Southwest enters Hawaii market

  • A Southwest Boeing 737-800 is seen Feb. 5 at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. (Southwest Airlines/Special to West Hawaii Today)
  • A Southwest Boeing 737-800 is seen Feb. 5 at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. (Southwest Airlines/Special to West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Southwest Airlines’ first flight to the Big Island is set to touch down in May at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole.

The airline announced Monday its plans to begin service to the Aloha State on March 17, with an inaugural flight from Oakland International Airport in California to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.

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Thereafter, the air carrier will begin flying from other West Coast locales to Honolulu and Maui with connecting service between Honolulu and Kona coming May 12.

“Hawaii, we’re in this for good,” Gary Kelly, Southwest Airlines’ chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

Along with the announcement, Southwest Airlines offered on Monday morning a host of deals with prices as low as $49 for one-way flights between Oakland and Honolulu; $29 for one-way flights between Honolulu and Kona and $79 for one-way flights between Oakland and San Jose and Kona.

Within just four hours, however, the company announced via its social media platforms that its “lowest lunch fares” had sold out. But, as of Monday evening, $29-$59 fares between Kona and Honolulu remained. Deals end today at 9:59 p.m. Hawaii Standard Time (11:59 p.m. PST), according to the company.

Southwest will initially fly its existing Boeing 737-800 aircraft to the islands and transition to Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Each can accommodate 175 passengers. It will bring with it its policies of no change fees and two free checked bags.

“We’re focused on bringing Hawaii an authentically Southwest experience with comfort across all seating — for every customer — along with in-cabin snack enhancements for our flights between the State of Hawaii and the U.S. mainland,” said Tom Nealon, Southwest Airlines’ president.

Service between Maui and the West Coast will commence April 7, with an inaugural flight from Oakland to Kahului Airport on Maui. About a month later, the carrier will inaugurate service between Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport and Honolulu. On May 26, Southwest’s inaugural flight from San Jose to Kahului will hit the skies.

Southwest’s first interisland service will begin April 28 between Honolulu and Kahului, with flights running four times daily in each direction. Service between Honolulu and Kona, also four times daily in each direction, will start May 12.

The additional interisland service, the company said, will make possible connecting service between Kona and both Oakland and San Jose. Connections to Hilo, a locale the company has indicated interest in flying, were not addressed.

When asked about potential for nonstop flights between Kona and the West Coast, versus the onward connections currently planned between Honolulu and Kona, Brian Parrish, a member of the Southwest Communications Team called Monday’s announcement the company’s “first phase of Hawaii service.”

“At this time, we’ve only announced our plans to offer connecting service to KOA from OAK and SJC via HNL,” he said. “Of course, we are always looking for future opportunities!”

Southwest said it will release more details, including plans for previously announced gateways of San Diego and Sacramento, and for Lihue, Kauai, in the coming weeks.

After Monday’s announcement, the Hawaii Department of Transportation said the state is eager to welcome the airline into the Hawaii market to provide travelers with another choice for flying between the islands and the mainland.

“More than 37 million passengers fly in and out of Hawaii’s airports annually, which continues to boost our economy and connects communities,” said Hawaii Department of Transportation Airports Division Deputy Director Ross Higashi. “Adding new airlines provides customers with more options and HDOT is working on a smooth transition at all of the Hawaii airports Southwest Airlines will serve.”

Sharon O’Hara hopes the introduction of a competing interisland airline will work to her advantage as the Ocean View resident hopes to affordably travel with her husband and artist, Kirk O’Hara, to other islands.

“Super excited for some price wars,” she said. “Maybe get over to Honolulu finally.”

Hawaiian Airlines, which holds primary control of the interisland market, said in a statement Monday that the air carrier will continue to offer its “award-winning Hawaiian hospitality.”

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Hawaiians operates approximately 160 daily flights between Honolulu, Lihue, Kahului, and Kona and Hilo, as well as nonstop service to 12 U.S. cities and nine international destinations.

“We have responded to some of Southwest’s introductory offers, and as we do every day, we will continue to offer guests throughout our network competitive fares and superior value with award-winning Hawaiian hospitality throughout our cabin, complimentary meals, and leading punctuality,” read a statement provided by Alex Da Silva, Hawaiian Airlines’ senior manager for external communications.

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