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Tenacious Southwest Hawaii Refocus Includes New Fleet, Routes

Four years ago this month, Southwest Hawaii flights arrived in Honolulu. To this day, Southwest is a big deal here, no matter how you feel about them. Their arrival brought airfares down to some sustained, unexpectedly low levels, including the $39 airfares interisland still available and regular Hawaii airfares from the mainland as low as $119. Not only that, but the company offers a unique and high-quality Hawaii travel product that impressed us.

Hawaii is Southwest’s latest focus region.

One of the regular complaints about their Hawaii operation is that it has been controlled largely from the mainland. But now, the airline has opened a serious new operations support center at Honolulu airport. This is one of only 18 such centers Southwest maintains in its network.

Southwest’s COO (and ex-Hawaiian Airlines exec) Andy Watterson was in Honolulu last week to mark the center’s opening. He noted that Hawaii, which he knows as well as anyone, needs this type of operation center as much as focus cities of far greater size do.

Andy said, “Honolulu is a medium-sized airport, but it serves as an anchor for the other four island airports and Hawaii operations to the mainland.”

A new Honolulu command center coordinates gates, flight holds, and network Ops.

That means a local focus to help with flight delays, cancellations, changes of aircraft, and coordination with air traffic control. In other words, this is intended to keep Southwest’s Hawaii flights operating far more smoothly.

Andy said last week of this commitment, “This is what you do when you have an operation that is kind of a big scale, and you want to perform at a high level over a period of time: You spend the money to invest in that structure to support the operations over the long haul.”

Since Southwest arrived in Honolulu, they have gone from arguably the worst gates to the best at the airport. They also upgraded their luggage handling and check-in systems. The airline now uses the E gates, which are centrally located in the airport and have the most food and shopping options.

Southwest has grown to 700 Hawaii employees.

That compares with Hawaiian Air’s 7,000, so it’s interesting to note the difference in size. Today’s 700 is an increase of approximately 36 percent, however, compared with just last year at Hawaii’s five airports the airline serves. The company is still hiring more people in Hawaii and hopes to onboard another 50 in short order.

There are always rumors of Southwest contemplating a Honolulu crew base at some point, but that seems unlikely. They currently have bases at Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Orlando, and Phoenix.

The new fleet coming to Southwest Hawaii flights in 2024.

Southwest began in Hawaii with an existing fleet of ETOPS-certified Boeing 737-800 planes. That was because the MAX 8 fleet, planned for Hawaii, was grounded following the two deadly crashes. Once MAX flying resumed, Southwest moved their flights to utilize those more fuel-efficient aircraft.

The company has 192 MAX 7 planes on order, which have been delayed and are awaiting FAA certification. Southwest plans to move a significant portion of its Hawaii flights to the new plane type, which has 25 fewer seats than the current 175-passenger Max 8.

Watterson said last week, “When we get the MAX 7 certified, we’ll be using that interisland as well as to the mainland. Our business case for the neighbor island network always included MAX 7s. I anticipate spring or summer of 2024 is when they will be in revenue service.”

New Hawaii routes will come with Boeing 737 MAX-7.

For now, Southwest said they do not intend to make major changes to their schedule. But even before the new fleet, they do expect season variability in terms of both routes and frequencies.

But Southwest isn’t done with Hawaii. The airline clearly has its sights on flying to Hawaii from Denver, among other places, which, while well-served, is expensive and presents another opportunity for the airline. There are quite a number of possible new routes to Hawaii with this soon-to-be-arriving MAX-7 fleet. The mountain states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico are all possibilities. There are rumors too of some interest at Southwest in flying internationally from Hawaii to destinations in the Pacific. The maximum range of the MAX-7 is 3,850 miles, compared with the MAX-8’s 3,550 miles.

SWA: Hawaii market fares will prevail.

While Watterson said that “we pride ourselves on low fares,” that isn’t necessarily the case in every market. Here in Hawaii, it is more a function of the highly competitive situation prevailing with his old employer, Hawaiian Airlines.

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34 thoughts on “Tenacious Southwest Hawaii Refocus Includes New Fleet, Routes”

  1. Southwest’s current flight schedule for Hawaii does not list flights beyond labor day weekend, this despite the fact that it has published flights for all other markets through November. I’m wondering if they are planning to pull out of Hawaii after labor day and are attempting to do it quietly?

    1. LOL
      Not sure what flights or routes you are looking at but I can see any day of the week from Point A to Point B in Hawaii all the way up to Nov.

  2. Glad to see SWA is planning more for Hawaii, I always thought when Aloha went out that SWA should have bought up the airline at a bargain, since it was an all 737 airline also.

  3. need to add information on flights from east coast ie RDU to Hawaii. very difficult to do this with current website. thank you
    rdu to lih would be nice to know.

  4. Southworst. A predatory company that sets to be an aggressive player and chews more than they can swallow. Supporting them contributes to overtourism. (look up SWA effect).

    1. So eliminate SWA and overtourism goes away? And those low cost inter-island flights that the locals enjoy… you think those will stay is SWA were to disappear?

      1. I think the reason there is so much antagonism towards SWA is for the fact that they came to Hawaii in a very loud, arrogant and predatory fashion. They literally boasted about going after Hawaiian and Alaska with a large ceramic shark painted in SWA colors going after two small fish painted in HA and Alaska colors in their OAK offices. Just one example of their high level of arrogance and self congratulatory behavior. People moving to Hawaii that immediately start trying to speak pidgin and take as much out of Hawaii for themselves as they can are frowned upon. SWA embodies that attitude. Many cases of SWA disrespect out there, not the least being their “SWA effect” approach to the marketplace.

    2. They also do poor maintenance and treat new hire employees like trash. Horrible culture there. If my only option was southworst, I’d walk. In the case of getting to Hawaii, I’d swim. Thank goodness there are much better airlines that provide a better, safer and more comfortable flying experience than the cattle car know as southworst.

    3. SWA leaves an Hawaiian goes back to business as usual. Higher fares the locals can’t afford. SWA is a blessing. If you don’t like them, fly with the other guys

  5. Thanks for your information and insights relating to Hawaii – Mainland connections. When will SWA fly overnight connections to the mainland. Right now if the destination is mid-America the flight will arrive around midnight in Dallas and there are no connections from west coast arrivals. This situation requires overnight accommodations and a following morning resumption. I therefore fly SWA to Hawaii, one way. My return flight is on United or American with overnight flight and morning connecting flight to my final destination.

    I enjoy reading your daily blog.

    David K

    1. Hi David.

      Thanks. Great question. We responded to that a while ago by saying it’s been years since Southwest said it was coming. That’s all that we know unfortunately.


    2. Southwest has zero redeye flights in their entire network for an embarrassing reason: the computer system that still runs the airline was engineered 40+ years ago, and simply cannot handle flights that depart one day and arrive in another.

      That is also the most significant reason why their periodic “systemwide meltdowns” continue to occur, despite corporate lip service that changes will be made.

      1. Bill M, I’ve heard the same thing from multiple sources about their red eyes. One thing for sure, they certainly wouldn’t avoid them just because they think their employees wouldn’t like them. SWA was built on maximizing employee productivity. A cushy schedule for all is not something they prioritize, nor does any other airline!

    3. David,
      From what I understand, SW has no plans to change their overnight flight operation. They claim to do it for their employees.

      I enjoyed the article guys. The new Max 7 is of interest for new flight planning. I’m going to assume that other airlines will get it too.

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