Two major hurdles cleared (one just today) and only two remain before Southwest begins flights to Hawaii. The news out today is that pilots at Southwest Airlines have just settled their 4 year dispute and overwhelmingly ratified their contract. That was essential for multiple reasons, including the fact that the previous contract did not allow for the planes needed for flights to Hawaii. That agreement followed closely on the heels of the Southwest flight attendants who ratified their contract just a week ago. The pending union contracts were two of the primary obstacles to entering Hawaii service. At this point there is still work to be done, but the path is becoming clearer.
When is Southwest Airlines going to start flights to Hawaii? Read on what needs to happen next, before the first SWA planes will land here.
1. First, Southwest needs to complete ETOPS preparation needed for trans-Pacific flights. We’re awaiting further word on that from our contacts at SWA. This process, previously started, was put on hold. We expect it to resume soon.
2. Lastly, flights to Hawaii await delivery of the new Boeing 737 Max 8 planes. SWA is the launch customer for Boeing’s latest plane and upcoming Hawaii workhorse. The first group of 737 Max 8’s is on schedule to enter SWA service in Q4 2017.
Beat of Hawaii (BOH): Flights can start in 2018 after in-service testing to confirm performance for Hawaii routes. SWA using existing 737-800 aircraft before 2017, while technically possible, remains highly unlikely for logistical and other reasons.
3. Will SWA delay delivery of some new planes? You’ll recall that this past summer Southwest announced that it is postponing delivery of 67 of its two hundred 737 Max 8 planes by up to five years. That was said to be part of restructuring of its aircraft orders.
BOH: This could also be a negotiation strategy with Boeing. In any event, two hundred less 67 is still a heck of a lot of planes. We don’t envision this move impacting their deploying flights to Hawaii.
4. Industry speculation. Hawaiian Airlines‘ stock valuation is closely tied to the Hawaii entry of SWA. Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank essentially concur with our points above in relation to the start of SWA flights to Hawaii.
BOH: Definitely no flights until Q4 2017 at earliest. 2018 is most likely start date.
5. SWA intentions remains crystal clear. This past summer CEO Gary Kelly spoke to the subject of Southwest Airlines flights to Hawaii. Speaking at a meeting in Chicago he said “Hawaii, Alaska are both in scope…..”.
BOH: Southwest flights to Hawaii are a certainty.
Are Hawaii Flights a Priority for Southwest?
“Right now, we feel no need,” was the previous comment related to Hawaii flights from their VP of network and revenue management Andrew Watterson.
BOH: So was this statement wholly true or just a diversionary tactic? We aren’t sure. In any event, even once Southwest decides, some period of time will be required for flights to Hawaii to commence.
Southwest CEO definitive on Hawaii Flights.
The most qualifying statement from CEO Kelly regarding flights to Hawaii came in July 2014. At that time he said it “wouldn’t take years to start flights to the islands.” And “we have work to do before we can fly to Hawaii, which I doubt we’ll be able to keep a secret.”
Beat of Hawaii predictions updated.
Expect to either see Southwest Hawaii service “announced” late 2017 to early 2018 with flights to start in 2018.
Oakland will be the primary mainland departure city for Hawaii flights. The next most likely gateway is Los Angeles. Other possible Hawaii departure cities include Phoenix and San Diego.
We do not anticipate Southwest offering inter-island service, at least not initially.
Reasons Why Southwest Hawaii service didn’t happen sooner.
Until these latest announcements, pilot and flight attendant labor disputes continued to plague SWA for years.
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 music to Southwest’s ears.
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.
Some internal systems, including Southwest’s reservation system, required updating to accommodate Hawaii flights.
Complications appear to have 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.