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Flight Reviews: Hawaiian Vs. Southwest Showdown

Since Southwest Airlines started flying interisland, we have intended to do back-to-back flights with them and Hawaiian Airlines. That way, we could share the various aspects of both experiences. And today was that day.

BOH editor Jeff told no one and, at 11 am, bought an early afternoon interisland flight on Southwest and the return soon thereafter on Hawaiian Airlines. Here are how those flights went and our impartial and unsolicited reviews. One standout you’ll see in the photos is the legroom difference that really surprised us.

Jeff did not check baggage so he didn’t have that experience or include it in our ratings. That would have given additional points to SWA for their free baggage policy. We also didn’t look at policies including change fees. See what just happened to us: $700 Fare Change On “No-Change-Fee” $100 Hawaii Airfare.

He obtained electronic boarding passes online. Jeff was offered an upgrade to his boarding position on Southwest and various seat upgrades on Hawaiian, and he declined both of these extra-cost options. The fare, including taxes and fees, was $39 on Southwest and $39 on Hawaiian. Neither airline knew that Jeff was coming. He just snuck away to the airport on Kauai for today’s article.

Another side note is that there was pretty-much wide open availability to buy the $39 seats, even at the very last minute. We have to say, who doesn’t love that price?

Southwest Airlines review interisland.

On entering the plane it was noticeably dark other than for the lighting. The reason is that Southwest asks passengers to lower their shades and turn their air vents on before departing the plane. That was to keep the plane cool, which in fact, it was. It was odd that most people never opened the shades throughout the flight even though there were great views to be had on both sides of the aircraft.

It appeared that the plane was about 2/3 full.

Ticketing 10/10.

No nonsense and quick to book. Nothing got in the way. It took approximately 4 minutes.

Boarding 9/10.

The boarding process was unfamiliar. The way it worked was that you entered the waiting room pictured below and found the vertical sign that represented the group that you would be boarding with. Then that group was called to board together. Jeff missed the announcement of how it worked, but ultimately it wasn’t too hard to figure out.


Plane 10/10.

The aircraft was a Boeing 737-800 (not a MAX), and it was by no means new. The average age of this model at SWA is 7 years. But Jeff reports that it was absolutely whistle-clean, in pristine condition. There was no appearance of wear and tear or dirt and it all looked new and well kept. The overhead bins were of the newer type that accommodates most carry-ons (seen below), similar to what Alaska switched to not long ago. Southwest said they are adding more overhead bin space in 2023. The 737 is somewhat quieter than the older 717.

Hawaiian Vs. Southwest Airlines Review

Seating 10/10.

The seats were comfortable for the short flight. The leg room was ample, and distinctly more than on Hawaiian, as you can see from the comparison photos. Jeff was seated in the 5th row, aisle seat, and is six feet tall. He noted a distance between his knees and the seat back of at least four inches. The seats recline.


Flight Attendants 10/10.

The flight attendants were pleasant, casual yet professional. Nothing was lacking. Since there wasn’t much service on a 22-minute flight, the interaction was limited.

Service 9/10.

The cabin crew delivered water in open plastic cups to those who wanted it. At first, it wasn’t clear that the water was bottled rather than from the plane’s potable water system. After the service, Jeff saw the flight attendant disposing of the plastic bottles from which the water had been poured.

On-time 10/10.

The flight boarded and departed on time.

Hawaiian Airlines review interisland.

Your editors have used this aircraft type for hundreds of flights over about 20 years since the 717 fleet first arrived. We seldom think about it. It is perhaps similar to how others might see a commuter train or bus. But today, it came into contrast with a new competitor.

The plane was less than 1/2 full.

Ticketing 9/10.

No problem to speak of, but when contrasted with the Southwest purchase five minutes earlier, the Hawaiian site was maybe 2 minutes slower, even though Jeff had a frequent flyer login which made the payment part faster. You must also navigate through the offer of car rentals and accommodations within the flight booking workflow.

