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

  1. I agree that Hawaii tourism is unmanageable. For both residents/businesses and the tourists themselves. I’m not sure it’s legal but maybe a limit on daily visitors to Hawaii rather than the unlimited amount only limited by number of seats and flights. This would benefit the tourist in that they wouldn’t have to be fighting others for seats at a restaurant or seats on a boat or having to make reservations a year in advance. Then perhaps the locals would not have such negative feelings toward tourists because they’ve been overrun by them.

  2. I have been to Hawaii many times, & yes it was expensive, but now it is super expensive. But the grocery prices are out of control. I am spending 32 days here, I don’t think I’ll be back. There are other places where my money will go further. Sorry, but you have priced regular people out of this market.

  3. Southwest Airlines has two incredible things going for it! The first one is that you can cancel at the last minute and with Covid and all the other stuff going on that’s important for my family. Secondly, you get two free bags which we can load up with souvenirs bought with all that money we’ve saved! Thank you BOH for all of the information you provided all of us!

  4. To heck with Hawaiian Air, I’ll fly Southwest over Hawaiian all day long. Hawaiian has used inter-island fees to pad their other flights and have ripped off the state residence for a long time.

  5. My trick to flying on SWA to Hawaii is to have one person book all those going. We have a family of six so by doing that we all fly on one confirmation number. When confirming 24hrs before departure we get assigned our six positions together. IE: A 16 thru 22. It has worked for the last eight times leaving out of Vegas.

  6. My wife and I are older and have no interest in unassigned seating
    so we will never fly SW. We are long time loyal HA customers.
    Competitive capitalism is a mixed bag both good and bad.
    Right now there are short term benefits which may later become long term negatives.

  7. A decade or more ago, my wife wanted to go to Kauai. We looked at all of the options and schedules, but we would have had to change planes at HNL. Hawaiian wanted as much to go from HNL to Kauai as they did to go to HNL from the west coast.

    I Love Hawaiian. Great service. However, they brought this on themselves. I don’t feel sorry for them. Now, they need to adjust how they do business to keep up with the competition. This keeps things fresh for the consumer. Offer a better product at a competitive price and the consumer will choose you. Southwest offers free checked bags, while Hawaiian, Alaska, all the others, have their hand out. I’m retired. Pinching pennies is my new job. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

  8. I will never again fly SW Airlines. They cancel flights with zero warning, nor rhyme nor reason (threatened pilot strike… Not stated… My K.C. to PHX planned trip 2021), lately the Mauna Loa eruption which affected nothing in Hilo’s airspace and other airlines continued on… Most recently their Christmas 2022 fiasco). SWA is a cattle-car / folks fighting for every seat. I want to choose my own seat in advance, Thanks.
    Now SWA seems to want to drive others (HAL) into bankruptcy, like Mesa airlines (aka Go Airlines) did to Aloha Airlines… making HAL lose $100 Million last year.


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