Classless Southwest Hawaii Review: Unique In The Market

Classless Southwest Hawaii Review SJC to LIH: Quirky, Unique

After flying and reviewing Alaska Airlines to the mainland last week, we returned home on Southwest from San Jose to Lihue. We wanted to see what Southwest Hawaii flights are about and why they are so popular. The prior week we flew interisland with Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest and reported on those short island hops.

This was our first time flying to Hawaii from the mainland on Southwest and only the second time ever on Southwest. It was a very interesting experience. Please read on for all the details and our review.

Southwest is an airline with a unique offering; there’s no doubt about it. After just two flights, Jeff has an idea of what it’s about, and he reports that it’s in no way objectionable or “second class.” But the reality is that what SWA offers is in a league by itself compared to the other airlines flying to Hawaii. Instead of economy class, we’d say it is Southwest class.

Once you board the plane, all passengers are equal, no matter how much they paid or where they sit. It’s a fascinating study in sociology.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines classlessness as “not belonging to a particular social class… having no different social classes.” 

Early check-in options. (No scoring.)

Jeff opted to purchase the Early Bird check-in to try it out. He looked at both options for early check-in that Southwest offers first. Early Bird for this flight was $25. That checks you in 36 hours before the flight and gives you a better boarding position. The other option, called Early Boarding, was $50 for this flight and gives you an A1-15 boarding number if one is available. Early Bird allowed him to get on sooner and easily find a near-the-front aisle seat on the full flight.

So what did Early Bird mean in a full-flight situation? When Jeff boarded the plane, he had a range of available seats and luggage bins. He opted for 7D because 1D is a bulkhead and can’t have anything stored on the floor during take-off and landing.

Cost: 10/10.

Jeff paid $189 one way for his ticket. It could have been much cheaper if he’d purchased the ticket at another point, not just the day before flying. But when you consider the value of the two checked bags – Jeff had over 90 pounds of shopping from California that he was bringing back to Kauai – it was simply a fabulous deal. Those two bags on Hawaiian or Alaska would have cost an additional $70 without special status.

Customer service: 10/10.

Jeff called Southwest to ask about the two early boarding options and to get their sense since he is not a regular Southwest customer and didn’t have the experience to draw from. The agent, who had a distinct Texas accent, was thoroughly helpful and steered him toward the Early Bird option.

Check-in: 10/10.

Classless Southwest Hawaii Review: Unique In The Market

Jeff checked the MyTSA app and traffic before heading to San Jose Airport for the flight to Hawaii. On arrival at SJC via Uber, two people did bag check-in outside the terminal, as pictured above. And there was no line. Jeff had his two bags checked by the courteous agent and was on the way to TSA within just a minute or two. This was awesome. Inside the terminal, check-in appeared to be moving normally, too, but the outside bag check was a big bonus.

Boarding: 10/10.

This was only Jeff’s second Southwest flight, but he already reported feeling comfortable with their different boarding system. You get in line in order of your boarding position, and then an entire boarding line enters all at once in that order. Jeff had A59 as his boarding position, found the line, and got in place according to the sign.

People report in our comments that they either love or hate the SWA boarding process. Jeff says he is instead neutral about it. To him, it was neither better nor worse than Hawaiian Airlines’ boarding system by group number. The boarding on Southwest was fast, effective, and orderly.

On-time Performance: 10/10.

Everything went exactly as scheduled. Boarding started about 30 minutes before the flight time. The boarding door was closed 5 minutes beforehand, and the flight departed the gate exactly on the money at 1:25 pm. After less than a 5-minute taxi out, the plane was in the air.

Food and beverage: 3/10.

Southwest offers no meals, even on a 5 ½ hour flight to Hawaii. Instead, a very unusual snack service was provided about 30 minutes after departure. It was followed by a beverage service about 90 minutes into the flight. That, by the way, is the reverse order of most airlines’ normal beverage and food sequence.

The snacks aren’t healthy, and there is no choice. That isn’t a great deal to us, and the quality wasn’t up to what we experienced in other areas with Southwest. There’s room for improvement. The beverages were perfect, though, and of good branded quality.

About 2 hours before arrival, a bag of tasty little bespoke cookies was served. A coffee and water service followed that. This service stood out as rather elegant, especially in comparison with the earlier snack.

Classless Southwest Hawaii Review: Unique In The Market

Aircraft condition: 9/10.

The 737 MAX8 is new, and everything looked perfect and clean. No wear or dirt could be seen anywhere. Towards the end of the flight, it was clear that the bathroom had not been tidied up, and there was debris on the floor. That would have been a nice added touch that we typically find is handled well by international airlines and less by domestic ones.

Wifi/texting: 4/10.

Southwest offers unlimited $8 satellite WiFi. Alternatively, texting and streaming entertainment are complimentary, and there are a lot of choices. Jeff was anxious to try Southwest’s WiFi and paid while still on the ground. The flight crew didn’t fully explain when it would start working, and we’d heard it was functional gate-to-gate. That wasn’t the case, at least on this flight. Connectivity seemed to come in phases and wasn’t fully operational until in the air. One additional note. Jeff used his phone to buy the WiFi. There was no indication if or how it would be possible for him to use his laptop without paying another $8. Jeff used his phone’s mobile hotspot, which worked perfectly to share the internet connection.

While the internet service might have been okay when it worked, the lack of explanation and ease of getting it going was somewhat frustrating. Moreover, the internet was not working consistently and was on and off most of the flight. The flight attendants announced that it was being reset multiple times. It was not great at any point but improved somewhat about halfway through the flight. The flight attendant said it was possible to contact customer service to get the $8 cost refunded, which Jeff did not try.

