing 737-8 on the tarmac at Piarco International Airport. Photo: Nisar Mohammed 

The first Caribbean Airlines Boeing 737-8 took to the skies on Friday, January 14th, in what the local carrier hopes will be a new era for the 15-year-old company. The airline currently has one other 737-8 at its Piarco hangar that is scheduled to enter commercial operations soon. CAL is expected to take delivery of a third 737-8 this week. If you’re thinking, “Brent plane is plane,” then read on because I’ll tell you what to expect if you fly on this new Caribbean Airlines jet. 

What’s in a name? 

First of all, let’s get this out of the way. The Boeing 737-8 and the Boeing 737 MAX 8 are the same aircraft. Yes, THAT plane. Without rehashing too much, most people are aware of two deadly crashes involving this aircraft type resulting in the worldwide grounding of all MAX aircraft for over 20 months. In that time, the aircraft underwent intense scrutiny requiring several design/software changes, maintenance, and pilot retraining. The MAX series of aircraft resumed commercial flights in the U.S. in December 2020 and was recertified in Europe and Canada by January 2021. China also recently recertified the aircraft for use in Chinese airspace. 

 9Y-CAL receives a water cannon welcome at the Norman Manley Airport, Kingston Jamaica. Photo: Caribbean Airlines

Caribbean Airlines has steered clear of referring to their aircraft by the MAX terminology, preferring to use “737-8” instead to describe the aircraft – a term Boeing also uses interchangeably with MAX 8. Caribbean Airlines says all pilots and safety and maintenance teams have been trained and certified to work on the aircraft. CAL’s pilots have done computer-based training, classroom briefings and 737-8 simulator training in preparation for the aircraft’s entry into service. 

Photo: The Boeing Company 

What is a Boeing 737-8? 

Without getting too technical, the Boeing 737-8 is a single-aisle aircraft designed and manufactured by The Boeing Company. It is powered by two CFM LEAP-1B engines and has a range of up to 6,570 kilometres. The 737-8 is one of the most popular variants used by airlines around the globe because it offers more range and better fuel efficiency. With this extended range Caribbean Airlines could, in theory, expand their route network to include destinations that were previously out of reach. 

An American Airlines Boeing 737-8 lands at the Piarco International Airport. Photo: Nisar Mohammed 

If you’ve flown in/out of Trinidad in the past few months on international carriers like American Airlines and Air Canada, it’s highly likely that you’ve been on a Boeing 737-8. Caribbean Airlines CEO, Garvin Medera, says these new aircraft will offer the airline lower fuel and maintenance costs while carrying more passengers than the airline’s current fleet of Boeing 737-800NGs which have an average age of 19 years.  

It’s what’s inside that counts 

Let’s talk about the cabins because, let’s face it, most people only care about getting from point A to point B safely and in relative comfort. There are 160 seats – 16 in business class, 36 in Caribbean Plus, and 108 in economy class. Expect more or less legroom depending on the class you’re sitting in. 

Top: CAL Boeing 737-800NG Economy cabin. Bottom: CAL Boeing 737-8 Economy cabin featuring Boeing Sky interior 

The cabins are a major upgrade from the older Boeings featuring a Sky Interior with larger overhead pivot bins that can hold up to six carry-ons (turned sideways) – great news for those who like to have their carry-on close by. The aircraft also has LED lighting that can be used in multiple colour combinations to provide ambience. The result is a modern cabin that feels bigger and a lot more spacious than CAL’s older aircraft.  

Seating comparison among 737-8 operators 

As for seating, the new business class offers one of the most generous seat pitches among the airlines operating the 737-8 in North America. Seat pitch is simply the space between one point on an aircraft passenger seat to the same point on the seat in front of it measured in inches/centimetres. The higher the number, the more legroom and space you’ll have between your seat and the one in front of you. If your wallet is like mine and it only allows you to fly Caribbean Plus or Economy, expect less space. 

Caribbean Airlines 737-8 Business class cabin. Photo courtesy: Caribbean Airlines. 

Business class passengers get a recliner-style leather seat with footrests and 45″ seat pitch and 21″ seat width. Each seat is equipped with a 110v AC power outlet, USB charging port, and a 13.3” touchscreen for inflight entertainment via the Caribbean View wireless entertainment system.  

Caribbean Airlines 737-8 Economy class cabin. Photo courtesy: Caribbean Airlines. 

Caribbean Plus and economy passengers get leather seats as well, though slightly less luxurious. Gone are the dated upholstered chairs that look like something straight out of the 80’s (IYKYK). Both seats offer the same 16.5 width but Caribbean Plus passengers get a bit more room to stretch out with a 35” seat pitch. Economy class passengers get an industry standard 30” seat pitch, a downgrade from CAL’s current economy class that offers 32-33″ seat pitch. 

Each economy seat has a seatback USB charging port. Bring your own device to use the inflight entertainment system though – no seatback TVs are available. You can access the Caribbean View wireless entertainment system via the internal Wi-Fi network. Check out the full cabin tour on the Caribbean Airlines Youtube page

How to fly on one of the new aircraft 

Right now, it’s more a luck of the draw to get on one as only 9Y-CAL is in commercial service. The airline hasn’t announced when the aircraft will fly again and on which route. With several more aircraft due to be delivered this year, Caribbean Airlines says it will be using a full 737-8 fleet by July.   

If you choose not to fly on one of these new aircraft, Caribbean Airlines is offering passengers the option to switch to a flight operated by a different aircraft type. This option is available until July but it is subject to change. Passengers wanting to switch flights due to the aircraft type will be allowed to rebook in the same cabin at no cost on the next available date a different type of plane operates. Alternatively, the trip can be cancelled completely, in which case Caribbean Airlines will issue a credit for future travel. This credit is valid for one year. Want to know which aircraft type will be used on your flight? During the booking process it looks like this: 

 If you have an existing reservation, check your aircraft type via the My Booking tab.