Southwest Airlines announced yesterday that they are finally going to start flying to Hawaii. Flights to the state will begin next year or in 2019. The news broke on Twitter with a response to a customer asking when they will enter the HI market.
Southwest plans to use its new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft, which it added earlier this month, to fly between the mainland and Hawaii. It must first receive regulatory approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for extended over-water operations, a process that will begin soon. As for routes and pricing, there’s no information yet, but from what Southwest executives has said, they expect to offer lower prices than what they currently see on the market.
A new reservation system that allows for more complicated itineraries and overnight trips is also enabling Southwest to add Hawaii flights. The Dallas-based airline will begin seeking federal approval to operate its planes on extended over-water routes in the coming weeks. That process typically takes about a year to 18 months and flights to Hawaii can’t begin until it’s completed.
The new service to Hawaii will be more challenging for Southwest. The airline is best known for short routes so it will be a challenge to compete against larger carriers for Hawaii visitors. These are flights that take more than five hours from the West Coast and some rivals offer premium cabins with roomier seats, full meals and more legroom. On the other hand, Southwest provides only coach class and snacks.
Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Watterson pointed out that Southwest already adjusts snack offerings based on flight duration, such as its service from Oakland, California, to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. That route is longer than Oakland to Maui, Hawaii.
Here’s CEO Gary Kelly statement:
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.
You may have heard us purposefully changing our language ahead of tonight’s announcement to say it’s a matter of when, and not if we serve Hawaii. Why now? We need to take our Extended Operations (ETOPS) work to the next level and gain FAA certification of ETOPS-equipped aircraft in our fleet and establish required operational processes to offer our Customers nonstop service they expect from California to one of the world’s top leisure destinations. The MAX will be our Hawaii aircraft but, we’ll start with our ETOPS-equipped -800 fleet to accelerate our service launch date. The rest of the work is lined up to bring the performance enhancements of the MAX to what we intend to build into a multi-market offering among our west coast cities and the Hawaiian Islands.
Because this will be big news for the media and our Investors who have also waited for this day, we’ve also posted video of the Employee announcement on swamedia.com, where you’ll also be able to read our news release.
Mahalo to you all as we work to bring America’s Most Loved airline to the shores of Hawaii–and I find it fitting that’s about as far Southwest as you can go in the U.S!