An Update on Southwest’s Hawai’i Plans

If you thought I was done with the Boyd Conference, you’re wrong.  I’m just slow.  While I was there, I had the chance to sit with Southwest EVP and Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Watterson. We talked about a variety of topics, but there were two that stood one.  One, the so-called “short-haul renaissance” is a topic of a future post.  Today, let’s talk about Hawai’i. 

Over time, Southwest has expertly dribbled out bit and pieces of information regarding its upcoming Hawai’i service.  The slow drip has given Southwest a silly amount of free press coverage… and now I’ll be doing the same.  There’s nothing earth-shattering here.  File this under “we’re still on track.”

Ticket Sales Still Expected By Year-End

If you recall Southwest said it would start selling tickets to Hawai’i by the end of 2018, but that didn’t mean it would actually fly this year. We’re in September, and so far, no tickets have been sold.  So will this still be happening as planned?

Andrew chose his words carefully when he said, “we have said we plan to be for sale by the end of this year.”  He’s sticking by that saying the plan hasn’t changed, but he added, “and if we’re fortunate to fly by the end of this year….”

Say what?  It’s already September, and Southwest still thinks it can fly by the end of the year?  Apparently it will if it can.  The airline is going through the ETOPS certification process so it can fly twin engine aircraft over the long stretch of water between California and Hawai’i.  This is a government process, and when approval comes is far from certain.  If the government gives Southwest the go-ahead, it will do a mid-schedule load and start flying quickly.  How quickly remains to be seen, but this won’t be a typical Southwest move of extending the schedule and then tacking Hawai’i on at the end.  It will happen fast.

As Andrew correctly notes, “nobody will remember the day we started, but they’ll remember we started poorly.”  In other words, if they publish a schedule and then ETOPS certification doesn’t come through in time, there will be a lot of angry people.  Southwest would rather just wait and then start flying quickly even though it won’t have a long booking window to prop up those early flights.

(As a side note, my suggestion to acquire DC-10s if ETOPS certification doesn’t come through was shot down.  Andrew prefers the L-1011.  Sadly, neither option seems feasible.)

A New Terminal Area in Honolulu

There has been a lot of discussion about Honolulu’s airport not having enough capacity during peak hours of the day, from about 11am to 2pm.  With Southwest not flying redeyes, it is going to need airport space during those peak hours, so what will the airline do?

Fortunately for Southwest, Island Air went under.  Island Air was building a ground-level concourse extension to the Diamond Head Concourse which wasn’t finished.  Southwest has decided to take that over and create its own gate area.

Andrew says “It’ll be the nicest part of the airport… new, ample bathrooms, a Starbucks, a Kona Brewing Company, nice seating. And it’ll have a walkway out to the airplanes with Diamond Head in the background.”  Passengers will board via ramps up to the aircraft.

No News on Interisland Flying

Since I know this question is going to come up in the comments, I figured I’d address it.  Southwest still has no news to report on its decision to also fly interisland services.  I’m expecting a handful of frequencies in key markets, so nothing like the half-hourly shuttles that you find on Hawaiian.  But of course, I could be totally wrong.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Is Hawai’i Worth It?

I asked Andrew if he thought Hawai’i flying was still worth it looking back on what the airline has gone through.  After all, there are a lot of places where Southwest could have put those airplanes and other resources (including tech).  While there was zero chance he’d say “nah, we blew it,” I knew he’d give me some color on why he thought it was still worthwhile:

These are very big markets, and they’re very important to our California customers. Those are two good reasons to do it. It’s also quite high-priced. We fly from San Diego to Baltimore today, and that’s about the same distance as San Diego to Honolulu. The market fares are about a hundred bucks higher to Honolulu. That looks to us like a juicy fare. Oakland to Baltimore we fly; Oakland to Maui is about the same distance. That one is only $75 higher than the Baltimore fare but these are big markets, prices are high so it makes complete sense to add this to our California franchise.

The market dynamics are very different in these markets, of course.  Hawai’i has fewer cheap sale fares and fewer full fare business travelers.  It just sells a lot more in the middle than you’ll find in most markets.  But that didn’t seem to faze Andrew.  The average fare is still higher than other markets, and Southwest sees an opportunity.  But don’t overlook that first sentence about it being important to California customers.  Southwest is fighting off Alaska in California, and today, it can’t compete with Alaska’s Hawaiian network.  This will open up a new front in the war, for better or worse.

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Sam
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Sam

How was your photoshop illustration not a Southwest DC10?

Andrew
Guest

Why is ETOPS certification such a process? The 737’s going through the process have already been certified many times with other airlines…the airplane obviously has the technical capability. You would think once an aircraft type is certified, it would be fairly easy for an additional operator to become certified as well.

