Last week SWA flight attendants signed an agreement which allows the carrier to operate over water flights. So many in the press presumed the announcement meant Southwest was closing in on announcing Hawaii service.
Southwest has already begun taking delivery of larger Boeing 737-800’s, which were acquired in part with the thought of serving Hawaii and other distant destinations. These new planes are capable of reaching Hawaii from west coast cities, but cannot go further inland without removing weight (such as passengers).
So is it indeed true Southwest is closer to announcing Hawaii service? Here are some of the issues:
Hawaii Airline Competition is Fierce
Since Southwest first announced their intention to serve Hawaii at some point in the future, others carriers moved in. Alaska Air, joined by bellwether Hawaiian Air and latecomer Allegiant Air have taken up available positions. Southwest’s entry into these limited west coast markets will only serve to further reduce financial yields for all carriers. None of these companies can afford to endure such pressure in the long run.
Even without Southwest, competition has heated up among the three main players, together with a little help from legacy airlines like United. As a result, this fall’s Hawaii airfare sales are the earliest and most widespread we’ve seen in years. In fact, fall airfares are running at just about the cost of fuel alone on many Hawaii routes served by Allegiant, Alaska and Hawaiian.
Mainland Cities In The Mix
Should Southwest decide to add Hawaii to its destinations, which mainland cities will they choose? The options are limited, and the competition in place. However, the following are among the anticipated departure cities:
- San Diego
- Los Angeles
- Orange County
Interesting Opportunities Exist
Southwest is so large that they will create their own markets in spite of existing competition. Loyal followers will choose to fly Southwest to Hawaii.
When Southwest Airlines Hawaii service finally happens, nonstop opportunities will be limited by aircraft type. They will, however, enjoy an ability to create unique one-stop services including for example, Texas. If they move in that direction, they may also find that creating new markets for Hawaii travel is a great deal of work.
Lastly, should Southwest feel aggressive in terms of Hawaii, there is another possibility. They already have the aircraft (Boeing 717 acquired from AirTran) and could decide to offer inter-island service.
*whack *whack… okay, so i’m probably beating a dead hors… anyway, the 737-800, will have a weight restriction getting out of KSNA. if I understand the numbers correctly, it could be as high as 30 passengers. it’s the reason why the long-haul flights out of KSNA are done with 757-200s and 737-700s. The -700s are light enough to get out of KSNA fully loaded (it’s what WestJet flies to the Great North and what Aloha flew to nearly every Hawaiian island from KSNA), and the 757-200s (that Delta uses to KATL) have so much power, the noise abatement climbs are no problem (except on hot days or when their destination has weather restrictions and they need to carry more fuel).
Southwest would definitely stir things up in the Trans-Pac market. As much as they love KSNA and KSAN, it’s hard to ignore LAX being one of SWA’s biggest hubs. If they could bring LAX flights back to consistent affordability, they could really make a push for market share. that’s a route that Allegiant wouldn’t be able to break into.
i wouldn’t be surprised if the legacy carriers started pulling back on their west coast routes and focused more on the ultra-long-haul flights, JFK, ATL, CVG, IAH, EWR, SLC, ORD, DFW. Delta and American already partner with Hawaiian, so they could just connect their passengers to a Hawaiian flight from the west coast, and United, well, really, i mean, c’mon [self-edited for a snarky comment about United].
inter-island? Island Air has the right idea. i would say turbo-props are the way to go interisland. time-wise, they’re only 5-10 minutes slower than the 717s or CRJ-200s. RPSM is a lot higher on turbo-props than on jets, regardless of what kind of jet you fly, so the profit margins are better. There is a reason why Island Air outlasted Aloha Airlines… and I think propellers are the key… 🙂
Beat of Hawaii says
Okay, so on SNA, the crazy fast climb is the issue. That sounds right to me.
The legacy’s are already starting the move out of Hawaii in terms of competition, deals, capacity to some degree and slots. That will surely continue.
On the subject of Aloha Airlines, the last owners ran it into the ground. Their model and scope of operations was very different than Island Air. Not disagreeing about turbo-props, and we’ll be glad to see nice new ones show up here in Hawaii.
You may already know that Island Air is the only airline which is actually a Hawaii corporation.
I don’t think you can get a fully loaded 737-800 out of KSNA to Hawaii. you could with a 737-700 (like Aloha and Continental used to do), but the 737-800 (like the 757-200s United flies out of KSNA) would need to do an intermediate stop to pick up more fuel before heading on its long leg (maybe the new 737-8MAX will have the performace to get out of KSNA fully loaded).
While SWA could possibly bring 717s to the islands, I still think it’s more likely that they would bring their older -300 and -400s to the interisland market. they could even contract Aloha Air Cargo for maintanence if they didn’t want to open a base all they way out here. Take that a step further and they could buy the Aloha Airlines name and restart The People’s Airline… I wonder if the Aloha Airlines 737ETOPS certificate is still for sale… that would save SWA a lot of time and money…
Beat of Hawaii says
Thanks for your comment.
737-800 seems to be the plane of choice from the west coast to Hawaii. That is what Alaska uses everywhere from San Diego to Bellingham. So SNA (John Wayne) is good to go. It’s theoretical maximum range is over 3,000 nm, which is significantly more than needed, although I’d assume winds are a factor.
Interesting thoughts on Southwest and their older 737’s. We’ll see if they even have an interest in inter-island flying. Also, I believe the Aloha name is still owned by Yucaipa, so it is probably for sale at the right price.
On one hand, the thought of long flights in coach (especially if red-eye returning home) on narrow body aircraft isn’t appealing…however, Southwest’s straight forward approach to flying, convenient connections (Hawaiian’s mainland scheduling almost mandates overnight stays on the west coast) & absence of baggage fees would be a welcomed relief .
Also, your interisland service potential was news to me; I also was under the impression the 717’s had been unloaded.
Appreciate the info Jeff!
Angelica Jayne Taggart says
So – it sounds like Southwest going to the islands is a bad thing for the Island airlines —
However, I got excited! I now live in Baltimore, MD and my airfare to come home to the Hilo side of the Big Island is quite high —
SW to Hawai’i might just be the ticket for us who miss ohana and the aina!
The last paragraph is now out of date. Delta Airlines announced this past summer that it is swallowing up all of AirTran’s B717s.
Thanks for your comment. Southwest will have many 717’s available for Hawaii or whatever they choose for up to three years. The last 36 aircraft do not transfer to Delta until 2015. If SWA decides to try inter-island, I couldn’t imagine using more than a half dozen or so aircraft to start.