Aloha Hawaii: How Southwest Has Disrupted Hawaii Flights In Just 6 Months

One of the biggest changes in the domestic American market was Southwest’s expansion in Hawaii. America’s largest low-cost carrier has only been flying to Hawaii for six months. However, in just this amount of time, Hawaii has seen a “Southwest disruption.”

Southwest flights
Southwest has made a splash in Hawaii. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Hawaii disruption

Flights on Southwest between Hawaii and the United States mainland began in March 2019. Meanwhile, interisland flights took off from May 2019. Currently, according to Southwest’s dedicated Hawaii routes page, the airline flies nonstop from Oakland, San Jose, and Sacramento to destinations in Hawaii.

Southwest Hawaii Routes
Southwest Airlines currently operates the following routes from and within Hawaii. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Expansion is also on the horizon. Additional connections will start soon to Hilo, Maui, Lihue, Kona, and Honolulu from cities like Oakland, San Jose, and Sacramento. San Diego appears to be on hold amid the 737 MAX grounding.

Southwest Hawaii
San Diego to Hawaii services are on hold for the moment. Photo: Southwest Airlines

This marked the first real entrance of a low-cost carrier in the Hawaii domestic and mainland United States market. Right away, Southwest offered low-cost, affordable flights to Hawaii in an effort to draw in passengers.

Southwest and passengers

Southwest has a loyal passenger following. Many appreciate the airline’s generous checked baggage policy and fairly expansive route network.

With two free checked bags, Southwest has one of the most generous checked baggage policies. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Southwest also upgraded inflight offerings to make the long trek a little more enjoyable.

Inflight Service
Southwest upgraded some inflight services to make these longer treks more enjoyable. Photo: Southwest Airlines

And, it appears that things have gone well for the airline. The giant, known for operating only Boeing 737s, has largely indicated Hawaii to be a successful market. Southwest’s statistics have been fantastic and expansion is on the horizon. The only roadblock for Southwest is the grounded 737 MAX. However, once that grounding is lifted, Southwest will certainly be able to find free aircraft to boost services.

Southwest 737 in Hawaii
Southwest needs more free aircraft before they can expand further in Hawaii. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines is still around

No airline was more concerned about Southwest’s disruption in the Hawaii market than local Hawaiian Airlines. Though smaller than competitors, Hawaiian does offer a pretty expansive network of long-haul domestic and international connections. This is one area where they excel over Southwest. For now, Southwest does not offer significant connecting opportunities. Rather, eastern passengers will have to make a break in their journey. This makes nonstops, like Hawaiian’s Boston to Honolulu route, more appealing and time-saving.

Hawaiian Airlines A321neo
Hawaiian Airlines has held its own amid Southwest’s entrance. Photo: Airbus

Hawaiian also offers a premium cabin. Southwest does not. On the widebody Airbus A330s, this includes lie-flat premium cabin seating that works well for Hawaiian’s long-hauls to the Eastern United States.

Hawaiian Premium Cabin
Hawaiian offers lie-flat seating on the Airbus A330s. Photo: Hawaiian

Narrowbodies, however, have traditional recliner style seating. Although, Hawaiian does get a few extra points for a stylish cabin. While Southwest has caused a disruption in Hawaii, they likely will not go as far so as to introduce a new premium cabin.

Hawaiian A320neo First Class
On narrowbodies like the Airbus A321neo, Hawaiian has traditional recliner-style premium cabin seats. Photo: Airbus

Unless Southwest were to significantly revamp its network for enhanced connecting opportunities, Hawaiian will likely still hold its own thanks to nonstop long-haul domestic flights and international routes that Southwest does not compete on. Although, Hawaiian does have other formidable competitors. Domestically, Hawaiian Airlines can capture more premium travelers with a lie-flat premium cabin than all-economy cabins on Southwest.

Hawaiian Airlines
Hawaiian Airlines can still battle for premium customers on long-haul flights. Photo: Airbus

How much more disruption can Southwest make in Hawaii?

If Southwest expands aggressively while also bolstering connecting opportunities, the airline will be one of the most formidable in the mainland United States to Hawaii market. Alaska Airlines is altering its Hawaii services. While other airlines have not announced major changes to Hawaii, it is still possible that other carriers will reevaluate route networks amid Southwest’s Hawaii disruption.

Southwest 737 in Hawaii
Southwest has made it clear that it will continue to expand in Hawaii. Photo: Southwest Airlines

Do you prefer Southwest or another carrier for Hawaii flights? Let us know in the comments!

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Tricia Wells

Alaska Airlines is the MOST formidable airline in the Hawaii market. They offer more flights to more cities than any other airline! Southwest Airlines has NOT had much an affect on the Hawaii market yet.

Jay

One effect of Southwest flying to Hawaii is that they offer free checked bags, which is a big deal. I flew to Maui from the U.S. mainland in September and took my snorkel gear, camping stuff, even a cooler for free (actually used points, so the whole trip was free). Southwest’s frequent flier points also make it pretty dang easy—it was 20,000 pts for the roundtrip ticket. Just get a SW credit card with a signup bonus from 40,000 to 70,000 points and you’ve got 2 free trips to Hawaii. Check out all the different card options, and travel during… Read more »