Since the dawn of time, people have wondered when Southwest would start flying to Hawai’i. Now we finally know…ish, but we don’t know much. Last night, Southwest’s non-announcement merely confirmed what everyone knew was going to happen anyway. The airline will fly to Hawai’i. When and where, however, is entirely unclear. At least the airline’s promo campaign (ahem, slightly modified) acknowledges this:
So, if the announcement said nothing, then why is Southwest making any announcement at all? That’s a good question. If you ask the airline, it’s because the news will become public anyway. It has to start the long process to get certified for extended-range twin-engine operations (known as ETOPS). That’s required when an airline wants to fly with two engines over long stretches of water with no diversion airport nearby. This happens in the public eye, so instead of just letting eagle-eyed sleuths break the news that Southwest was going to fly far from land, the airline wanted to get ahead of the game. That being said, my guess is this is really more about the employees.
This was supposed to be announced before, but it was delayed. Why last night? Well, there was a “Spirit Party” in LA which is a pep rally for employees. There, CEO Gary Kelly came up on stage and let his Aloha shirt break the news before he even opened his mouth. Employees are undoubtedly very happy to hear about this, but it was still mostly just fluff.
To be fair, there were a few little nuggets to take away from this. For example, we know Southwest will start selling tickets at some point in 2018. That’s pretty vague. Southwest won’t say exactly when flights will start, because it has no clue how long it’ll take for ETOPS certification to come through, but it could be as late as 2019.
Here’s a surprise… this will actually start with 737-800s (presumably with a weight penalty) and not the MAX. I think most people assumed Southwest was just waiting until it could get enough MAXs along with ETOPS to start up service. But apparently this has now for some reason become such an important priority, it’s going to start with those -800s. That being said, Southwest made it clear this is temporary and the MAX will be the airplane for Hawai’i going forward.
All the questions you have about this can’t be answered yet, though we can narrow things down a bit. What routes will be flown? Um, ones between the mainland and the Hawaiian Islands. Oh, you want something more specific? Well, not Baltimore. I can confidently say that. Actually, Southwest snuck something into a blog post from CEO Gary Kelly saying Hawai’i flights will start from California. That’s not a surprise. Which cities? Oakland? LA? San Diego? San Jose? Sacramento? Sure, those are all possible. I’ll guess it won’t be Bakersfield though. You can quote me on that.
As for where the airline will go in Hawai’i, I guarantee it’s not Moloka’i. See, I’m just full of helpful knowledge. I’ll go even further. It’ll be Lihu’e, Honolulu, Kahului, or Kona and probably all four at some point.
What I found most surprising was something mentioned in an article in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. In it, the author notes “Southwest executives also acknowledged that they are evaluating offering interisland travel.”
Whoa, that would be… something. Whether this means a true interisland network or just something limited for operational reasons remains to be seen. Or maybe it’s nothing at all. But if Southwest did try to get into the interisland market in a big way, it might find it hits a brick wall.
As is the case in Alaska, air travel between cities in Hawai’i is a required part of life. The market is unique and Hawaiian knows it well. Southwest could come in with lower fares like others have before, but that doesn’t mean it can win. (Others… have not.) I’ll be curious to hear if this turns into something serious or not. While I don’t know that I like Southwest’s chances to succeed, I’m all for seeing the airline take a swing at it. At least locals can enjoy some lower fares for awhile.
That, however, is just speculation, as is most everything about Southwest’s Hawaiian service so far. The most burning question for most people is naturally around what this will do to fares. Southwest will be adding capacity to the market, and that will bring fares down. (Thanks, law of supply and demand.) But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Southwest artificially keep fares even lower in the beginning. It will want to look like a low fare leader at the start. What happens in the long run, however, well, we’ll just have to wait and see about that. Actually, we’ll be doing a lot of waiting and seeing with this one.