Anon
Guest

FedEx is currently certifying the B767 for ETOPS. A frame that has been doing ocean crossings for a long time, with an operator who has been doing ETOPS ops for a long time. Still has to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

Kilroy
Guest

As grichard mentioned, ETOPS certification involves both the aircraft and the airline. Even if other airlines already operate the same aircraft ETOPS, even if on similar routes, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy for anyone who owns the plane can do so as well. While I agree that WN certainly has the technical capability, there are a lot of maintenance, operations, and flying procedures and training that need to be developed and implemented. As much as I hate government red tape, and as frustrated as I’m sure WN is by the pace of the process, this makes sense to me.… Read more »

grichard
Guest

They’re certifying the airline’s maintenance processes, not just the airframe.

Miss Informed
Guest

The only thing I can foresee is that there is going to be an abundance of flying feathers and shreds of fabric (as in “losing one’s shirt”) in the airspace between the west coast and Hawaii. I sincerely doubt there’s a real need for Southwest to enter the market. The so-called Southwest Effect is based on getting people out of their cars and into Southwest’s seats, Unless they’re aware of some pent-up demand that’s just waiting for them to take advantage of, I suspect the demand is already being met. I’d be more optimistic if there wasn’t quite so much… Read more »

Peter Richards
Member

Re: DC-10’s, L 1011 flights by Southwest to Hawaii ? I would like to see some simple economic analysis for these old wide body planes, vs. the Southwest contemporary 737 series airplanes, including freight hauling ability. The comfort level on a wide body plane for a 5 hour flight, with reasonable seat pitch, (34 inches ?) is far greater than what is in the market today on all the 737’s currently flying to Hawaii. Alaska main cabin coach seat pitch is currently 31 to 32 inches, according to their website. United 737-800 main cabin coach seat pitch is 31 inches.… Read more »

Kilroy
Guest

If I lived on the West Coast and had some flexibility in taking time off, I’d be tempted to save some vacation time and money for a (relatively) last minute trip to Hawaii. Sounds like there may be some deals to be had if Southwest starts selling tickets to Hawaii only a few weeks before the flights actually start, and a promotion like, “$99 tickets to Hawaii” when Southwest opens the route would drive a lot of media coverage as well.

Matthew
Member
Matthew

Has JetBlue considered throwing their hat into the Hawaii ring? Or would that just be a massive waste of money for them?

Kapil
Guest
Kapil

Given that Hawaiian, a relatively close partner, flies to and presumably carries many connecting fliers from LGB, duplicating such a service on JetBlue metal in the absence of a JV would pose some interesting dynamics.

Kilroy
Guest

Interesting question. Given that Hawaii is primarily a leisure market, if JetBlue were to try to serve Hawaii, I’d be curious to see if they would implement Mint on the routes, or else what they would offer for more premium options.

I’m not very familiar with the Hawaiian market myself, but it’s fun to think about.

Kapil
Guest
Kapil

JetBlue could add Mint, and it would lower the weight on the plan (passengers as well as associated cargo), but who would pay for the seats?

Tim Dunn
Member

WN’s engine failure/accident is bound to have impacted its ETOPS application esp. since there were also calls for a more in-depth review of WN’s relationship with the FAA. They will get their ETOPS certificate but it is wise to wait until it is approved before announcing schedules. Over-promising and not being able to deliver is a death warrant when trying to enter a new market, esp. since WN has hyped the addition of Hawaii to its network. It likely will be AS that will be most impacted by WN’s new Hawaii flights primarily because the two overlap in the large… Read more »

Matt D
Guest

Naw. Southwest has a reputation that’s pretty much air tight and bullet proof. Like Apple, Costco, or Facebook. Sure, they have their detractors and the occasional ‘oopsy-daisy’. But overall, ain’t ‘nufin’ gonna bring them down. Ever. They still have more or less favored status with the FAA and I fully expect them to get rubber stamped and approved with ETOPS.

Tim Dunn
Member

Please show us how to get “favored status with the FAA” and who has it. All airlines have to play by the same rules and the issue with WN’s ETOPS application is that they are pursuing what other airlines have had since the concept began. It isn’t an overnight process and it also isn’t a given that the FAA is just going to sign off on whatever WN presents to the FAA. and to Lisa’s comment below, it is worth noting that WN has the highest rate of maintenance outsourcing of the big 4 US airlines which means that the… Read more »

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

They should pay their maintenance employees what they deserve. SIX years no pay raise. And yes they could ground planes. Shame on SW for not recognizing the men and women that keep us safe. Record years of profit. Sad day for the founders of SW. Sure Herb and Colleen are heart broken.

