How Southwest became an intrinsic part of Hawaii travel when we weren't even looking.

Southwest Became So Essential To Hawaii Travel. Now What?

Hawaii Travel Would Be Decimated If Southwest pilots strike. Labor talks with Southwest pilots are at a virtual ground stop. How Southwest impacts Hawaii travel and what would happen if a strike were to materialize is becoming readily apparent.

The Southwest pilot union asked this week to be released from federal mediation due to the inability to agree on pay, work rules, and more. While there’s a lot more to come on this, here’s what we can safely say.

Southwest has become so essential to Hawaii travel, that their absence during a possible strike would be a devastating blow to Hawaii visitors and residents alike.

From its first arrival in Honolulu five years ago, following more than a decade of planning and challenges, Southwest Hawaii flights have grown by leaps and bounds. And as of this summer, they will be providing flights from Hawaii with overnight connections for the first time. Southwest is still planning to provide true, popular red-eye flights from Hawaii.

Southwest Effect on Hawaii Travel

With its size and might, Southwest has become an essential part of Hawaii travel that could not be easily replaced.

Southwest has many flights, including dozens of essential daily interisland flights, and maintains an extensive network of flights to Hawaii from eight of the most in-demand mainland gateways in California, Nevada, and Arizona. However, they don’t hit two notable locations directly: the Pacific Northwest and San Francisco.

Southwest also provides a unique, high-quality, narrow-body, all-economy product, as BOH has noted in multiple reviews. They offer more legroom than competitors, $8 WiFi, two free bags, no change/cancel fees, and non-expiring flight credits. Those are hard-to-beat features. They have become endearing to Hawaii residents just as much as visitors who were already familiar with Southwest before they arrived in the islands.

With Hawaii interisland travel the same here as a bus, train, or subway system might be on the mainland, Southwest also interjected itself into that market which is essential first to residents but also visitors. For example, while Hawaiian typically has two dozen daily flights on the most popular interisland routes connecting Honolulu with Maui, Southwest has up to 15. And between Honolulu and Lihue, Hawaiian has 17 flights while Southwest has 9. The only islands not served by Southwest are Lanai and Molokai. And not since Aloha Airlines has there been such a prolific 2nd Hawaii airline.

Now to the current pilot situation and tense negotiations with their union.

Southwest and its pilots have been at loggerheads for over three years.

So how likely is a strike? There’s a slim chance of that happening, and here’s why. First, the last strike of a U.S. airline was some 13 years ago. Other airlines, like Hawaiian and Delta, have ultimately fallen to pilot demands with pay raises of up to 34%, and Hawaiian pilots making up to $448 per hour, following potential strike threats. But nothing remains out of the question. Before any real possibility of a strike, however, cooling off periods following release from negotiations by the NMB would be required.

How would a Southwest pilot strike impact air service to and from Hawaii?

In a word, it would be a disaster. From a practical standpoint, they represent a huge airlift for visitors and residents, and it would be challenging for other airlines to make up for that absence. That’s especially true now, with airlines stretched precariously thin in terms of pilots, equipment, and other constraints.

$$$: What would happen to Hawaii airfare costs without Southwest?

This is one of the most interesting aspects of that possibility. We estimate if Southwest flights were taken out of the Hawaii flight equation temporarily, flights in the markets listed above would immediately double in price or more. So interisland flights would jump to $100 as their base price. And mainland to Hawaii flights from those cities would jump to a starting point of $250 each way.

Southwest is still cleaning up past problems.

Recently the company said it is spending $2 billion to clean up past messes. Last December’s unprecedented nationwide meltdown cost Southwest the better part of a billion dollars. After that, the company’s CEO, Bob Jordan, said that Southwest would invest an extra $1 billion to improve its technologies to prevent future problems. Jordan said they were “Currently budgeted to spend more than $1 billion of our annual operating plan on investments, upgrades, and maintenance of our IT systems.”

How concerned are you about a possible of an interruption to Southwest Hawaii flights?

We will continue following this story with updates. Please let us know our thoughts.

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23 thoughts on “Southwest Became So Essential To Hawaii Travel. Now What?”

  1. Aloha Airlines had over 3000 employees who contributed very impressive tax revenue to the State of Hawaii.
    It’s now time for Southwest to open a Pilot and Flight Attendant base in Honolulu. So that these employees can contribute tax revenue to Hawaii.
    A heavy B737 maintenance base employing many hundreds of local Hawaii residents would be even better.
    Aloha. Barry.

    1. Without getting too far ahead, I expect a deal for Hawaii that will involve a maintenance-type base that any/all airlines that fly Boeing aircraft will be able to use when their aircraft(s) have a maintenance issue/problem – whether that’s something simple as spare parts, or emergency maintenance.

      The key here – all airlines (irrespective of brand) will be able to contract with this F.A.A.-approved facility for their Boeing aircraft, especially the 737 MAX’s and NG’s and their immediate servicing needs.

      This facility will provide supplemental cash flow to the company operating the facility in addition to their other on-going operations, and provide additional local and higher paid skilled positions for Hawaiians.

      Let’s see if this comes to fruition, or it could die on the vine.

  2. As WN is the largest airline in terms of domestic passengers, there will be no strike.

    Why? As WN is so large in the U.S. domestic market, if they were not to operate – this would be harmful to the entire U.S. economy, including Hawaii.

