For quite some time now, rumors have been flying that Southwest would begin Hawaii flights. Confidence in the truth to those rumors increased over the past few weeks as some Southwest gates were decorated with leis and hibiscus. Hints were also shared via the Southwest twitter account.
To make things official, Southwest President Tom Nealon and Hawaii Governor David Ige made a joint announcement via satellite from Waikiki Beach. The information was presented first to a company party attended by around 10,000 employees and has quickly spread through the media.
What Will They Fly?
Southwest plans to fly their 737 MAX 8 aircraft on their new routes to Hawaii. They received the first 9 of these 175-seat planes on October 1, 2017 and expect to have at least 14 in service by the end of the year.
The Southwest 737 MAX 8 is a single class aircraft offering 32 inches of pitch between seats. This means there will be no business class, no first class, and certainly no lie-flat beds on these flights from Southwest. If you aren’t willing to make the trip in a regular economy class seat, these new flights definitely aren’t for you.
One thing holding up the launch of service with the 737 MAX 8 is that the plane still needs to be ETOPS certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. This certification measures the distance a plane can fly on 1 engine, and it is necessary since the 737 is only a 2-engine aircraft (and flights to Hawaii involve a significant distance and time over open water).
When Will Flights Start?
The exact timing of the inaugural Hawaii flights is still a bit up in the air. In fact, the routes haven’t even been announced yet. Southwest did indicate that their large presence in California would likely lead to at least some Hawaii flights from there, but they are not ready to announce all of the planned routes at this time.
Rather than sharing a start date for flights, Southwest simply stated that they expect tickets to go on sale sometime in 2018. They do not want to be more specific at this time, at least until they are given a better timeline from the FAA for the certification of their planes. Without that certification, they can’t launch flights, and they do not want to announce a launch date now and end up having to change it later.
Southwest executives also mentioned that they are currently evaluating the viability of providing inter-island flights, as well as flights to other nearby islands. If they decide to move forward with these, they will likely begin sometime after the mainland to Hawaii flights launch.
What Will It Cost?
Specific pricing wasn’t announced by Southwest for these new Hawaii routes, but they did indicate that they will offer fares lower than what is currently available in the marketplace.
Airline experts seem to agree that it will be difficult for Southwest to cut costs because they are flying smaller planes than their competitors.
Southwest disagrees and is confident they can make the smaller aircraft work. Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Watterson confirms: “Our seat-mile costs are below (other airlines serving Hawaii) and we will offer lower fares than currently are in the marketplace. You can count on that.”
Southwest beginning service to Hawaii is great news, and the fact that they say prices will be lower than what is currently available is even better news.
Huge numbers of Americans travel between the mainland and Hawaii each year, and increased service options and lower prices will likely drive overall costs in the market down.
Those people who have a Southwest Companion Pass should be especially excited about this news. They will be able to fly 2 people for the price of 1, whether they use points or pay for a flight. Combined with the lower prices, this looks like it will be one of the best values available for flights to Hawaii.
We will have to wait and see exactly what pricing looks like and when flights will actually begin, but you can bet that lots of Americans will be eagerly awaiting this newly announced service.
All photos courtesy of Southwest Airlines.