The biggest Hawaii travel news of the year broke yesterday: Southwest Airlines finally confirms Hawaii service.
After years of rumors and speculation, Southwest Airlines finally confirmed its intentions to begin service to Hawaii. But that’s about all the airline did yesterday.
What We Know So Far
Southwest’s announcement on Wednesday was very vague. This, of course, was on purpose. The Airline states that while they’re confident they’ll begin selling tickets in 2018, they don’t know much beyond that. And that’s because, despite the fact that the Airlines has aircraft (737 MAX 8) capable of reaching the islands, the Airline doesn’t have ETOPS certification itself. Certification is what’s currently standing in the way of beginning flights to Hawaii. However, it is an important, mandatory step that will take at least six months to complete.
Given that Southwest doesn’t yet have ETOPS certification, I’d guess that the earliest we could see the commencement of service is May 2018. However, it can and often does take longer to obtain certification, so we’ll likely see service begin in the latter half of 2018 to early 2019.
As far as routes go, no specifics have been mentioned yet. That being said, Southwest executives did say their large presence in California is an indication of where service will originate. Further, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Southwest is looking to serving all major islands directly. But the real shocker is the fact that the company acknowledges that it is considering interisland flights too.
A Real Game Changer for Hawaii
Southwest entering the Hawaii market has long been seen as a disruptive force. Fares between the U.S. Mainland and Hawaii will certainly see downwards pressure because of the Airline. However, no one expected Southwest to express interest in the interisland market, too. Should the Airline enter the interisland market, it could spell doom smaller airlines like Island Air. And even Hawaiian could experience financial difficulties, especially if Southwest is successful in capturing a good portion of the U.S. Mainland and interisland market.
But, Southwest’s success is by no means a sure thing. The Hawaii – West Coast market is already VERY crowded. And interisland flights could prove to be too challenging to operate. Especially is the Leap 1-B engines aren’t able to handle the extreme operating conditions of interisland flying. Afterall, Aloha Airlines wasn’t able to successfully operate interisland flights with its CFM56 equipped 737s.
Southwest Airlines FINALLY Confirms Hawaii Service, Final Thoughts
This announcement has been a long time coming. And hopefully, it will mean lower airfares across the board for travel between Hawaii and the West Coast. However, very little is known about Southwest’s plans thus far, and will still be some time before service commences. So we’ll just have to sit tight and wait for more information as it becomes available. And in the meantime, be on the lookout for more Southwest + Hawaii posts from your’s truly.
The plan for Southwest providing inter island service is interesting. I wonder if they will be able to undercut Hawaiian for travelers without a “companion pass”? My experience has been that Southwest has been more expensive than the three legacy carriers for fares from my home airport to many destinations. On the same dates (chosen randomly) in January (17-24) a r/t ticket is $67-$77 more expensive from AUS-LAX. Of course, a companion pass changes things dramatically. I remember reading one of the major blogs a few years back and the contention was that Southwest entering a market often pushed fares higher. The winners will definitely be the folks with companion passes, especially those in California who qualify for the latest targeted offer.
Island Miler says
On the local news today, Southwest claims that they’d operate interisland flights much like they do short hops on the mainland. They tout that those flights are their bread and butter, and are often priced as low as $50. If Southwest can pull this off, they will most definitely undercut Hawaiian. I’m skeptical, though, as Aloha had difficulties and increased maintenance costs operating their CFM56 equipped aircraft on interisland routes. Plus, Hawaii not many Hawaii residents would likely become companion pass members, which (I’m guessing) would mean there wouldn’t be many of those passengers on interisland flights. Local people are (oddly) loyal to Hawaiian. I don’t think even Alaska Air has managed to make much of a dent locally, even with its amazing credit card companion certificate!
I don’t doubt Southwest eventually pushes fares higher, too. Especially if it can rid the area of competitors. And the interisland market has always been a really difficult one to remain viable in too, so we’ll see. Some analysts are predicting that Southwest will try Hawaii in some capacity for a while, they’ll lose too much money, and they’ll exit the market. I’m not going to be so skeptical, but I will say that it’s going to be a major uphill battle for them. West Coast to Hawaii is tight market, after all. But only time will tell.