Southwest Hawaii flights could now face bigger problems than we thought. Aren’t these supposed to be behind us? Challenges reported may impact the number of flights to Hawaii that Southwest can operate, and speak to higher prices ahead. If Southwest does raise prices, it’s a foregone conclusion that Hawaiian Airlines will follow. While this has been widely reported, our focus here is the impact on Hawaii flights.
Changes threatening Southwest Hawaii flights:
- Prices will need to go up, including Hawaii fares, as the airline lacks the capacity to meet current and projected travel demand. Southwest’s CEO said recently that they could fly significantly more flights if it weren’t for the pilot shortage.
- Having to make more money on fewer flights and passengers. Southwest said it is “looking for up revenues on down capacity.” That is a result of not enough pilots to fly more flights.
- Some Southwest Hawaii flights might be going away. Since Southwest cannot fly all of its aircraft, even at the same time it has expanded Hawaii flights, more changes in flight frequency appear to be on the horizon.
- More Hawaii flight seasonality to occur. A hint to this from Southwest is the fact that they’ve already started cycling some of their Hawaii flights off-schedule, only to return them back to their schedule later. So we anticipate both true seasonality by the time of year in their future Hawaii flight schedule, but also flying only certain days of the week on any given route, as Alaska Airlines does to Hawaii.
Southwest can’t fly all of its aircraft at this time.
It still dates back to when the airline, during Covid, slowed its employee acquisition and even encouraged some early retirement, among other things. And Southwest, like other airlines, underestimated the skyrocketing demand for travel and the speed with which it returned. This is all coming together and not in the best way for Hawaii travelers or Southwest.
For most airline employees, except pilots, that issue has been dealt with, or at least as much as possible. But when it comes to the pilots, that is a problem that Southwest can’t easily shake. It has hit the fan recently, according to their CEO Bob Jordan.
During their 3rd quarter earnings call, Southwest’s CEO said, “If we could fly all of our aircraft, that is, we had enough pilots to fly the aircraft on property, we would be roughly 5%, 6%, 7%, 8% higher percentage of capacity or ASMs (available seat miles) this year right now. That’s about how much more we could fly. It’s really more that’s the factor that it is the mix of the flying short-haul, medium-haul, long-haul.”
What is Southwest doing to remediate the problem?
Jordan said, “We are on track to hire 1,200 pilots this year and 2,100 pilots next year as planned. We wanted to restore our operational reliability. Going forward, we believe we have capacity better matched seasonally to demand. Our pilot hiring and training continue to be the pacing factor for growth as we move forward. We continue to attract high-quality pilot candidates, and the training program to onboard a new pilot to Southwest Airlines are robust.”
- First and foremost is hiring those 1,200 pilots this year and 2,100 next year if things go according to plan.
- Creativity has also entered the job search at Southwest and other airlines. For example, the photo above of a Southwest pilot and first officer father and daughter team. We are seeing more and more of these creative employment opportunities.
- Out of Southwest’s direct purview, other possibilities being proposed include lowering the requirements for hours of experience. The mandatory retirement age could also be changed to 67 from 65.
- Airlines including Southwest are looking to attract pilots from every possible source. One of those has been regional airlines, which have been losing their pilots to mainline carriers.
Southwest pilot plans could include foreign pilots.
The airline is considering seeking US clearance for H1B visa holders from other countries to be Southwest pilots. They have one pilot in mind to hire, or at least that is what it has stated. For sure, one pilot would be a way to test these uncharted waters.
SWAPA, Southwest pilots’ union, isn’t having any of it, be it one pilot or hundreds. Recently, while stating they were unaware of this new development, SWAPA issued a letter of concern to what they deem a threat to their union members. The union doesn’t like the precedent that this would set.
This industry-wide pilot problem started years ago.
A shortage of qualified pilots has been an issue for a number of years and a myriad of reasons. Among them is that many pilots are hitting the mandatory retirement age (65). The age-old path of military pilots becoming commercial pilots has slowed significantly. Then when Covid hit, more pilots left with great retirement offers, and others just wanted to change jobs.
The airlines flying to Hawaii, including American, Delta, Hawaiian, and Southwest, have all established new training programs with scores of flight schools. But that will take time, and the problem is expected to continue for years to come.
There are currently some 135k airline and commercial pilots in the U.S. It’s been estimated that the airlines will need about 30k more pilots by the end of this decade.
Do you have any concerns about these developments impacting Southwest Hawaii flights?
Our first thought is that if interisland flights are pulled back, we could see the end of the current $39 airfares between islands and go back to the old stratospheric fares for such short flights. This might be a good week in fact to book interisland flights. Ugg.