If there’s one good thing that’s come out of this pandemic for the airlines, it’s a renewed willingness to experiment. With the exception of Delta — which doesn’t seem interested in trying anything new on the network side — airlines have all been looking at wild new ideas to see what might stick. Desperation breeds creativity, and some of these efforts can result in long term gain. Hawaiian is no exception to this, and it has recently announced four new routes which come with varying degrees of risk.
I’ve already written this up in Cranky Network Weekly, but I decided I had more to say than that format will allow on the two riskiest new routes. Both Long Beach – Kahului and Ontario – Honolulu fit into solid, existing strategies, so there’s no need to dig into that. But Orlando and Austin? Oh yeah, there’s a lot to talk about.
Orlando – Honolulu 2x Weekly Starts March 11
When I saw that Hawaiian was going to fly to Orlando, I had to read it again to make sure I had it right. On the surface, this seems like a ridiculous idea, but underneath there is method to the madness.
Hawaiian will fly this route twice a week. The airplane leaves Honolulu at 5:15pm on Thursdays and Saturdays. It arrives Orlando the next day at 7am. The airplane then sits 25 hours and 15 minutes in Orlando before flying back to Honolulu at 8:15am on Tuesdays and Saturdays. It gets back to Honolulu at 2:05pm.
That is an incredible amount of aircraft time to spend on this route, but aircraft time is something Hawaiian has in spades right now. Demand is low. Very low. In particular, Hawaiian isn’t flying much internationally at all, so it has a lot of A330s sitting around with nothing better to do. The idea of sitting an airplane on the ground in Orlando for 24+ hours would have seemed insane before. But now, that airplane isn’t needed anywhere else, so there’s no need to hurry.
Just because you can leave it on the ground for so long doesn’t mean you should. So why is Hawaiian doing this? Well, they can use the same crew to fly the airplane back when they do it this way. The flight from Honolulu to Orlando is blocked at 8h45m with the return at 10h50m. Crews need longer rest periods after such a long flight. If that Saturday flight arrived Sunday and turned right around, they’d need another crew to fly the airplane home. The first crew would then be in a hotel until the new flight back a few days down the line. By keeping the crew with the airplane, they just need one night in a hotel and one less crew away from home. It lowers costs… as long as you don’t need the airplane elsewhere. And Hawaiian doesn’t.
This explains why it’s being scheduled the way it is, but it still doesn’t explain why Hawaiian would want to fly this route at all. I’ve always assumed that most people in Orlando are going to the Caribbean since it’s so close. How was this one of the next flights on the airline’s wish list?
Boy, was I in for a surprise. I turned to Cirium DOT O&D data to find out what traffic looked like on this route in 2019. It turns out that Orlando is the second biggest market on the mainland that didn’t have nonstop service to Hawai’i. (The first, for the record, is Baltimore.) Orlando had 155.9 passengers per day each way in 2019, and that is remarkable to me. Thrown in another 70 from Tampa, many of which would likely drive the couple hours for a nonstop option, and you have a pretty sizable base. How does it break down by airline?
2019 Daily Passengers Each Way Between Orlando and Hawai’i
It’s no surprise that it’s the big three who carry the travelers via their inland or West Coast hubs, but I was surprised to see United having the highest share. This is good news for Hawaiian, and I’ll talk about that at the end of the post in greater detail as to why.
Not enough to get you thinking this is a good idea? Let me give you one more stat. Again, looking at the DOT O&D data via Cirium, here are the top mainland markets with more than 15 passengers per day each way by percent of traffic that originates in Hawai’i.
2019 Percent of Traffic Originating in Hawai’i By Destination
Las Vegas is far and away the winner, and that is in no way surprising for a place that Hawai’i residents affectionately call the Ninth Island. Hawaiian has long served that market well with schedules that appeal to locals. Washington/National is going to be government/military traffic, but that’s not an airport Hawaiian could serve even if it wanted to. Then there’s Orlando right there at number three on the list. I guess the locals don’t think Disneyland can cut it, so they head over to Orlando to see the mouse.
Regardless of the reason, what this does is make it easier for Hawaiian to sell that flight. It has no brand loyalty in Florida, but it has plenty in Hawai’i. And if it can fill up more than a third of its seats with local residents, then that’s already a big step forward. The more I look at the numbers, the more I like this idea.
Austin – Honolulu 2x Weekly Starts April 21
On the surface, this Austin flight may seem similar, but there is a very different dynamic going on there compared to Orlando. Think of it this way. A whole lot of Californians have moved to Austin over the years, and those are people with an affinity for Hawai’i. So, Hawaiian has set up service to mimic what they could have had back on the West Coast.
The flight departs Honolulu at 10am Wednesdays and Saturdays. It arrives in Austin at 10:10pm. The next morning it leaves at 10:10am and gets back to Honolulu at 1:30pm. You’ll undoubtedly notice that this is a daytime flight from Hawai’i. Until this, there were no daytime flights going further east than Phoenix.
This can work two ways. There are some people who prefer the redeyes, and today almost all of their options involve one. They won’t care about this flight. But for those who don’t like redeyes, the only other option is to do an early morning flight to the West Coast, connect, and get home late at night. That only works from Honolulu. Now, there’s a much simpler option that works from all the neighbor islands as well. It’s going to have strong appeal for those people who really don’t want redeyes. (Think families with little kids, a significant portion of Hawai’i traffic.)
This lets Hawaiian try to capture a time-sensitive segment of the market, but it also does something else. It helps Hawaiian be more efficient with crews. If it were to fly a redeye and then turn the airplane back around, it would need one crew for each flight, and as in Orlando, they’d have to sit around for awhile in Austin. But this way, the crew that flies in that night can fly it out the next morning, exactly 12 hours later. It’s a shorter flight, so less rest is required.
I’ve heard some say that this isn’t very good utilization with a 12 hour sit, but that’s the historical norm for West Coast flying. Airplanes arrive in the evening, spend the night, and fly back out the next day on nearly all flights. In this case, utilization isn’t a big problem.
Do enough people want to fly to fill this up? Anecdotes are nice, but data says… yes as well. Remember I said Orlando was the second largest unserved mainland market? Well, Austin is the third with 144.5 daily each way. You have to also consider San Antonio, however, which adds another 88.5. I’d assume at least some of the good people of San Antonio won’t mind the drive to get a nonstop.
Today, here’s how it breaks down by airline:
2019 Daily Passengers Each Way Between Austin and Hawai’i
Unsurprisingly, this is American country, and American has the largest share. But take a look at United in second place, following its first place finish in Orlando. That is remarkable. In 2019, United carried only about 13 percent of Austin passengers overall and 9 percent in Orlando. This shows just how strong United is in Hawai’i to pull off these market share numbers. But it also suggests these people aren’t United loyalists and are just going with the best option for the Hawai’i trip. With no loyalty clouding judgment, that should create a great opportunity for Hawaiian to pull traffic.
There’s a lot to like in these new markets, but they are unquestionably risky. The difference is that when you have airplanes sitting around with nothing better to do, the level of actual risk decreases markedly. The needle then shifts to, “well, might as well take a swing and see what happens.” That makes this a whole lot of fun to watch.