It’s a move that wouldn’t really surprise anyone, but it is still BIG news. We’re predicting that Southwest will announce multiple Hawaiian destinations very soon. Southwest Airlines has long been interested in the Hawaii market. Passengers want to fly there. Gary Kelly signaled interest in the market many times. He even said at the last earnings call that Hawaiian service will happen.
Southwest has long been interested in the Hawaiian market. Back in 2006, Southwest held a code-share agreement with ATA. Southwest flew passengers to Oakland and Ontario while ATA flew passengers to Hawaii with their 737-800 fleet. The service was very popular for Rapid Rewards members but it was cancelled in 2007 as ATA wound down operations and declared bankruptcy. While Southwest acquired the assets of ATA, they did not introduce service to Hawaii. For most fans and customers of Southwest, this commencement/resumption of service to Hawaii (in a much more direct format this time) is way overdue.
Here are four reasons why we think this will happen:
1.) Southwest is the lead sponsor for the Global Tourism Summit in Hawaii
To the best of our knowledge, we’ve never seen Southwest sponsor this conference before. We searched the internet and don’t see any record of them sponsoring this conference. Even more interesting is that they are the title sponsor. It’s extremely uncommon for an airline with the closest destination 2500nm away to be the lead sponsor. They wouldn’t sponsor the conference at that price level just to encourage Hawaiians to use Southwest when flying from LAX to LAS on their visits to the mainland.
2.) Gate 22 at San Jose International Airport was decorated with pineapples today
Within the past day, one gate at SJC was decorated with a very Hawaiian-themed pineapples and decidedly island colors. It was enough to catch my eye at the airport and wonder why a gate would be not so subtly decorated like a luau. A gate agent might have jumped the gun but it was very peculiar none the less.
3.) Southwest’s MAX fleet comes online next month, freeing up the ETOPS equipped jets
With the classic fleet (-300s) retired by the end of September and the MAX fleet ramping up in Q4, Southwest will have a much more standardized fleet that will provide additional flexibility. Much of the long distance, high density flying in their system has been flown by the -800 ETOPS fleet as of late. The arrival of the MAX is expected to take some pressure off of the -800 ETOPS fleet. If that is the case, that means that the -800 ETOPS equipped and certified aircraft will be freed to fly across the ocean.
4.) Their reservation system is ready and red-eyes are now possible
Southwest has long struggled with an outdated reservation system. It was simple which was great for flying between Dallas Love and San Antonio but became a burden as the airline evolved into the largest domestic carrier in the US. Those issues are now behind them. Southwest can now handle complex, international reservations with ease. With Southwest’s new Amadeus-powered system, the airline can also handle overnight flights. Hawaiian red-eye flights are now possible too with updated contracts by their pilots and flight attendants.
Keep in mind, it’s just a rumor at this point…
While we are pretty confident in our analysis, we have to keep in mind that this is just a rumor at this point. Any announcement of service would still require proving flights meaning that we likely wouldn’t see the commencement of service until early 2018. Also, keep in mind that we’ve heard many rumors about the Hawaiian market and Southwest for years. Back in the late 90s the prevailing rumor was that Southwest was going to purchase 757s to open up the Hawaiian market. Then it was that they were going to buy ATA to gain a foothold in the market (they did buy ATA’s assets but mainly just to dominate Midway Airport–they never commenced own-metal service in ’08 to Hawaii). Then for the past two to three years, we’ve heard rumors that Southwest was interested in purchasing Hawaiian Airlines. We’re not betting on a merger. Southwest’s merger with AirTran is still fresh in the minds of management and employees. Our bet is on a launch to Honolulu, Maui, and Kona from West Coast cities in Feb-March of 2018.
We’ll keep this post updated.