Boarding 9/10.

The boarding process was very familiar. Passengers congregated near the front to get in line as soon as their zone was called. Jeff was in the last group to board. In the end, it was neither better nor worse than Southwest.

Plane 8/10.

The aircraft was a Boeing 717, and it was also by no means new. Seats have been replaced with newer, lighter ones and are non-reclining. While it might not have been noticed otherwise, the aircraft had a distinctly less kept-up appearance overall. The overhead bins are smaller than on SWA, and the 717 is noisier than the 737.


The carpeting was stained in many places throughout the plane as per this example.

Hawaiian Airlines Review - legroom

Seating 8/10.

The seats were comfortable for the short flight. Leg room, however, was considerably less than on Southwest, as you can see from the two photos. Jeff was seated in the 9th row, aisle seat. He noted a distance between his knees and the seat back of perhaps one to one and a half inches. The seats do not recline.

Hawaiian Airlines Review - Legroom

Flight Attendants 10/10

The flight attendants were both pleasant and attentive. They have a distinct island feel that differentiates them from any mainland carrier. There was nothing lacking.

Service 10/10.

The cabin crew dispensed a service consisting of either a packaged water or juice beverage. In the mornings they also offer coffee.

On-time 9/10.

The flight boarded and departed about 13 minutes later than scheduled.

Our review scores and takeaway.

Southwest scored 68 out of 70 based on our experience. Hawaiian scored 63 out of 70. The quality of the Southwest product was much better than we expected.

We wouldn’t hesitate to fly either airline for interisland flights. Traveling to the mainland are an entirely different beast, to be considered separately.

Please let us know about your Hawaiian and Southwest flight review experiences.

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111 thoughts on “Flight Reviews: Hawaiian Vs. Southwest Showdown”

  1. I fly SW after all the years HA was the only airline to fly interisland. I have flown to the mainland on SW several times and as far away as Las Vegas. I am totally satisfied with SW. One flight on SW which happened pre pandemic our flight interisland was delayed for 3 hours and I did not even file any complaint and a week later I received a $150 dollar voucher in my e-mail for the inconvenience. Previously, when flying HA and we were delayed I wrote a complaint letter and they just sent a letter of apology. HA gouged interisland flyers for years prior to SW coming into our market. What goes around comes around. I tell all my relatives and friends to fly SW and once you learn the boarding policy you will certainly be satisfied.

  2. Southwest is rated worst airline according to new US study. The website Wallet Hub did a study that came out 4/28/2023. Hawaiian Airlines is ranked 6. This story should be run in this website.

      1. Beth C, Me too unless there is an issue and then Alaska. Hawaiian is the only airline to the Islands with Aloha. You feel like you are starting your vacation as soon as you get on the plane. It is important. I find their prices very competitive with the other airlines.

  3. Great review. I totally agree. It’s a good thing Southwest came to the islands. Hawaiian Air has proven they can lower the prices. I know a lot of local people who are trying Southwest and loving it. I am starting to see more locals fly Southwest. I know I won’t be flying Hawaiian anymore. Greedy greedy greedy.

  4. The facts are plain regardless of opinions. Whoever wins will jack up the price during busy times and lower the fares and frequency of flights during slow periods. Southwest is a ruthless apex predator and employs nearly zero full time citizens of Hawaii. Only time will tell whether Hawaiian can withstand the onslaught, or Southwest cares about completely wiping out one of the largest employers in Hawaii (6,674 employees).

    1. The “Facts” are not as Black and White as some people would have them. Hawaiian has numerous employees in Hawaii, currently more than SWA, and that is the Truth for now. SWA does Employ numerous Hawaii Residents and the number is growing as they decide when they will have a presence comparable to HWA. Whichever airline “wins” the Consumer will see higher prices. Predatory, doesn’t that describe HWA more than SWA? Which has been unjustly profiteering from its Hawaiian Dominance for Decades? SWA is simply looking to Expand Service as Every airline does and make a profit in the end. SWA offers low fares across the board every day, does Hawaiian? No.

