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.”
“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.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.