Southwest needs cities to expand to. While their archetypal route is short-distance and high frequency, they’ve got a huge hole in their route network in travel to the Hawaiian islands. They used to offer codeshares to Hawaii with ATA, an airline that offered up to 70 flights a week from Southwest cities at the time it entered chapter 11 bankruptcy nearly a decade ago.
Hawaii service has been speculated for years. In December 2010 they advertised for an ETOPS manager suggesting they were planning long overwater flights.
Finally this year service has begun to seem imminent. At the airline’s shareholders meeting in May CEO Gary Kelly described Hawaii as a high priority.
In July Kelly said that “it’s not if we’re going to go, it’s when we go” and oh by the way don’t expect meals inflight despite the distance.
Southwest is working to maintain its position as the major player in California, but that’s tough to do without California – Hawaii service which both Alaska Airlines and United offer (not to mention American and Delta).
Overnight they finally announced:
- that they do intend to fly to Hawaii
- they’re working to get planes certified to fly long distances overwater (“ETOPS” certification, Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards also known as “Engines Turn or Passengers Swim”)
- and they’ll sell tickets next year.
Oddly Southwest will start flights using Boeing 737-800 aircraft and not their new 737 MAXs although that’s temporary and overwater service will ultimately be on the newer long range aircraft.
They’ve said they’ll fly initially between California and Hawaii but haven’t announced specific cities yet, what date tickets go on sale, or what the date of inaugural service will be. Southwest also says they’re considering interisland flights within Hawaii.
Surprising to many Southwest Airlines is the largest carrier of domestic passengers. They offer a consistent product that’s great for short haul, and leisure passengers benefit from no checked baggage fees and boarding together it’s usually easy to get seats together at no extra charge (Southwest has no preassigned seating). And they promise lower fares than are currently in the market.
However while Southwest has more legroom than is standard on American and United, they do use the same B/E Aerospace Meridien seats on their newer aircraft which I find fine on my regular Washington National – Austin flight but slimline seats for five hours may be pushing it. And Southwest has suggested in the past that they don’t plan to serve meals on their Hawaii flights either.