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Southwest Airlines: Good Or Bad For Hawaii?

A point of great contention is whether adding a massive number of flights and new visitors, courtesy of Southwest, has been a good thing or bad for Hawaii. The responses we’ve seen here have varied considerably. From tremendous interest and anticipation before and during their arrival to a great deal of push-back in times since that 2019 launch. Here are some thoughts to get started. We’re excited to hear your input too.

On the positive side of Southwest Hawaii.

Prices from competitive destinations where Southwest Hawaii flights originate are among the cheapest anywhere and lower than we’ve seen in Hawaii in decades. That benefits us residents as much as it does visitors. It opened up new routes that had never existed for Hawaii visitors and brought others down to a very reasonable cost, sometimes less than $100 each way.

Honestly, residents, including us, had long ago given up on the idea of reasonably priced day trips to visit friends and family, go to appointments, or go shopping on other islands. Or visiting the mainland without high airfare costs. These flights had gotten to the point where they were just too expensive for many of us here. Since Southwest arrived, however, we are doing that traveling once again. If it hadn’t been for Southwest, interisland flights would cost multiple times more than they do now. There’s no doubt about that.

Not only that, but as we shared when we first tried and reviewed it, Southwest offers a high-quality Hawaii economy product that is arguably as good as or better than its competitors.

On the not-so-positive side of Southwest Hawaii.

Many more visitors are arriving, partly due to the presence of Southwest and the unending post-Covid Hawaii travel resurgence. Primarily as a result of their entry into Hawaii, the number of domestic airline seats has risen 20% compared to pre-Covid. Wow! That is according to the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism (DBEDT). It has brought Hawaii to the brink of inability to manage visitors, given the lack of proper infrastructure in Hawaii. From traffic and beaches to restaurants and more, coping with the sheer numbers is challenging.

Is any of this a reason to point fingers at Southwest? We’d say not. If Southwest had gotten to Hawaii sooner, which they would certainly have liked to have done, they’d have been part of the mix before it became so contentious. It seems mainly coincidental to us, their delayed timing, Covid, Hawaii over tourism, and revenge travel.

Southwest does things differently.

Southwest does things differently. They always have, and they always will. It starts with buying tickets, which can only be seen on the Southwest website. For example, other airlines list their airfares on Expedia, Booking, and Google Flights. Then too, you do not get assigned seats. That’s different and something that took some getting used to for us newbies. That aspect continues when you check in 24 hours in advance and receive a boarding position. And at the airport, when you line up by that position and march onto the plane in order with others in your same boarding group. It continues with an undifferentiated one-class economy, its own take on “snacks,” unique flight attendants, and more.

Also, while we have seen no data to support this, you’ve said in countless comments that Southwest is bringing different visitors to Hawaii than the legacy airlines flying here. Many more may be first-time Hawaii visitors, and they could also be ultra-economy paradigm visitors, which Hawaii infamously now shuns. Again, that is simply a hypothesis.


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64 thoughts on “Southwest Airlines: Good Or Bad For Hawaii?”

  1. WE Love Southwest because they offer us day flights back to the mainland. We hate night flights!!! There’s a Lot of us baby boomers that prefer day flights! We’re no longer loyal to Delta!

  2. disagree with your assessment of flight attendants being lackluster on Hawaiian. I flew Hawaiian a few years ago and it could not have been better. We flew economy. We are discussing going back to a different island and wont even call Southwest ( not that I have anything against them) I just know Hawaiian was a good experience and I feel it would be the same.

  3. Aloha. I think saying southwest brings a “different type of visitor” is a bit unfair. I am a SWA stockholder, 28 year loyal customer, and proud parent of a SWA employee. Southwest’s entire culture is like Hawaii’s. Courtesy and respect are values drilled into every SWA employee. SWA cant nessecarily pick their customers, but they have no tolerance for snotty, unruly, or belligerent people. If you look at the incidents of rotten customers aboard airlines, no airlines are immune to the growing trend of entitled customers acting out on planes. It is reasonable to assume that good passengers make good visitors, and I believe Southwest provides both. Southwest treats all customers equally.(respectfully) Kamaaiana reciprocating??

    1. DanJ,

      You got it right.SWA is a great airline. A few bumps this holiday, but I think it was a wake-up call. A call that that will result in astonishing improvements that will shock their competitors.

    2. SWA has a lot of good attributes and a history of taking good care of employees and passengers alike. But they are not the airline Herb created. They demonstrated a lot of arrogance with their predatory approach to the market…they came here throwing stones and not showing respect, so they certainly haven’t earned it. A ticket bought on Hawaiian supports the local economy, not so with SWA. That revenue leaves the state. Their inter island operation is also dispatched, maintained and crewed from the mainland. That creates all kinds of issues and not just when weather on the mainland disrupts their schedule. The list goes on, buy local fly local.

      1. Just to be clear, I’m retired from the airline industry after a 40 year career and well connected here in Hawaii. When SWA started flying to Hawaii a well circulated photo of a large ceramic shark painted in SWA colors trying to devour two small fish painted in Alaska and HA colors adorned their office wall in OAK. Just because they smile, tell jokes and pat each other on the back doesn’t negate their true colors of predatory and arrogant behavior. Their marketing has been one of cultural appropriation and disrespect. DanJ, that’s typical SWA mentality asking if the people of Hawaii are being properly respectful of SWA. Auwe!

          1. One of the joys of being retired is you get to cherry pick what’s interesting to you. I still enjoy staying connecting to the industry without the burden of employment!

  4. Southwest made me visit my family in the Big Island more often. The low fares were really helpful when I had to go back and forth Honolulu and Hilo when my dad fell ill and was traveling 2x a week for about a month and with 2 free check in bags I was able to bring in boxes of frozen fish for the parents

  5. Southwest has been nothing but a nuisance to the state and major contributor to unsustainable tourism (SWA Effect). Looking forward to the day they will give up on Hawaii, just as they did with Newark. Southwest planes are planes are empty nowadays anyways in comparison to HAL interisland.

    1. Why should they stop serving their customers?

      Reminder: Hawaii is one of the 50 states and SWA and HA get to serve Americans wherever they are authorized to operate.

      Try to not be a jingoist.


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