Book it: Southwest announces plans for interisland flights

  • Southwest Airlines plans to fly Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft similar to the one in the foreground to serve Hawaii once approval is received from the Federal Aviation Administration. courtesy photo

HILO — Southwest Airlines, which created a buzz last year by announcing plans to fly between the mainland and Hawaii, said Thursday it also plans to fly passengers interisland for lower fares than travelers currently are paying.

Hawaiian Airlines has a more than 90 percent share of the interisland air passenger market. Tom Nealon, Southwest’s president, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that he purchased an interisland ticket and found it “very expensive.”

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“We’ve done our homework on it, and if you look back at our history in short haul, when we’ve entered a market where there’s not a lot of competition, we go and bring low fares in combination with great service,” Steve Goldberg, Southwest’s senior vice president over operations and hospitality, said Thursday. “And I think that’s what we’re really trying to drive on interisland, and how that matches up with our mainland service, as well.”

Goldberg said the carrier hopes to start interisland service in late 2018 or early 2019.

Last week, Southwest announced its initial plan to serve four airports in the Hawaiian Islands with flights from the mainland — Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu (HNL), Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA), Kahului Airport on Maui (OGG) and Lihue Airport on Kauai (LIH).

The interisland air passenger market Southwest proposes to enter is one littered with the corporate corpses of airlines that went out of business attempting to compete with Hawaiian, including Aloha Airlines, Mid Pacific Air, go! and Island Air.

“We’re really excited about getting into market and bringing our low fares, bags fly free, no change fees and our wonderful hospitality and customer service to the islands,” Goldberg said. “We think our culture lines up well with the Hawaiian culture. We’re really looking forward to hopefully get going by the end of the year.”

Peter Ingram, Hawaiian Airlines president and CEO, issued an email statement in response to Southwest’s announcements.

“Southwest’s PR strategy has been to toss out tidbits without much detail, so it’s unclear what kind of service or operation they are committing to,” Ingram said. “What I can say is that we fly 170 (Boeing) B717 flights every day between our islands, from 5 a.m. to 10:15 p.m. We employ thousands of Hawaii residents — more than 1,000 mechanics, flight attendants, pilots and ground staff specifically for this part of our network — in careers that pay well, keep local talent in Hawaii and help our economy grow. Our operation is convenient and extremely punctual thanks to world-class employees who welcome our guests with unparalleled hospitality, so we are not afraid of competition.”

Ingram also responded to Nealon’s statement about interisland fares.

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“We found Mr. Nealon’s statement about fares curious. The one-way fares for close-in travel (today) on one of our most popular routes — Honolulu-Kona — range from $85 to $195, while Southwest’s one-way fares for travel (today) from Austin-Houston — a flight of similar length — range from $233 to $270.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

  1. Buds4All May 4, 2018 5:07 am

    There goes the Monopoly!


  2. RichardSr May 4, 2018 9:16 am

    What an unfair comparison. Picking last minute flights on a route heavily traveled by business travelers on a Friday certainly tilts the results in HA’s favor. Pick June 5 instead of May 5 and SWA has fares from $98 compared to $90 for HA. Factor in the $40 HA will charge you for two bags and things are much different.


  3. Nan May 4, 2018 9:45 am

    Good! Hawaiian Air lost any feeling of loyalty from us when they dropped any sort of kama’aina tickets and jacked their prices way up when Aloha and Go! disappeared. The lousy one they had anyway was only good if you travel interisland a lot. The only “cheap” prices ($90 one way) they have are super early or evening. Even a month out, an 11:00 flight between HNL and KOA is $110. Some flights midday are $140! A few years ago, I read that the break-even cost for a round trip flight was $100, so they are really taking it to the bank. And as far as their “on time” awards, easy to do when 90% of your fligihts are 30-45 minutes!


  4. Kaipo Wall May 4, 2018 11:44 am

    Nice . But where exactly are they going too find any terminals and gates for any additional interisland , or any other new flights ? Most of the gates are already full , especially at peak hours . They better look at this .


  5. jim williams May 5, 2018 12:30 am

    Da Hui will not let this get off the ground.


  6. Sea San Koa May 5, 2018 5:19 pm

    Yea! Yea! Yea!!!
    Less fleecing from Hawaiian Airlines.


  7. onceawarrior May 5, 2018 5:31 pm

    My choice would be the one that offers comparable service with lower fares.


  8. Kaipo Wall May 6, 2018 12:08 am

    NO GATES are available for any new airlines

    Passengers are already sometimes sitting in their planes after arrival
    for up to an hour . KOA is just not big enough to take yet another carrier .


  9. Buds4All May 7, 2018 3:51 am

    I sure hope they get the window thing figured out first? Wonder what kind of planes they will be using inter-island? They seem to only use 737’s?


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