How do you choose between Southwest and Hawaiian when booking flights between islands? Here are ways to decide which airline suits your needs for interisland travel in Hawaii.
An analysis of costs, bag fees, seating, legroom, and atmosphere. Plus, our tips.
Tickets, Bags, Early Boarding, and More.
1. Ticket Cost. When both airlines compete together on routes, pricing is often the same. But not always. Prices are moving up after years of competitive $39 one-way airfares. The range is now typically between $100 and $200 round-trip on both carriers. But even then, the total flight cost can fluctuate greatly depending on how many bags you check and additional add-on fees you might select.
2. Checked bags. Here’s where you can save. Southwest doesn’t charge for two checked bags per passenger, but Hawaiian does. Expect to be charged $25 for the first and $35 for the second bag.
Tip: Join HawaiianMiles at no cost, and that will reduce your checked bag fees to $15 for the first bag and $20 for the second bag interisland. If you have premium status with Hawaiian or their branded, annual-fee credit card, checked bag fees may be waived.
3. Seat assignments. Hawaiian does offer them, while Southwest does not.
On Hawaiian, reserved seats are available without additional cost. But these can be toward the back of the plane, especially at popular times or when booking last minute.
Tip: The further out you book, the more choice you’ll have for free seating on Hawaiian Airlines. Seat assignments better ensure that everyone in your group will be seated together.
Southwest has its own challenges in terms of getting seats. It isn’t an issue for those familiar with the airline’s boarding and seat selection process. But lining up to board can be stressful for some, and while we do it, we never really like it. Then too, at popular times or with last-minute bookings, you may end up near the back of the plane due to low boarding priority.
Onboard Seating and Legroom.
1. Seating configurations. There are significant differences in seating between Hawaiian and Southwest when flying interisland.
A. Southwest Boeing 737 MAX 8. Seating is in a 3 x 3 configuration.
B. Hawaiian Boeing 717. Seating is in a 2 x 3 configuration, allowing couples to be seated together without a third person.
2. Legroom. There’s more on Southwest. The seat pitch on Hawaiian 717 is listed as 30-31 inches on SeatGuru. The Southwest 737 MAX 8 has a published seat pitch of 32 inches.
Tip: Hawaiian does offer an option for significantly more legroom interisland at a nominal fee. For $10, the exit rows and the first rows of economy are great both for comfort, priority boarding, and, in the case of row 4, for example, quick exit from the aircraft on arrival.
3. Seat width and comfort. Hawaiian and Southwest provide adequate comfort in our experience, especially for the short distance of Hawaii interisland flights.
Atmosphere, entertainment, USB charging.
1. Atmosphere onboard. We still consider this to be a toss-up based on personal preference. While the Hawaiian crew exudes a distinct island feeling, we find the Southwest crew to be customer-centric, engaged, and proactive, albeit in a mainland way.
2. Entertainment. The view will be the only source of entertainment flying interisland at the low, typically 15,000-foot altitude between islands.
3. USB charging. Southwest is in the process of adding USB-A and -C chargers at every seat. Hawaiian does not provide charging. BOH editors have yet to see an aircraft with the chargers installed.
4. WiFi. Southwest has $8 WiFi on all its flights, even on short interisland flights. While free Hawaiian Airlines WiFi is now arriving on mainland aircraft, there is no plan to add Wi-Fi on interisland flights.
5. Beverages. Both airlines provide water. Hawaiian takes it further with a choice of POG fruit drink throughout the day or coffee in the morning.
Checklist for choosing between Southwest and Hawaiian flying interisland:
- When an island feeling is not necessary, and you do not qualify for free bags on Hawaiian, consider Southwest.
- If you qualify for free bags on Hawaiian, choose Hawaiian and get a free seat assignment or a reasonably priced extra legroom upgrade.
- Should you prefer an island feel, including POG drink on your flight, pick Hawaiian.
- If you want USB charging, choose Southwest (pending fleet-wide installation).
- When you prefer premium options like first-class and extended legroom in economy, choose Hawaiian.
- If you are concerned about needing to cancel and rebook, choose Southwest. Hawaiian does not offer the ability to re-deposit and use funds as easily as Southwest.
What criteria do you use in choosing Hawaiian or Southwest flying Hawaii interisland?