The latest word from CEO Gary Kelly on Southwest Hawaii flights. Speaking yesterday to 4,000 SWA employees gathered in Las Vegas, he said, “we’re going to go very focused into Hawaii. We want to ramp up and be relevant rather quickly.” In addition, he indicated that Las Vegas flights to and from Hawaii may also be on their agenda in the not distant future. He said, “we’ll definitely have Hawaiians taking advantage of access to Las Vegas.”
Key Valentines Day Test scheduled for tomorrow.
We expect tomorrow’s flight to be on the same route as last week, Oakland to Honolulu. We are also still hopeful that flights could be announced tomorrow, Valentines Day, following that flight, but no one will know until it happens. One rumor is that SWA executives could even be on board tomorrow, and that plays into a potential announcement on arrival in Hawaii tomorrow afternoon. We are standing by.
The first Southwest Hawaii flight to Honolulu took place on February 5, 2019, from Oakland. It returned to the mainland on Wednesday February 6. We don’t know whether or not there will be additional tests to Maui. We’re also awaiting the first inter-island test, which will be an extension between Honolulu and Maui. More tests including emergency diversion simulations are likely.
At present the airline’s almost singular new focus is completing what they recently called Southwest’s “top new market.” We believe that Southwest Hawaii flights should be in the air by next month at the latest. The company hopes to sell tickets this month. As you know, flights were to be cleared for takeoff in January, prior to the federal government shutdown that prevented their obtaining final approval.
When will Southwest Hawaii flights be announced?
We anticipate flights going on sale perhaps even this week. And, baring anything unforeseen, Southwest Hawaii flights will start in time for spring break (end of March). Entering the market during a peak period such as this is highly desirable in terms of attaining somewhat higher airfares. Starting in an already low cost season (mid-April to early June) doesn’t really make a lot of sense economically.
Which Southwest Hawaii routes will be first?
We believe the first flights announced will be exclusively to Honolulu and Maui. Expect daily service between San Diego, San Jose, Oakland and Sacramento and both Honolulu and Maui. Soon thereafter, more flights including the Big Island and Kauai will arrive. We aren’t sure yet about Los Angeles and now, Las Vegas.
Anticipated schedule for Hawaii flights below has again been updated, but will remain flexible pending final approval and actual flight announcement. The FAA previously approved Southwest’s ETOPS plans and procedures. Simulation exercises and proving flights across the Pacific, plus staff training, are the last things to be completed. Those should happen quickly.
Ground crew in Hawaii are in place on Maui and Oahu.
Beat of Hawaii’s timeline estimate as of February 13:
✈ Final ETOPS test (proving) flights end to end across Pacific
✈ FAA certification completion
✈ Flight announcement/ticket sales start
✈ Commencement of flights to Honolulu/Maui
Later in 2019
✈ Inter-island flights extensions from Maui and Honolulu to Kona and Lihue
✈ Flights from Los Angeles to Hawaii
✈ Direct flights to Kona and Lihue
✈ Possible addition of inter-island flights including Hilo
Summary of where SWA Hawaii flights stand today.
1. FAA sign-off on procedures and documentation is complete. Partial and complete test flights have occurred and remaining tests are imminent.
2. ETOPS certification is in the final demonstration phase.
3. Competitors continue to use this time to curtail sales and increase profits, prior to the all but certain massive Hawaii fare wars that will take off with Southwest.
4. Southwest is ready to fly. They have ground employees in the islands, and the flight schedules and other plans are set. A Los Angeles flight crew base for Hawaii is also in place. All aspects of the launch are ready pending the FAA final go ahead.
6. New terminal at Honolulu airport has been completed. It will be ground floor using boarding ramps, and dual door boarding is possible. In November 2018, the airline said it will begin testing front/rear door boarding to shorten time. This is well suited to Honolulu given our good weather.
7. Hilo is on the Southwest Hawaii map according to SWA executives. We aren’t clear if that will be inter-island only, or if a San Diego or Oakland to Hilo flight is a possibility. There is only one flight at present between the mainland and Hilo.
8. Entertainment on-board. Expect to see the SWA inflight entertainment portal on Hawaii flights. That includes flight tracker, gate information, games, free live TV, on-demand TV, free movies and messaging, plus paid web browsing.
More recent SWA Hawaii updates:
1. What will west coast to Hawaii fares be following SWA Hawaii’s entry?
When flights are announced, we will see wide-scale Hawaii airfare sales from all carriers and some of the best deals we have ever seen for flights to Hawaii. We are still looking for starting prices in the $99 to $139 range each way.
2. Food on-board Southwest.
Southwest galleys do not support the hot/cold food services as is customary with Hawaiian Airlines and others. There are no traditional chillers/ovens or food trolleys in their aircraft. Galley space is extremely limited. Thus, while we were told to definitely expect food on SWA, we believe it is going to work differently than on other airlines.
We predict Southwest Hawaii food options may include a buy-onboard (or perhaps free) snack box which does not require refrigeration. SWA had snack boxes on longer flights until about five years ago.