    The airlines (pick your choice) would not be able to handle the increased amount of additional passengers that are carried by SWA on a daily basis.

    As soon as the WN pilots walkout and strike, the President will issue an emergency order mandating the pilots immediately return back to work.

    You will not see a strike. Case closed.

  3. I miss Aloha Airlines. The forced bankruptcy of Aloha has had a dramatically deleterious and long lasting negative effect on Hawaii inter island air travel. The absences of a true local based airline as a good competitor to HAL is what has brought us to this point, fewer good options in air service. Not so long ago, Aloha and Hawaiian both flew regular scheduled flights to all the Islands including Molokai and Lanai. Without pear competition there can be no growth or improvement. The Hawaii Islands air transportation market is unlike any other in the world and demands a commercial enterprise with a special focused commitment and deep understanding of all aspects of this reality. The opportunity is present for that local pear competitor airline to take flight. SWA is good for competition but they are not Aloha.

  4. At my age I don’t fly on Southwest because I don’t want join the stampede to find a seat.
    My concern is that Southwest will drive Hawaiian out of business,
    since Hawaiian Airlines has far better connections to Kauai from PDX
    than other airlines.

  5. Most concerning would be interisland flight costs. Southwest has kept interisland flights an affordable option, they don’t charge for 2 bags or changes. Their Boeing 737 NG and Max jets are better than the aging 717s Hawaiian flies. On every occasion that competition went away from interisland, Hawaiian took that opportunity to price gouge residents.

  6. Agree with several other comments that this is extreme overhype. We somehow managed almost 90 years of air travel without Southwest.
    I think we will be ok without them again…short or long term

  7. “So interisland flights would jump to $100 as their base price. And mainland to Hawaii flights from those cities would jump to a starting point of $250 each way.”
    I left Hawaii in 30 years ago and those prices were an exception. With 100% inflation since then, I would have expected airfares to have doubled by now. I flying 2,484 mi mi from Las Angeles to Hawaii for anywhere close to $250 would be considered a miracle and the same for interisland flight for $100. I think they are way overdue a raise!

  8. Mahalo for the info. Southwest has made our getting to Hawaii possible with much more ease. With the exception of the Northwest their routing is the best for most people. Your article tells us that Southwest has accomplished that and it would appear they are dotting their eyes.

    1. Hi Roy.

      Glad day to hear that Southwest is working well for you. Thanks for letting us know.


  9. “Southwest is still planning to provide true, popular red-eye flights from Hawaii.”

    This is incorrect. Nobody likes red-eye flights.

    1. Hi Frank.

      They are popular with those visitors for whom it provides an extra day in the islands .


  10. This may be “overhyping” as Kelly says below, mainly because union negotiators use the media (which BOH clearly qualifies as) for leverage in negotiating.
    Any huge pilot increases are likely to cause fare increases and possibly SW could lose their financial edge. Keep in mind it is Not in the best interest of the pilots to strike (and there are all kinds of federal regulations that can stop or limit such a move).
    Bottom line:
    Keep flying. Keep negotiating.

  11. Ok Jeffry & Robby-
    Afta HRS of search (suprisin!!!!), I think MAYB I gotit!?!?! UA
    was the FIRST to fly landing planes to da Islands from da main
    land, on DC-6’s in ‘47. PAA followed with Stratocruisers in ‘49.
    What say U, Jeffry &Robby?!?!? ~> Happy
    tourist season!! – –
    – Arby

    1. Hi Arby!

      The first commercial flights to Hawaii were on Pan Am starting April 20, 1935. That was from San Francisco to Honolulu and beyond. 18-hours.


  12. Southwest pilots may deserve a raise along with other Southwest employees.
    I think the most part for all employees is not to price yourselves out of a job.
    I think Hawaiian made a big mistake with there pay raise. There prices are now on the expensive side along with all there extra charges for bags and leg room.

  13. I think overhyping this will not help. Will Hawaiian increase prices? Probably on popular routes and times. But they will also be aware that SW will return so won’t go too crazy with overcharging.
    If SW were to acquire HA you can bet they would also raise prices.
    SW is a product I won’t use as I need to know where I am sitting before flight. Additionally, they do not have a first class product which I enjoy greatly in HA.
    Thanks for the informative article.

    1. Hi Kelly.

      Thanks. This isn’t an altruistic industry and either way the consumer bears the brunt.


  14. Aloha. Thanks for sharing the “LUV” regarding SWA. They have been a huge blessing to our state, and I believe the other airlines that serve Hawaii have improved as a result of the competition from Southwest.(based on my experience)

    1. Not when you take into account what cockpit crews have to do.. Remember they are responsible for the passengers and crew whatever happens during the course of a flight.

    2. And if, God forbid, they crash and all aboard are killed, you have to consider that scenario when considering how much they should be paid. Before they are allowed in the cockpit, they are required to have considerable fight time, and training mostly at their own expense. Then years of experience flying progressively larger aircraft. By the time they have qualified to be the captain of aircraft the size that are flying today, most have half a lifetime invested in their craft. The same people that are complaining do not bat an eyelash when a lawyer or politician asked for considerably more to represent them. 🙂

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