Altercation on Southwest Hawaii Flight Causes Mid-Pacific Diversion

An altercation between passengers, severe enough to result in a mid-Pacific turn-around, occurred on Tuesday evening. Southwest said that the flight returned to Honolulu due to “customer behavior.” We’re awaiting additional details. The flight is being planned again for Wednesday.

This came as less than a complete surprise given the meltdown Southwest is currently in the midst of and just how severely it has impacted Southwest customers and employees.

We can only imagine the frustration of passengers who, at long last, were able to get a flight out of Hawaii on Southwest, only to return to Hawaii to face the unknown regarding when the next flight could bring them home and how they would be accommodated in the interim.

Few Southwest flights even managed to get off the ground today in Hawaii.

76% of all Southwest flights in Honolulu were canceled or delayed (with the majority being canceled). That percentage was even higher at Maui, where 80% were canceled or delayed. Lihue experienced 75% canceled or delayed, and the number was 72% at Kona.

Southwest flight 2050 was diverted to Honolulu.

The plane departed the gate two hours late from Honolulu this afternoon, at 4:31 PM, and the 737 MAX 8 took to the air at 4:55 PM and headed for Oakland. After flying only about one-third of the way to California, the plane returned to land again in Honolulu. At 8:36 PM, the wheels touched back down at HNL. It isn’t clear whether anyone was arrested or what else may have transpired.

The airline’s employees on professional forums are expressing their extreme upset with the current situation. That includes the airline’s flight attendants individually and via their union, as well as the pilots and their union.

Clearly, passengers are frustrated beyond belief, and it may have reached the boiling point on that one flight tonight.

Looking for blame, the flight attendants union says Southwest caused its mess.

The Transport Workers Union of America, representing thousands of Southwest flight attendants, blames Southwest for insufficient technology that left their flight crews hanging. “The lack of technology has left the airline relying on manual solutions and personal phone calls, leaving flight attendants on hold with Southwest Airlines for up to 22 hours at a time simply to be released to go home after their trip, or while attempting to secure a hotel room or know where their next trip will be. While reroutes and rescheduling are understood to be a part of the job in the airline industry, the massive scale of the failure over the past few days points to a shirking of responsibility over many years for investing in and implementing technology that could help solve for many of the issues that plague flight attendants and passengers alike.”

Pilots union also blames Southwest for unacceptable problems.

The Southwest Airlines pilot’s union president minced no words when he said, “It’s been catastrophic. Its been a failure at every level at Southwest Airlines.” – Captain Casey Murray, President Southwest Airlines Pilots Association#SouthwestAir #SWAPA

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45 thoughts on “Altercation on Southwest Hawaii Flight Causes Mid-Pacific Diversion”

  1. We’re flying into Oahu January 9th, via Southwest. We’re assuming things will be straightened out by then. Any tips? I thought about re buying via Hawaiian Air but I really don’t want to re buy tickets.

    1. My daughter and her family are going to Oahu in January and rebooked on United. She rather have a credit on SW than have problems.

    2. Check the weather forecast a few days in advance Debbie, if it looks bad on the mainland you might consider buying the HA tickets and saving the SWA credit for another flight. The inherent problem in SWA’s system isn’t going away soon.

    3. Thank you for your responses!
      From what I understand, Southwest is doing okay right now on arrivals and departures.
      Yes, I could rebuy my tickets but I’m going to go on faith and just go. A friend just arrived from Oahu to CA with 0 problems on SW.
      I’m checking the weather and it looks 👍🏼.
      I will give you all an update after our arrival.
      Thanks again,
      Debbie 🌺🌴🌺💕

      1. Good luck Debbie, keep a sharp eye on the the West Coast weather, if it continues to be bad SWA is obviously the most vulnerable.
        This time of year after the holidays you are likely to find some last minute bargains if you need to make a late switch.

        1. Debbie, if you are still wavering, you will hear Kilauea just erupted, if you are uncertain obviously HA has the local knowledge to deal with it best, however if you are not traveling to the big island you shouldn’t have to worry about it. Whatever you decide you’ll have a good trip!

  2. SW has offered to extend your 2022 companion pass to January 2023. And maybe your A list status-not sure on
    that ? What an insulting tone deaf response which demonstrates how senior management just ‘doesn’t get it’ as to the carnage they unleashed on their customers !!! If you already qualified this is meaningless. If this is what their CEO meant about ‘making it up’ to customers they have grossly underestimated the damage they have done to their brand and to the lives of so many who trusted them. I’d suggest the Board and Senior management spell out the ‘entire’ package of benefits offered from this avoidable fiasco ASAP.

