Southwest Airlines finally announced new service that lots of people have been waiting for. While the actual announcement is a bit thin on details, Southwest is flying to Hawaii. I saw this announcement around midnight last night as I was heading to sleep after my Yankees beat the Indians!!! I had to be up at 6am, so sleep won out over sharing the news.
When Will Southwest Start Flying To Hawaii?
Great question. There’s not a ton of info about that part just yet. Kind of an important detail, no? They intend to start selling tickets in 2018. Southwest wants to serve the route with their new Boeing 737 MAX airplanes. I had a chance to be on one of the very first Boeing 737 MAX airplane. Inside, it’s a new (but not altogether) different version of what Southwest flies now. But, there are a number of hidden benefits that add range and make the plane more fuel efficient.
However, Southwest doesn’t have ETOPS certification for those planes. They’ve started down that path with some existing 737-800s, but they’re not quite there yet. If you’re just tuning in, ETOPS is an Extended Operations certificate needed for flying planes long distances over water. However, I prefer the slight more sarcastic acronym Engines Turn Or Passengers Swim.
Once they have this certification they can start advertising the routes for sale.
Where Will Southwest Fly To In Hawaii? Where Will They Fly From?
Another question we don’t have great answers for yet. Expect California to contain the launch markets for Hawaii service. If I had to guess, Southwest will want to have Southern and Northern California covered. LAX is where I believe they have the most nonstop destinations. But, it’s a crappy place to start service there with all the airport construction and congestion.
I’m going to make some wild stabs here and say LAX or Santa Ana in SoCal (with a nod to San Diego as a possibility) and Oakland to the North.
But, here’s the good thing about the 737 MAX. It has range. Like 3,500 nautical miles. That brings Phoenix into the equation pretty easily. Cities like Portland as well if they want to compete in the Northwest with Alaska Airlines. It’s not enough range to get to Houston nonstop, though.
On the island side, Alaska flies to Honolulu, Kona, Maui and Kauai. Obviously, all those are in play for Southwest. However, given that they’ll be spinning things up slowly until they have more ETOPS-certified aircraft, I’ll bet on Honolulu and Maui for starters.
The Final Two Pennies (Also, The Painful Part)
Southwest has decent legroom (quoted as 32″ here, which I believe is correct). But, there are no premium economy seats, and certainly no first class or lie-flat seats. From Southern California, this is likely to be about a 6-hour flight. That’s not unbearable in coach, but certainly not my first choice.
Many of the flights back from Hawaii will likely be redeye flights (though it’s something Southwest has traditionally shied away from). Those can be quite painful in coach. Flights to Northern California and other places will stretch beyond 6 hours.
Alaska Airlines has a domestic first class cabin and they have the Virgin planes with even better first class seats. American and United have some limited lie-flat options to Hawaii. So, there are more comfortable options than Southwest.
But, given the passion that so many folks have for the Southwest brand, I suspect these flights will be pretty full. I’ll keep you updated as we learn more.
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