  5. I have been visiting the Hawaiian Islands since 1973. I have flown almost every airline that flies (or flew) there from LAX over the years, including the maiden voyage of American Airlines to Oahu some years ago. I am now a property owner on Maui, so regular trips have become even more frequent! My husband and I are diehard Hawaiian Airlines flyers. To us, it’s a simple choice: Southwest Airlines (“cattle car seating” riding with your knees up around your ears…) or Hawaiian Air with pleasant, professional attendants, real food and drinks flowing and a friendly, warm aloha spirit! Their many years of experience flying Hawaii’s skies is evident from the time you board until you deplane at your destination. And by the way…..Maui no ka oi!

    1. This is something that many people are ignoring, there is room for both airlines. Preferences may change or not depending upon what a person is willing to pay, the benefits they perceive, and things that matter. With the question of Dominance at hand, the Passengers will eventually determine that with ticket sales. HWA from what I have learned has a lot to learn and change to improve Their Experience while SWA is holding 4 Aces, without cheating, in Customer Satisfaction, Service and Experience where HWA keeps falling Short. After decades of serving Hawaii, they know what they can get away with, shameful yet accepted! Doesn’t that explain so much about what’s wrong with Hawaii? Sorrowfully the truth.

  6. South West Airline, is trying hard in providing great service to interisland customers (how long will this last?) Hawaiian Airline Employees forgot how to take care the customer the new hired just don’t care.

    1. Eventually the winner will emerge and everything will normalize, hopefully inter island flights will continue as the need is there. The prices will increase but praying that they don’t get to the previous amount. I believe that HWA hasn’t backed down due to the purchase of their New Aircraft, the need to recoup that money quickly from the paying passengers. Not saying that every airline doesn’t, they simply have more Assets. HWA would have Much More but Top Salaries, Benefits and Profit “Sharing” seems to keep emptying their accounts and the tiny amount they were giving back doesn’t amount to much. Now HWA has Stopped giving back and is purely Profit Taking per their Announcement, and that was prior to the debacle with SWA! Share Already.

  7. Between these 2, I’d pick Hawaiian Airlines because Southwest is overrated. Southwest doesn’t even offer Business Class Cabins. Hawaiian does. However, the first time we flew Southwest was kinda terrible.. There was no IFE, there was alot if passenger complaints since a new ranking from a website, Wallethub. Hawaiian is more like it. It has great service, it’s incredible safety record, and their on-time performance. Considering that, Hawaiian is award-winning with the best airline staff. Southwest is more expensive than Hawaiian. Hawaiian is cheaper. That’s why we fly Hawaiian throughout 2022. I insist flying Hawaiian is worth it. Southwest, they have an On-time performance but that’s plus.Hawaiian is the most reliable than Southwest.

  8. This is nothing new. Over the 30 years several upstart airlines have gone head to head against Hawaiian and the former Aloha Airlines. They all eventually went under after unsustainable fare wars. Then we were gouged. After Aloha went under we were gouged even more. It’s been years since most people could afford to go interisland to see family. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. I’d bet that sooner or later they’ll “agree” on a fare around $75. So enjoy this while you can

    1. Fare wars between two airlines were unsustainable because fares were well below break even. Biggest bank account wins.

      Honestly, some people act like inter-island travel should be government subsidized. It’s not but luckily for you, two airlines are operating below cost.

      People of Hawaii have enjoyed ridiculously low fares quite frequently over the last 30 years. When you think about it, it’s little more than the cost for an Uber ride in Honolulu but 100-200 miles in a very expensive piece of equipment.

      It just seems to me, if people can deal with a $1 million mortgages and fly to Vegas or Disney World they can pay the going rate for travel here. After all, wouldn’t it benefit Hawaii with more local income and less visitors?

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