    I totally agree anyone who causes an airline disturbance should be arrested, fined, and put on a no fly list.

  3. Southwest has run its course, the no frill no service no low fares is what they are all about. Why people fly them is beyond reason.

  4. Still doesn’t excuse the behavior. I have flown with several hundred passengers this last week and their behavior was great. They were frustrated but acted as civil people.

  5. From what I’m reading, SW is going to try and get their system up and working Fri the 30th. And they’re doing it with some old employees who returned to help them out in this time of need. Just maybe there is some love for SW.

  6. After reading about another altercation in-flight, I have a solution for all aggressive behavior in flight. Simply, when the flight lands the person is arrested, fined $1,000 and put on a no fly list for 5 years effective immediately. The person would also forfeit their ticket with no refund. Let the person take a barge home from Hawaii! With the right publicity of this new policy, I believe it would eliminate all problems. Even extend it to within the airport.

    Just my two cents worth.

  7. Southwest like all of the airlines offered a good retirement package to its employees during the pandemic, that package was taken by a good many employees. SW didn’t believe the travel market would return with such a vengeance and they didn’t have the employees to handle the numbers. That was their first problem. Their second problem is they are operating with a very old IT system and it does not have the capacity to handle the big holiday season numbers combined with the ugly weather. And so their system completely broke down. Now it appears that they are forced to use fewer numbers of people to get the system up and working.
    The SW plane that had to return was probably caused by a drunk, all the airlines have had that problem.

    1. Roy, the final straw with all their misjudgments is they tried to aggressively expand when they didn’t have the tools to handle it.
      Just a little scary their disregard for necessary investments in their infrastructure…. they have always pushed the envelope of productivity vs infrastructure

      1. John, I don’t think SW tried much of anything. Our first use of SW was just before the pandemic. They seemed to be fairly well plugged in at that time. I’m not particularly a fan of SW. Their routing just works for us.

    2. I haven’t traveled through Philadelphia for a few years. During that time they renovated the airport. The designer is a complete idiot! Who the heck puts a bar ten feet from the gate? Everyone wonders why there are problems with drunks. I flew out on American and if at all possible, that will be the last time from Philly. Also at the gate, they removed the rows of seats (you know, where you sit to wait for your group to be called) and replaced them with a few tables & uncomfortable chairs bolted to the floor where you can pay to use their tablet. Oh, and a bar ten feet away that had more seating than the gate waiting area. No One used the tablets – a good idea maybe 20 years ago.

  8. Southwest is overbooked and overcrowded. The flights to Hawaii are 6 hours long from California, a very long time. It was a mistake (among many mistakes caused by State Agencies here) to allow Southwest to fly to Hawaii, especially to the neighbor island Airports like Maui and Hilo. Hawaiian Airlines never overbooks. I was at Hilo International the other day picking up a passenger and the line at the Southwest counter was insane. State Government needs to revisit its decision to allow Southwest to fly to Hawaii.

  9. Generally I like flying Southwest. Cheap,efficient,clean planes,simple boarding process and egalitarian seating (no first class). Their meltdown this past week couldn’t have happened at a worst time. For Hawaii, it shows how the chaos theory works. As one rocker said, when a butterfly shakes its wings in the Amazon, it affects the entire world. If anything, it revealed Southwest’s efficiency can be broken by an event beyond their control. The NYT in an article pointed out that Southwest uses a point to point routing system rather than hub and spoke. How that came to affect flights in Hawaii is a mystery. I hope Southwest learns from this event. I would hate to see them leave Hawaii. They have brought competition back to interisland flight

    1. Richard, the sad thing is this wasn’t beyond their control. It’s a direct result of their attempt to keep costs down that was short sighted and makes you wonder what else are they scrimping on? Their business model of not paying for things other airlines do invest in may be coming home to roost.

        1. Correct Beth, it was a computer system that SWA had attempted to save money on by inadequate investment in the airline infrastructure. Computers are now critical to the safe operation of any airline. Not just scheduling, everywhere.
          With their aggressive push to expand at all costs after Covid they have created issues for themselves. Big issues.

  10. An Interesting turnaround for SWA in the face of attempting to find its own place in the Hawaiian Islands Business Model. Understanding that Extreme Weather Conditions had “some” impact, this seems to be a complete breakdown across the board at SWA that should have been handled Much Differently. Is SWA hiring former HA managers thinking that it would give them an edge? If so, it Certainly Backfired on them. Will this be the linchpin that seperates these two competitors in the end? Maybe HA will win by Default.

