FANTASTIC: Southwest Announces It Will Serve Hawaii From 2018

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The airline that so many of us have been hoping will one day fly to Hawaii has finally said that it plans to do exactly that. In an address to employees Southwest CEO Gary Kelly confirmed that the airline plans to operate flights between the continental US and Hawaii from next year.

The news that Southwest will enter the Hawaii market was also broadcast on Twitter….but in a somewhat strange way.

The Southwest Twitter team chose to break the news of the airline’s latest route plans by responding to a tweet from a Hawaii resident…..

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….which dates back to 2008!

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Still, it doesn’t really matter how the announcement was made, what matters is that Southwest will finally fly the 5+ hours across the Pacific and add the Hawaiian Islands to its network.

Here’s what Gary Kelly had to say on the airline’s community website:

I just shared with our Employees at our Spirit Party at Universal Studios: we’re going to Hawaii, baby! That’s right—the day is finally here that we can say we’re going to add some Aloha to our world-famous Hospitality, as Southwest Airlines will soon serve the Hawaiian Islands!

We intend to begin selling tickets in 2018, and while we’re not quite ready to offer our Customers specific schedule or market information, tonight’s announcement is going to be big news within the industry. Those Southwest shockwaves of our terrific value and bar-setting Customer Service will be a game-changing addition in the U.S. transpacific market.

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Southwest Isn’t Quite Ready For Hawaii

Southwest isn’t quite ready to fly to Hawaii as it still needs to get FAA certification for its ETOPS-equipped aircraft before they’re permitted to fly part-way across the Pacific. Clearly the airline doesn’t believe this is going to be any kind of major obstacle or they wouldn’t be making this announcement right now….but it’s still a hurdle for Southwest to clear.

The airline doesn’t yet have the right aircraft for Hawaii either…or at least not enough of the right aircraft.

Once ETOPS certification is received Southwest will operate its first route(s) to Hawaii using its 737-800 aircraft….but it’s the latest 737 MAX 8 aircraft (of which the airline has just ten) that is the long-term future of Southwest’s Hawaii routes.

a blue and red airplane flying in the skySouthwest 737 MAX 8 – Image courtesy of Southwest

Why The Excitement?

The main reason for the excitement is that a lot of us are hoping that the introduction of Southwest into the Hawaii market will see fares drop significantly.

The legacy airlines operating the routes between the continental US and Hawaii haven’t, up until now, had to deal with a budget carrier competing directly with them….now that’s exactly what they’re facing.

Not only is Southwest known for offering fares at a very attractive levels but it’s also generally considered to be an airline with very strong customer service….and not at all what you may expect from a budget airline.

On the one hand you cannot reserve a seat on Southwest (you simply choose a seat when you board) while, on the other hand, the airline allows customers two free checked bags….which is incredible for a US carrier.

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Generally speaking Southwest staff are considered amongst the nicest in the business and people genuinely love the way the airline handles itself – while most of the legacy carriers are generally reviled Southwest is hugely popular.

Add to that the fact that one of the best domestic airline benefits is the Southwest Companion pass and you should start to understand why having Southwest offer flights to/from Hawaii is really great news.

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There has been no hit from Southwest as to which routes it plans to fly but I’ll be very surprised if we don’t see LA being announced as the base for Southwest’s first routes to the islands.

Southwest has already said that California will be the launching point for its routes to Hawaii (not really surprising) and, although Oakland is on a par with LA as far as Southwest’s west coast bases go, LA is by far the more prestigious of the two.

San Diego and San Jose may get routes to Hawaii too but I’d expect the airline’s focus to be on LA at the outset.

Bottom Line

On the basis that I tweeted a request for Southwest and Jetblue to start service to Hawaii back in the summer I’m sure you can guess my feelings on this news…..but I’ll say it anyway – I’m delighted!

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If you’re based on the west coast you can fly eastwards for 5 hours for $250 – $350 pretty much all year round but when it comes to flying the same distance (roughly speaking) westwards, the prices are nearly double that for large parts of the year.

With Southwest entering the fray there’s a good chance we’ll finally see a bit of downward pressure on fares to and from Hawaii….and it’s about time.


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