Updated 10/26/17 at 11 am HST. With SWA Hawaii flights on the way now, here’s the latest news:
SWA Hawaii Inter-Island Flights
CEO Gary Kelly said today: “Step one, of course, is getting from California to Hawaii.” Regarding inter-island flights, it “has been down our priority list, but we will have serious consideration of that.”
While they may or may not start with inter-island flights initially, Kelly stated that this will be something that the company will continue to evaluate.
We expect SWA Hawaii inter-island flights to happen at some level, although no one can say just when. In fact short hops are a SWA specialty. There is nothing that prevents or regulates SWA’s ability to fly inter-island and all indications are that the state of Hawaii will in fact encourage it.
We are all anxiously awaiting the next announcement containing specific Southwest Hawaii flight routes and start dates. That now appears to be planned for January 2018, with flights to commence “perhaps” as early as summer 2018. All of that is fluid however at this time.
SWA Hawaii Overnight/Red-Eye Flights
Kelly stated today that while they may offer overnight flights in the future, “we don’t really desire to fly red-eyes right now.” “For our style of operation, it would complicate things.
Overnight service will definitely come to SWA Hawaii flights in the future, once they have more experience here.
Prior Hawaii flight announcement
The company announced Hawaii flights on October 11 via Twitter, stating that tickets would be for sale in the upcoming year, with flight start dates and routes still to be announced. The company is still completing ETOPS certification for flights to the islands. Los Angeles Times is stating that service will be to Honolulu, Kona and Kauai. Undoubtedly Maui will be part of the plan.
Regarding inter-island, various outlets are reporting that the company is considering offering flights within the state of Hawaii!
“On average, our fares will be lower than theirs or bring down the market price. That’s called the ‘Southwest Effect'” — Andrew Watterson, SWA.
We continue to expect services to start with San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, Sacramento and San Jose.
What led up to these recent announcements
1. Southwest Hawaii plans rapidly accelerated in recent months. As a result, we learned the company had intended to announce Hawaii flights at the end of August. That was apparently delayed due to Hurricane Harvey.
2. SWA has a group dedicated to Hawaii service. That group, including senior Southwest executives, held meetings in Honolulu in March with State officials, including the governor and heads of tourism.
3. Southwest’s appearance at and sponsorship of a Hawaii tourism conference in September 2017 was clearly indicative of their unwavering commitment to Hawaii flights.
4. Southwest Hawaii flights seem to be taking aim squarely at Alaska Airlines. In August, Southwest began increasing flights at California airports. That expansion in Alaska territory may also foretell which cities are most likely to launch Southwest Hawaii flights first. The cities on Southwest’s scope remain as indicated above. Also mentioned are Las Vegas and Phoenix. Las Vegas is interesting inasmuch as Allegiant is terminating its flight from there to Honolulu.
The “Southwest Effect.”
So exactly what impact can we expect to see in terms of Hawaii airfares once Southwest is a reality? A 2016 Northeastern University study based on 2010 data found that when Southwest Airlines enters a market, a whopping 24% drop in airfares can be anticipated.
Previous news on Southwest Hawaii Flights.
Earlier this year, Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly addressed the subject of when will Southwest Hawaii flights commence.
“We’re deciding what our plans are for 2018 and Hawaii is important to us.” – Gary Kelly, SWA CEO.
While not specifically confirming or denying that flights would start in 2018 at that time, this spring’s comments confirmed we could bank on Southwest Hawaii flights in the near future. The company is already starting to take delivery of their new Hawaii capable fleet. More specifically, the first 737 Max 8 started flying on October 1. The company plans to have 14 of the new aircraft flying before the end of this year.
Additional hurdles were recently cleared prior to Southwest Hawaii flights being announced.
1. Southwest has made significant progress, though not completion, of ETOPS. That’s the twin engine, over water certification required for Hawaii flights. We understand that Southwest recently obtained ETOPS certification for flights over the Gulf of Mexico. Before that approval, we were told by our Southwest pilot friends that flights had to hug the coastline. This remains an area for more work to be completed.
2. Southwest’s reservation system was archaic and did not support Hawaii flights. The legacy system also did not allow for overnight flights, varying schedules by day of week, or bookings beyond six months. In a schedule update recently released, this was addressed.
Late last year, two additional issues were resolved. Pilots at Southwest Airlines settled their 4 year dispute and ratified their contract. That was important because the previous contract did not allow for the planes needed for flights to Hawaii. It was followed Southwest flight attendants ratifying their contract. The union contracts were two of the primary obstacles to entering Hawaii service.
Here’s what needs to happen next, before the first SWA planes land here.
Southwest will complete ETOPS preparation needed for trans-Pacific flights.
Flights will start in 2018/2019 after in-service testing of new 737 Max 8 aircraft to confirm performance for Hawaii routes. Service can also start on existing 737-800 aircraft if SWA so desires.
Reasons Why Southwest Hawaii Service Didn’t Happen Sooner.
Pilot and flight attendant labor disputes continued to plague SWA for years. So did the reservation system.
Acquisition of AirTran was far more complicated and time consuming than originally thought.
Competition and discounting between west coast cities and Hawaii has remained strong on Hawaiian and Alaska. This was further complicated with Virgin America‘s entry into flights to Hawaii from both San Francisco and Los Angeles and then by their acquisition by Alaska. Opportunity for the higher airfares that typically attract a new player like Southwest were diminished, especially on Southwest’s target Bay Area and Southern California routes. Pricing stability has returned which is positive for Southwest’s plans.
Virgin America beat Southwest to Hawaii. This could not have come as a surprise to SWA, however, since Virgin publicly indicated their intentions years earlier.
Complications that occurred with ETOPS in relation to SWA Caribbean flights. ETOPS has proven to be more problematic for SWA, even in shorter over-water distances compared with Hawaii.