3. First routes to Hawaii.
There could be up 8 flights to Hawaii daily at the beginning and perhaps 10 to 15 flights soon thereafter. Those will commence from four California airports (Oakland, San Diego, San Jose, and Sacramento). Flights will be to both Maui and Honolulu. We do not expect flights to continue to Lihue and Kona on first announcement (subject to change). What we are hearing is that the Kauai and Big Island flight extensions will be added in the first couple of months. More Southwest Hawaii inter-island services will follow later in 2019.
4. Dedicated Facility at HNL.
SWA Hawaii flights will use a dedicated multi-gate area being developed at the Diamond Head Concourse at ground floor level. That was the location previously planned for the move of now defunct Island Air from the commuter terminal. The Diamond Head Concourse is in the midst of a $1.1 billion, multi-year renovation.
5. Planes are not going to be based in Hawaii.
Executives told us that all aircraft will rotate through the islands rather than any dedicated fleet ever being based in Hawaii. He depicted a scenario where a plane arrives one day, spends a day flying inter-island, then returns the next day to the mainland.
6. Will the liberal Southwest fee structure change?
Jim Ruppel, Vice-President for Customer Relations, said that they will not. Thus, there will be no fees for the first two checked bags per passenger. Also there will be no change fees (other airlines charge up to $200).
7. What will be the legroom be?
Southwest executives said that their planes will have the most legroom in economy of any carrier across the Pacific. Standard pitch on all seats will be 32 inches.
8. Food on Southwest Hawaii flights?
Yes, you heard it here first, and that is what we were told. The carrier plans to offer food on flights to Hawaii. We’ll be learning more about that soon, we’re sure.
9. Entertainment on Southwest Hawaii flights.
There will be live television to Hawaii, in addition to movies and chat messaging. The carrier will have satellite WiFi on Southwest Hawaii flights. Passengers will be able to bring their own devices to take advantage of these services.
10. Fundamentals | Southwest Hawaii flights:
First California departure cities are Oakland, San Diego, San Jose and Sacramento. But which cities will come next?
While start cities are unchanged, it appears that more California cities could come very soon thereafter. Look for Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and perhaps Ontario and/or Long Beach.
“We intend to serve four Hawaiian Islands from California…. Our initial intention is to begin Hawaii nonstop service from Oakland (OAK), San Diego (SAN), San Jose (SJC), and Sacramento (SMF). From California, you can reach Honolulu, HI (Oahu), Kahului, HI (Maui), Kona, HI (Island of Hawaii), and Lihue, HI (Kauai)…. We also intend to provide interisland service, so you can fly between the Hawaiian Islands with us, too.” Note, Hilo will be in the mix too.
Hawaii inter-island service and time frame confirmed.
“We will start interisland service once we build up our network and have enough frequency to make it meaningful.”
BOH: Look for some degree of Hawaii inter-island nearly right away, with more extensive service to start before the end of 2019. A significant issue here is that the SWA fleet will have engine cooling considerations on repeated short routes. The 737’s were not designed to compete with the Hawaiian Airlines 717 fleet, which supports all day long, rapid-fire, short hops. Thus. it remains to be seen how this will impact flight frequencies, or if there will be a combination of inter-island plus one-stop service to mitigate this issue. An example of that would be Oakland/Honolulu/Lihue/Oakland.
Pricing will be aggressive.
“We will come in with lower fares, and not introductory fares. We have the structure to offer low fares…. It’s got to be a price that’s competitive and the lowest price in the market.” — SWA president Tom Nealon.
BOH: First, a fare war with unprecedented low prices is inevitable. We also wonder if Alaska Airlines might withdraw from some of these routes once Southwest service starts.
Long Beach as a future departure city? JetBlue is cutting back service to Long Beach. That will make additional slots available for Southwest, should it be interested. Hawaiian Airlines started flying from Long Beach to Honolulu earlier in 2018.
Routes other than from California. Previously we had reported Las Vegas and Phoenix in addition to California flights. Those should be coming a bit later. That likelihood was recently confirmed by SWA.
Aircraft for Hawaii flights. Flights are still set to start on existing 737-800 aircraft, as are being used by other carriers on flights to Hawaii. They will then transition to their new 737 MAX 8 and perhaps 737 MAX 7. The latter brings cities like Denver and beyond into range.
Southwest service offerings. Southwest’s unique one-class service paradigm will remain unchanged according to CEO Gary Kelly. They include:
Two free checked bags.
No seat assignments. There will still be an early boarding option for $15, which should prove to be extremely popular on flights to Hawaii.
No meals for sale. Only drinks and snacks as is customary for the airline.
No charger ports. You’ll need to bring a charged battery and perhaps a charger pack. We use the Anker ones, which have been the best performing and most reliable.
In-flight entertainment. It will be available on your own devices only. Fee based satellite WiFi may be offered either at launch or subsequently.
Hawaii overnight/red-eye flights.
Kelly stated that while they may offer overnight flights in the future, “we don’t really desire to fly red-eyes right now…. For our style of operation, it would complicate things.”
BOH: Overnight service will definitely come to their Hawaii flights at some point. That could occur much sooner than later out of logistical necessity.
The “Southwest Effect.”
So exactly what impact can we expect to see in terms of Hawaii airfares once SWA is a reality? A 2016 Northeastern University study based on 2010 data found that when they enter a market, a whopping 24% drop in airfares can be anticipated.
Updated February 12 , 2019. Image courtesty of Flightradar24.