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 am truly grateful that SW decided to enter the Hawaii market, especially interisland. For years, Hawaiian Air charged too much to fly interisland and this prevented many people from seeing friends/families on other islands. There were many times I needed or wanted to go from the Big Island to HNL only to discover the fares to be $100+ each way. I know airlines need to make money, but why is it SW can offer $29/$39 fares many times throughout the year and Hawaiian would only do this infrequently? At times,the difference in fares between the Mainland and interisland was only $150- $200 roundtrip? I believe Hawaiian Air was charging locals the high prices due to lack of competition and knew they could get away with it.

    1. SWA does the $39 fare because they are large enough to predatory. They will take a loss in a market for years to drive a competitor out of business. Once that happens, the raise their fares significantly.

    2. Apparently you don’t pay attention to Southwest’s predatory practices on the mainland. They run the competition out of town or out of business, then raise fares. Don’t be naïve. If people want to support locally grown food and merchandise in Hawaii, they should support Hawaii’s local airline.

    3. SW can because they are a bigger company. They have way more destinations, daily flights, & hundreds more aircraft than HA does.They can take losses in Hawaii because they can make it up in the states.

  2. I very much enjoyed your review. You could have gotten a newer Max just as easily as the 800 ER. I prefer 800 over the Max, it has more room. The seats on the Max are thinner than the 800 and restrooms are much smaller with the sink being maybe 12″ by 12″. When you look at the Max more carefully, you will notice that the Max is designed to be a lighter aircraft than previous Boeing aircraft. The engines on the Max are bigger and are designed for economy over power. Having said this, I don’t dislike the Max.

  3. I have had a lifelong relationship with Hawaiian Airlines. My mother was a flight attendant having been in the 2nd class of Hawaiian Air flight attendants decades ago. Later she would work in their corporate offices and also do PR trips to the mainland with the Hawaiian entertainment groups. It was truly Our family airline. However, if Southwest had not entered the market the airfare may have continued to climb to $1000 inter island for a family of 4. Change fees/bag fees added made it unaffordable. The entire island chain welcomed the competition that Southwest brought to our ohana. That is why so many islanders and visitors alike support their effort here.

  4. I found your comments as the same as mine. Southwest has better planes. I’m glad that Hawaiian doesn’t have a monopoly now. They charged way to much before Southwest started.
    I used Southwest traveling California all the time. They are usually on time.

  5. Southwest Airlines is a better airlines. The distance from the gate to the baggage claim is a real walker. Leg room is really great, reclining your seat is the best, after in the air. Pricing for the airfare for interisland and to the mainland, hard to beat. Best reasonable flight times.

    1. Aloha – I assume you mean the distance in HNL. SWA is no longer in the far G gates in HNL, but in the very central E gates.

  6. Hawaiian is the largest employer in Hawaii. Southwest does employ Hawaii residents, but it’s more of the menial low paying jobs. Hawaiian employs high paying jobs in Hawaii which in turn means more tax. Hawaiian is also increasing it’s local procurement, meaning alot of the items being used for service is made in Hawaii, which helps out the small businesses.

    1. Hawaiian has also been profiting off its locals for years until Southwest showed up. What makes you think Southwest won’t eventually make Hawaii a crew base in the future?

      1. That is Precisely what has been said, with all likelihood SWA will make a Crew Base in Hawaii. The numbers of Pilots, Stewardesses, Stewards and Many other types of Employees living in Hawaii is that great. These are Middle and Above Income Earners, unlike what has been said on BOH, and contributes plenty to the local and State economy.

        1. SWA will not create a base in Hawaii because it costs a lot of money to do so. Wishful thinking at best. It’s ok all the high paying Hawaiian airline employed will just move to the mainland when southwest takes over. Hawaii doesn’t deserve to have its own Airline apparently.

    2. Perhaps but competition keeps Hawaiian Airlines honest. Monopolies are never good for the consumer. Also, SWA pays it folks well, so I am not sure you assumption of low pay is correct.

      1. Hawaiian has had the enviable position of loyalty among Hawaiian Residents for a long time, it has always been assumed that they would remain in that position. HAL began changing many things and cutting corners for profits forgetting that people are their largest asset. SWA has come in and is claiming its place by operating as it does elsewhere. HAL isn’t paying attention and will become the 2nd place operator because of their own fault, it would take a lot for them to stay number one for much longer. It’s a hard lesson HAL is learning and it’s doubtful they’ll turn things around.

      2. Hawaiian Airlines honesty has yet to be seen even with the Advent of South West entering the Market. As some people have commented about Hawaiian’s inability to bully and forcing competitors out of the market And the simple fact that SW is too big for them to do that. What is apparent is that South West will eventually Win,whether Hawaiian will be a Real Competitor or not is to be determined. HAL may rely on the Devoted traveler and charge whatever they want as usual and passengers accept that for some reason!

  7. I like to fly Hawaiian for the ambiance but fly Southwest more and more, mainly because of the free checked bag policy, even though I get one free on Hawaiian–and I usually don’t check a bag on my return. Another reason was (WAS) the included meal on Hawaiian. I am not a fussy eater and am grateful for whatever I get. Southwest provides a hefty snack. The last time I flew Hawaiin, the breakfast sandwich we received was inedible. I couldn’t believe it–for even me! The seats, the price, the ease of changing a reservation, as well as more options on flight times, are all reasons that I choose SW more often for my flights to/from the mainland. Interisland, it’s not a big deal.

  8. Thank you for sharing your experience with Southwest. My husband and I will be flying with them on the 1st of September and by sharing your experience flying with them has given me some comfort knowing that they take care of their passengers.


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