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

Well, the maintenance employees rejected the negotiated raises and bonuses.

http://www.amfanational.org/?zone=/unionactive/view_page.cfm&page=Southwest20Airlines

subs
Member

“Andrew prefers the L-1011.”

Truly a wise man.

Chris
Guest

Agreed. I flew on the DAL Tristar from ATL to Hawaii when I was a kid. God that was a great aircraft, even with the cigarette smoke permeating throughout the cabin.

Anthony
Member
Anthony

SWA could probably pick up a few A340s at nice prices…

Peter Richards
Member

Anthony, so how much is a used A 340 these days. ? Lufthansa is currently operating them on their new San Diego to Frankfurt flight, non stop. That is an 11 hour + trip. I can’t quickly find how many A 340’s LH operates today. LH first flew the A 340 in March, 1993, source Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airbus_A340

Regarding the ETOPS issue, do you think anyone would be more ‘comfortable’ on a four engine plane, A 340, vs. a two engine plane, 737, between the West Coast and Hawaii. ??

David M
Guest

Being more “comfortable” with four or two engines is no longer a consideration. For a long time Hawaii was mostly a trijet market with mostly DC-10s and L-1011s, but these days everything flying there is a twin ranging in size from the 737 to the 777.

So if someone doesn’t want to fly a twin to Hawaii, they don’t have many options. Maybe something that goes via Asia, like LAX-ICN on a KE or OZ A380, then a hop over to KIX to catch an AirAsiaX A340 to HNL.

Larry Hughes
Member
Larry Hughes

Looks like SWA flights will be only out of CA….

southbay flier
Guest

The only other places a 737 could make it to Hawaii from the US would be PHX, LAS, RNO, PDX, and SEA. PHX would push the limits of the 737s range and be tricky in the summer with weight restrictions due to heat. Same with LAS. RNO is way too small of a market. PDX and SEA are AS hubs and that would be a big money losing pit for WN. I think WN also stated they were going to fly out of SMF, OAK, SJC, and SAN, so they are avoiding UA’s hubs in SFO and LAX as well.

Mike C
Member

New to the blog. Would like to fly Southwest to Hawaii.
What is best way to get fastest notification of WN opening up ticket sales to Hawaii??

Sean McQ
Guest

From Mr. Watterson’s comments it doesn’t seem like WN is looking to lower prices to the islands but instead get a better return than on a transcon flight. The people who are most looking forward to WN flying to Hawaii are the Rewards members who want to use their companion passes. SMF and SAN would be strong for locals only if WN matches prices out of LAX and SFO otherwise they’ll still make the drive to save the $$

Benjamin
Guest
Benjamin

Is Southwest’s only interest (for now) in west coast passengers flying to Hawaii? Or will they create fares and connections for people who might want to fly to Hawaii from Baltimore, Dallas, Chicago, etc.., with a change in LA? I can’t imagine they will try to lure an east coast vacationer away from the behemoth carriers (at this point), or that cross-continent travelers will want to spend 12 hours in Southwest 737s… but then what do I know.

matt weber
Member

The DC10 is an aircraft that was built to a cost, it contains (and always has) a lot of poor engineering, which is why so many DC10 hulls have been lost in accidents and many more have nearly been lost due to those issues.. The D10 has killed a lot of people.

The L1011 was much better engineered, and in general cost less to operate. Airlines liked the D10 because of the price, other than that, it had absolutely no redeeming values.

Nick Barnard
Member

I’m sure if you tossed FedEx or UPS enough money and a few 767s they’d gladly sell you their MD-10s and MD-11s. The biggest problem would be to find someone to do a F2P conversion on them..

Kilroy
Guest

How often are F2P conversions actually done on mainline planes? It’s always the other way around, for obvious reasons…

Nick Barnard
Member

Honestly, I’ve never heard of it.. I’m sure it could be done if you decided to pay enough…

(I was mostly following through on the joke.)

Spirit FF
Member

ETOPS Certification/Hawaii announcement are contingement upon approval of the mechanics contract by the rank and file. They just voted it down!

Jaison.thompson
Member
Jaison.thompson

No ETOPS and Hawaii was never continent on the passing on the TA.
Only thing holding WN back is the FAA.

Alex Rodriguez
Guest
Alex Rodriguez

Oh no, RAMPS! Hopefully there will not be any buses involved in between the gates and the jet because at PUJ, its like the last helicopter out of Vietnam trying to get from the bus to the ramp. All the A-List and early birds get trampled under foot by an army of C boarding group soldiers.