2.5 Years In: Southwest Is Now Hawaii’s Second-Largest Airline

Southwest inaugurated Hawaii service in March 2019, some 31 months ago. Since then, the carrier has offered 8.2 million Hawaii seats for sale. It is now the second-largest airline serving the state and has 38 routes to, from, and within it this coming winter – with the Boeing 737 MAX most commonly used.

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 N8801Q (2)
The B737 MAX 8 is vital to Southwest’s Hawaii operations. It has two-thirds of the carrier’s flights to the state this coming winter. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying.

Southwest to Hawaii

The day was March 17th, 2019. The route: Oakland to Honolulu, a distance of 2,409 statute miles (3,876 kilometers), with a block time to the Aloha State of five hours and fifty minutes. Operated by a 175-seat B737-800, it left California at 11:10 and arrived at 14:00 local time.

So began Southwest’s self-proclaimed long overdue foray to Hawaii. In 2019, some eight routes operated: Honolulu from Lihue, Kahului, Kona, Oakland, Sacramento, and San Jose, together with Kahului to Oakland and San Jose.

Then COVID happened. Despite the pandemic, Southwest’s Hawaii seats rose to 2.5 million in 2020 on the back of a full year and a doubling of routes. These included Honolulu from Hilo and San Diego, Lihue from San Jose and Oakland, and Kahului to Kona and Sacramento. Southwest took a very different approach to serving Hawaii than Allegiant.

17 new routes so far this year; another coming

So far in 2021, Southwest has inaugurated 17 new Hawaii routes. These include Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles to Honolulu, Kahului, Kona, and Lihue; Long Beach to Honolulu and Kahului; and San Diego to Kahului, Kona, and Lihue.

Across the rest of 2021 and into 2022, only one new service is planned and bookable: Kona to Sacramento. Kicking off on December 19th, it’ll mainly have four weekly flights with the schedule below (all times are local). It’ll have no head-to-head competition, but the airport pair was last served non-stop by Alaska Airlines between December 2018 and March 2020.

  • Sacramento to Kona: WN2384, 07:45-11:25
  • Kona to Sacramento: WN2385, 12:40-19:45
When writing this caption, it is 04:30 in Hawaii. Only one Southwest plane is in the air to the state: WN4593 from Long Beach to Honolulu. Image: Radarbox.com.

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Southwest is Hawaii’s second-largest airline

Southwest has grown its Hawaii offering to 5.5 million seats this year, OAG data indicates. This makes it the second-largest airline serving the state. Of course, it has been helped by cuts by others, particularly United. In 2019, United was number two with virtually six million seats, but its offering is 87% of what it was. Will United outpace Southwest for the second spot in 2022?

While Southwest’s Hawaii capacity volume seems a lot in itself and has pushed the carrier from sixth place in 2019 to second, context is needed. The carrier’s massive network means the state has just 3.3% of its total available seats this year. Southwest always spreads the risk around: it is never too reliant on one particular airport, route – or state.

Southwest to, from and within Hawaii in winter 2021
This is Southwest’s Hawaii network this winter. Image: OAG Mapper.

38 Hawaii routes this coming winter

The aviation winter 2021 season runs from October 31st until March 26th. Southwest will have 38 Hawaii routes, with no more on the cards for now. There will be up to 19,950 round-trip seats for sale each day spread across up to 114 round-trip flights, OAG data indicates.

This winter, Southwest’s average route length involving Hawaii is 1,275 miles (2,052km), 65% longer than its average across its whole network. Because of this, the much more fuel-efficient 737 MAX 8 will be heavily used. Two-thirds of Southwest’s Hawaii flights will welcome the MAX this winter – against just 8% for its whole network.

Have you flown Southwest to/from Hawaii? Share your experiences in the comments.