Flight attendants: 10/10

Very pleasant and helpful, hard-working, and notably humorous. The flight attendants announced that they were also the cleaning crew after the flight and to please help keep the plane clean. That was handled nicely, but there were lots of administrative-type announcements. There was perhaps an overabundance of these announcements; while not unpleasant, it felt like they were practicing crowd control. These were regarding blocking the aisle, devices without headsets, seatbelts, etc. It was somewhat different than what we experienced on other flights to Hawaii.

Cockpit crew interaction: 10/10.

The captain came on before the doors closed for the first announcement and welcome. Another announcement followed take-off about flight time and the expected weather at the destination and en route. A final greeting and thanks on landing were offered—excellent attention to detail.

Seating and comfort: 7/10

The seats are new, and the legroom is very good compared to other airlines’ economy class. Much like the A321neo used by Hawaiian Airlines, the seats are thin and very narrow due to the cabin width. Jeff found the seats very uncomfortable after sitting for so many hours.

Power: AC/USB: 0/10

There is no electrical or USB power anywhere on the aircraft. Starting next year, Southwest has announced they will provide USB A and USB C at every seat. That’s a great addition. Jeff used his own battery pack to keep things going.

Post-flight survey: 10/10

Four days after the flight, Southwest sent a survey that was quick to complete and fascinating too. We’ve included just one section below since you may find it interesting, as we did.


Score: 103 out of 120.

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56 thoughts on “Classless Southwest Hawaii Review SJC to LIH: Quirky, Unique”

  1. As a former “Standards & Practices” evaluator for a high line automobile manufacturer (Land Rover/Jaguar), I Love these posts! Fantastic, unbiased , and very informative. I hope to see other airlines be put to “the test”. We’re loyal Hawaiian Airlines flyers from San Diego. So enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work! 👍🏼

  2. Good review. It aligns with most of my experience traveling from Oakland to Maui. I’m a big fan of Southwest and appreciate their efforts and courtesy.

  3. Our experience flying SW has been same as yours. Efficient & friendly bring your own food. We always get Early Bird check in. For us SW is a good alternative in the mix when we search for flights based on variety of factors.

  4. Interesting that what used to be a $10 Early Bird fee is now $25 and you used to be able to get A15-30 for that fee if you booked early enough. A1-15 has always been a higher fee but we’ve never used that so we don’t know what the price was. For $50, I’d pay that but only on a flight such as TransPacific. Personally, I can’t imagine flying in a 3 seat situation for 5-6 hours but for many that is the only way to afford SW. Unfortunately for us, their schedule doesn’t match our needs in any way.

  5. Almost exactly what I would have expected on Southwest. We have not taken them to Hawaii, since we “standardized” on Hawaiian Air back in 2018. I will say that we do enjoy the 2-4-2 seating on the A330 with Hawaiian. Competition is good for the industry!

  6. My wife and I have not yet flown on SW to Hawaii. We have taken many trips with them anywhere they fly on the mainland. SW is usually our first choice wherever they fly. Our experience mirrors Jeff’s. One of our favorite routes was Denver to Dulles when visiting the DC area.

  7. We have flown SW to Hawaii about 6x since they began flying there. We find everything about the airline to usually wonderful & we don’t mind the lack of food because what they serve on planes as we choose healthy foods over processed and prefer to bring our own snacks. Comparably, prices have outweighed any other factor–last year and the beginning of 2022 I paid $48 and $77 one way fares from LA and SJC to Kona and Oahu! We have a companion pass and I qualified for A-list which gives us a free ticket for 2 years and we are guaranteed A1-15 for everyone on my confirmation number. We travel to Maui in October with 6 adults and 1 child on my confirmation number! For us, there is no comparison 🙂

    1. You are my hero! We have scored similar deals on Hawaii flights, most sitting in a chair with more leg room than the other alternatives. Once we hit retirement and are able to make better use of a companion ticket we will jump on it and be like you!

  8. Funny you say the was very narrow when in fact it’s one of the widest economy seats in the air… especially across the central pacific… maybe you sat in the first row where the trays are sowed into the armrest? Those are indeed more narrow but the rest of the cabin… no.

  9. We love flying SWA-been our family’s main ✈️ for 25 years. Never have had a bad experience w/ them – even during a tornado on the runway in Denver, a lost wallet pre-flight in Kona, and a blizzard. Flying other airlines just feels weird at this point.

    1. I think he said he had A59. Early Bird don’t give you A1-A15, that’s reserved for Business Select. So there was a pretty good chance that those seats were already taken.

      Personally, I’m also a big fan of Southwest, but only for short flights. Anything more than an hour or two and I also find that the seats become uncomfortable. But, on the other hand, the same can be said for any other airline’s economy class. The difference is that on the other airlines I have the choice to upgrade to something more comfortable which I don’t on SW. Therefore for me, I prefer to fly Delta or Hawaiian when traveling to Hawaii.

    2. Speaking for all tall people (I am 6′ 7″ tall), may I respectfully suggest that you save the exit rows to those of us who really Need the extra leg room? It is exponentially more uncomfortable for those of us over about 6′ 3″ to sit in the regular seats on Any airline. So as us tall people walk onboard and see some 5′ 2″ person sitting in the exit row it really adds insult to injury just because they happened to check in 2 seconds earlier than me…..

    3. One if the big complaints from Southwest flight attendants is the people who board first all trying to find seats in the front.. It would be much better if they found the seats throughout the plane. It hinders the boarding process and there’s no real benefit except you save a few minutes getting off.

      Flights to Hawaii are not their strong suit.. Flights are often diverted for fuel especially from Las Vegas. Just one drink service and no food for purchase on these long flights. Alaska on the other hand has three drink services plus food for purchase and snack packs. They need to improve their service to Hawaii.

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