Southwest Hawaii Pilot father and daughter team

New Trouble Looming for Southwest Hawaii Flights

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.


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67 thoughts on “New Trouble Looming for Southwest Hawaii Flights”

  1. Hi Rob+Jeff. I have never flown Southwest. However if they cut some interisland flights, then that would free up some pilots to use for mainland to Hawaii flights. I am not comfortable with a foreign pilot flying that is on a visa in this country. I believe Hawaiian vacations are going to substantially subside into the next year. Too many uncertain events are going on. Mahalo for the update and Happy Thanksgiving to you both. Stay safe.

    1. In case you don’t know there are thousands of H1B workers in very critical industries. The pilots will also be just as capable.

      1. Yeah, and they are taking jobs from Americans even though the law says they aren’t supposed to. They are also driving down the wages of Americans in the same profession.

  2. Southwest could get a larger aircraft like the 787 which could do two 737 flights on longer routes like cross country and Hawaii routes from different parts of the country other than just the west coast. That could be done in one class which would free up some pilots for other domestic routes. That would take time to aquire and train crews tho.

  3. I am currently starting to plan a trip to the Big Island for 7 people. To fly from Sacramento and back with 2 people flying in from Kansas City. I am looking at airfare costing almost $6500 in June of 2023. That is on Southwest. The other airlines are more money, worse schedules and lots of itineraries with overnights, 16-18 hours of travel and layovers of several hours. It’s insane.

    1. Airline flight prices have increased dramatically which is what you are seeing.
      Unfortunately the “supply & demand” effect has made this happen.
      Let’s hope prices subside and you and your friends/family can take that long awaited vacation!

    2. Have you looked at Alaska?
      They have a 1 stop through Sea and if you sign up for their Visa card everyone traveling with you would get green bags plus if you are approved you would get 60000 miles.

  4. I have a good friend who’s a 25 year + pilot for Delta and my sister’s best friend is a 30 year+ stewardess for American. The Delta pilot told me that people that were ready to retire retired because of the vaccine mandate. He was able to get an exemption. There’s a huge shortage of pilots anyways, and they are flying them longer, even though they do have a forced retirement age. The American stewardess told me that there was a lot of people quitting over the vaccine mandates, she was able to get an exemption. People near or at retirement said No to an experimental still undisclosed closed cocktail of ingredients injection. Do you blame them?

    1. The mass exodus of early retirements at the airlines was prior to the vaccine mandates. It happened early days when the industry basically shut down and many took lucrative early retirement packages. I know the industry well enough not to take one persons perspective as gospel. The vast majority of airline pilots are levelheaded, pragmatic folks that know better than to fall for conspiracy theories. They all happily got vaccinated knowing full well their job exposed them to risk. But like any profession there are outliers. I saw the number at United that 7 pilots lost their job. While I believe in personal choice it saddens me that misinformed people made so by the conspiracists avoided getting vaccinated and died from Covid as a result.

      1. I wouldn’t say “all got vaccinated” if you’re looking to speak the truth.
        Not all pilots, not all flight attendants and not all employees.
        Now you know…..the rest of the story

        1. At some airlines pilot had to choose between their beliefs and their jobs. They were not given the option. Some chose to retire early rather than get jab. So yes, mandating a vaccine did exasperate the pilot shortage.

        2. Thought it was clear…I said all the level headed pragmatic one’s all got vaccinated. I’m quite familiar with the numbers at several airlines and the pilots that lost their jobs due to the mandate is minuscule compared to how many got vaccinated. The falsehood circulating that the current shortage is due to the mandate is ridiculous. As was evident in Ernie’s post some people look for anything they can to try and make a political point, not matter how untrue.
          (and that’s not just on the right either!)

    2. That is an old and proven fraudulent excuse. The vax at this point are 2 plus years old and based on technology that is more than 2 decades old and proven. The disease also is more than 3 years old and we have seen the proven impact of the vax in beating back various forms and mutations. We have also seen that the side effects are minimal and within the level and standard deviation of other vaccines, i.e. no vaccine is perfect. However, this one has had millions of users and worked very well. All the old excuses and myths have been discredited. If it werent for the vaccine the aviation industry would be DOA, oh yeah, except for the Billions US taxpayers paid to keep it alive.

      1. You are exactly right Tony. mRNA technology is not new and will likely be a factor in curing cancer going forward. Medicine was not better 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It’s better now and will continue to get better, thanks to modern technology. A lot of people died because of people like Joseph Mercola and “Americas Frontline Doctors” spreading lies for profit. mRNA doesn’t alter your DNA nor is Bill Gates tracking you if your vaxed. The mRNA vaccines saved a lot of lives, conspiracy beliefs cost a lot.

        1. The vaccines don’t work for more than two weeks. Sorry they don’t. Mandates are Illegal here in a free country. Sorry— no one cares about this anymore— my sister was a Covid Dr. And The Masks don’t work either.. Stop telling Americans what to do — we can figure this out for ourselves. Masks are never coming back and are now illegal in over 40 states…

  5. hmmm …. increased prices and fewer flights would mean fewer, “richer”, tourists in Hawaii. Isn’t that what Hawaii is looking for?

  6. I am trying to imagine an additional 30,000 more active pilots “by the end of the decade,” sitting in their planes on the tarmac each day at the current airports – on the mainland and in Hawaii – waiting for gates to open up, so they can deplane passengers and load new passengers. It seems to me adding that many pilots (and planes) will create gate bottlenecks, unless airports add a lot of gates in eight years (p.s. I get that all 30,000 new pilots will not be flying every day).

    1. Southwest Airlines will be adding more gates to its focus city, San Diego, in two years. Terminal One is undergoing expansion in its cramped quarters, where you might stand up for two hours waiting for your flight to board as passengers put their carry-ons into the adjoining seat. Terminal Two expansion for all the other airlines flying in and out of San Diego has been up and running for a few years. It makes for a much better flying experience, including seat assignments, on other airlines. Southwest is not always the lowest airfare, except for its free baggage policy as compared to all other airlines.

    2. From my experience as an airline pilot it’s not gate space it’s a personnel staffing issue. Whenever I arrive there seem to be plenty of open gates but no staffing to catch the airplanes. Ground personnel are working multiple gates at a time because we can’t get the staffing. That can cause a little congestion because you can’t get a plane off and catch one at the same time but for the most part there are empty gates

      1. Hi Trent.

        That makes a lot of sense. Quite a few times recently, one or both of us have been stuck at a gate waiting for someone to operate it.


  7. You’ve made a problem every airline is having, about one airline and one destination. It’s nothing but stirring hype unnecessarily and it’s all pure speculation on your part which is extremely poor and irresponsible writing.

  8. Is it just me, or does it seem like the airlines need to get off their 737/A32x addiction and start looking at larger birds again? It takes the same number of pilots to fly a 777 as it does a 737… and the pilot to passenger ratio looks a lot better.

    1. You have to account for also consumer demands. The larger carriers have the aircraft to scale up but doesn’t fit with consumer demand, imagine on a extreme example instead of Hawaiian flying 10 717s flights between Maui daily and upscale to 3 a330s 3 times a day to match those same 717 flights…

      Or of course more typical LAX-HNL some consumers want morning flights or redeye, some routes can’t accommodate a 777 only while they can spread it on multiple narrow bodies

    2. As long as customers foolishly pay specifically for variety in their itenerary times, airlines are forced to match their competitors’ abundance of time choices, which drives up ticket price averages.

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