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.
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.