    1. Don’t disagree with you Ernie, however the competition they introduced was unlike the old HA vs Aloha Airlines model. They were 2 airlines that knew and well represented Hawaii. SWA came in with a business model that tried to cherry pick the market and was operated from the mainland and crewed be staff that simply didn’t know Hawaii well. When an eruption or weather event or whatever happens. They are ill equipped to serve Hawaii. Lets hope HA is smart enough to keep the inter island fares in the $79-99 range if SWA continues to falter

      1. Hi John W, If Hawaiian keeps the low prices for inter Island travel they can begin to build more good will with travelers while SWA continues to disappoint and strand passengers nationwide. There’s always going to be enough passengers to go around, it’s just which will have more than the other. The Fed is Investigating and maybe we will eventually know all of the problems, some day. This couldn’t have happened at a better time for Hawaiian.

        1. Agreed Ernie, it appears there is no quick fix for SWA, they will be operating with an antiquated IT system for some time and vulnerable to further disruptions. I can’t imagine they will try to cut fares further to win back customers. Pricing tickets that didn’t allow for necessary upgrades to the airline is what got them in trouble, taxing the IT system further with fare sales would be a real insult to the traveling public when that’s what got them in trouble. The lower they price their tickets the closer they get to another meltdown.

  11. I hate to say it, but you get what you pay for.
    We’ve only flown SWA Once, and the cattle rush was enough to convince us we were Never flying SWA again…

    And we haven’t.

      1. I agree with Evan. It takes a bit of unlearning to accept SWA’s boarding process. But it is way more efficient than seat assignment and the phony pretending to be royalty with first class seating boarding first.

      2. What boarding – if most of SW flights are cancelled there is no boarding.
        Doesn’t matter if you like how they board if their planes don’t fly.

  12. Don’t the employees have the option to “vote with their feet”? As I understand it, most airlines are short of experienced pilots and crews. Why don’t they move?

    1. Pilots don’t make lateral moves. An experienced pilot moving to another airline will start at the bottom of the seniority list and have to work up like a brand new pilot would. Seniority = pay and working schedules.

  13. It’s so sad people can’t behave. No respect for anyone. Ruining people’s vacation. Thanks to Southwest for taking care of the problem.

  14. We all enjoyed the cheap flights and acted shocked that the costs were low due to lack if investment in technology. Nothing excuses poor passenger behavior. Nothing.

    1. Much like buying a car outright (ie not financed) you have a choice…do you buy insurance (minimum?)…as long as you dont get in an accident its great!!!! Low cost option saves money (as long as nothing goes wrong of course). SW is an LCC and everyone knows it…employees have been complaining that SW is cheap…(see SWAPA union statement) ohh…but now you get into an accident…oops…too late to call Allstate and pay your premium…it has come home to roost and now in a heap of trouble.

      1. This has been an issue in other areas Clarisa…I followed the 737 Max debacle. I recall reading one of the reasons Boeing cut corners on that airplane was because of SWA putting pressure on them to keep the purchase price low. SWA dangled a huge order if, and only if, Boeing would keep the purchase price in check. I.E. scrimp on things that are important. SWA is very much like Walmart in using their leverage to pressure suppliers

  15. How about giving numbers of flights cancelled instead of percentages. Ever since Covid we are tired of hearing percentages instead of giving true numbers. If you have to list percentages then how about also including hard numbers.

  16. Lately the worst job in the world has to be working Customer Service for the airlines, especially Hawaiian & Southwest.

    They have undoubtedly all experienced impressive demonstrations of people’s swearing talent.

  17. Will all of Southwest’s problems magically disappear if they throw more money at the employees? Everything I read about Southwest always includes at least one statement from a union representative. Leads me to believe employees are partially responsible for Southwest’s issues. You knew the wages when you took the job.

    1. The employees and unions are pointing out the fact that SW has not invested in the computer infrastructure that they should have. They are obviously terribly out of date.

    2. You fail to realize that many of these “line” employees come over not primarly for pay…but for “flight benefits”…in Hawaii many come from other hotels/other hospitality. The thing is that a hotel is never cancelled or delayed…You may know your starting pay but how many of us really know the true working conditions before we start and “step into the trenches”…and yes by the way investing in technology (ie updated systems and software) does make a difference…how about we take away your computer and give you a slide rule.

  18. 1/3 of the way there and they turn around? must have been a serious altercation. imagine this passenger gets hit with multiple civil suits from fellow passengers

    1. Better 2 turn around than have a nutcase be violent/cause the plane to go down or injure others. Curious 2 know what went on causing the turn-around since info was withheld.

    2. That would be Great. Anymore each flight should have leg irons, heavy handcuffs and the waste belt for the unruly. Maybe even a Blackout Hood and a few vials of some medications to Relax the Problems.

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