Southwest readies a price war to Hawaii

Southwest Airlines trickled out a few more details for its planned Hawaii service today in conjunction with its quarterly earning report. The carrier confirmed four destinations in the islands will see service:

  • Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
  • Lihue Airport (LIH)
  • Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA)
  • Kahului Airport (OGG)

While it stopped short of confirming a service launch date or mainland gateways, the company did state that the planning is “on track” for launch later in 2018 or early 2019.

The initial Southwest destinations in Hawaii are now set
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Perhaps more intriguing to passengers, however, is a comment made about pricing during the earnings call. Company President Tom Nealon, responding to a question on how long it would take for the routes to be profitable, suggested that the carrier will “lead on pricing” as it launches service. This aggressive behavior would be aimed at beating the typical 3 year path to profitability for new longer routes that the carrier launches.

Nealon also noted the large west coast customer base loyal to the carrier as helping to drive traffic to the new routes. In theory that customer loyalty will reduce some of the need for a pricing war, but it seems the company is ready to play that angle as needed.

Timing of service launch

It is also worth noting that the carrier has shifted its position from “We’d love to be selling by the end of 2018” to “We’d love to be flying by the end of 2018.” That mostly depends on ETOPS certification from the FAA to operate the overwater segments. Nealon notes:

We’d sure love to be able to fly this year. It depends on ETOPS and you cannot start with a full schedule. You have to grow your way into it.

The carrier expects that the initial launch would be just one city pair, “We definitely plan to start very modestly.” That said, Kelly does not expect that it will remain just one city pair for long.

CEO Gary Kelly expanded on that topic, suggesting that the necessary aircraft are allocated for the service from a fleet planning scenario:

We’ve reserved aircraft for the new service. We haven’t told you exactly what we’re planning because we cannot commit to an exact date yet. If we’re not flying to Hawaii with those airplanes we’ll fly somewhere else…. Right now we hope they’re going to Hawaii.

A Hawaii alternate

One option for using the planes if the Hawaii service doesn’t come to fruition is growth in Long Beach, California. JetBlue announced yesterday it would cut service at its west coast focus city, freeing up slots for competitors to increase position in the market. While most other airlines are shying away from committing to new service at LGB Kelly says that, “We have been hobbled by not being able to have more access to Long Beach so [B6 cutting] is welcome news.”

Header image courtesy of SWAMedia

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Even if the airline fares go lower, the price of hotel rooms, and especially taxes have been going up. The hotel tax in Hawaii is high, the resort fees are high, and the taxes on airline fares are high. The the airlines have to pay much money for ticket counter space, gate space, and landing fees, which are included in the fare. Then there are many people making good incomes, who can pay for all of this. Thank you.

  2. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that “Hawai’i” doesn’t have the same “exotic” cachet as even 25 years ago, much less 50. I’d attribute at least some of that to the cruise lines that enable one to “take your condo room along with you” all over the world with meals and drinks included.

    1. I don’t know that I’d blame cruises for shifting the lack of “exotic” away from Hawai’i. I think it is equally or more because that getting there is dramatically cheaper and easier than it was a generation or two ago. There is massive capacity into the islands these days and with Southwest it will increase.

      Of course, not every airline that shows up is successful. Allegiant tried at the beginning of the decade and bailed after it couldn’t handle the operating costs of the longer flights.

  3. I wish Southwest Airlines would consider our Daytona Airport in Florida. Delta and American Airlines are already on board.
    There are a lot of the populations here that love going West, but don’t want to pay the high baggage fees, me included.
    Also, Southwest doesn’t penalize you for changing a flight……you either pay the difference, or in some cases, receive a
    credit towards a future flight. You’re missing out Southwest and you are the only airline I fly!!!!

    1. The lack of a true hub-and-spoke operation (though it is more of one now than a decade ago) makes adding service at DAB hard given the significant position at MCO just inland. Or at JAX if you want some variety. Neither are super-convenient if you live in Daytona, of course, but the number of passengers at Daytona is also notably lower.

      Also, JetBlue still has its NYC service, though that is not helpful for heading west.

  4. That we now don’t have to fly UA or AA to go to Hawaii is answered prayer. Way to go SWA!!

    1. Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines offer service, too. As did Virgin America before Alaska bought it.

  5. What took them so long? Alaska has been flying 737s to Hawaii for a decade, so range or ETOPS certification isn’t the issue.

    1. ETOPs isn’t just about the aircraft. The airline also has to prove it is capable of meeting stringent operations guidelines for the service. Things like extra rafts on board are relatively easy. But it all has to be done.

      It takes a lot of documentation and work with the FAA to get there. And to stay there. Southwest will do it, but it takes time to build the processes, document, operate to them and then prove all of that to the FAA.

  6. Aloha and Mahalo!! We are so excited about the prospect of flying to our favorite islands aboard our favorite airlines, Southwest Airlines!! My wife Marty and I are both avid scuba divers, and are planning a trip to the Big Island (Hawaii) this fall. We are also proud members of the Hilton Honors Club (through American Express Credit Card) and they will take care of lodging requirements. Watching your video of this historic event was a real treat, and seeing your president and CEO in their Aloha shirts was a kick. I still have my original Aloha shirt, Purchased at Barbers Point, Hawaii when I was on the USS Enterprise for my first “cruise” as a Naval Aviator to Vietnam. The A-7E Corsair II which was a smaller aircraft than the Boeing 737 was my “ride” into combat the first time. I can’t thank Southwest Airlines enough for the quality transportation they have provided my wife and I since they became our “airline of choice” 5 years ago. Thanks for caring about those of us living on the “Left Coast” (Montana, actually, and flying out of Spokane, WA.) and thanks for this wonderful news!

  7. You can check prices with all companies that fly to and from Hawaii as Southwest is not always the lowest fare in any market. Keep in mind if an airline has to cancel a flight or more, some airlines have agreements with other airlines, and some do NOT have agreements with other airlines, in order to save money.

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