Southwest became so important to Hawaii travel. What now?

Hawaii Travel would be decimated if Southwest pilots strike. Labor talks with Southwest pilots are at a virtual standstill. How Southwest affects Hawaii travel and what would happen if a strike were to materialize becomes readily apparent.

The Southwest pilots union this week asked to be released from federal mediation over an inability to agree on wages, work rules and more. Although there is much more to come on this, this is what we can safely say.

Southwest has become so important to Hawaii travel that their absence during a possible strike would be a devastating blow to Hawaii visitors and residents alike.

Beat of Hawaii


From its first arrival in Honolulu five years ago, after more than a decade of planning and challenges, flights to Southwest Hawaii have grown by leaps and bounds. And starting this summer, for the first time, they will provide flights from Hawaii with overnight connections. Southwest still plans to offer genuine, popular red-eye flights from Hawaii.

Southwest Effect on Hawaii Travel

With its size and power, Southwest has become an essential part of Hawaii travel that could not easily be replaced.

Southwest has many flights, including dozens of essential daily interisland flights, and maintains an extensive network of flights to Hawaii from eight of the most in-demand mainland gateways in California, Nevada and Arizona. However, they don’t hit two notable places directly: the Pacific Northwest and San Francisco.

Southwest also offers a unique, high-quality, narrow-body product, as BOH has noted in several reviews. They offer more legroom than the competition, $8 WiFi, two free bags, no change/cancellation fees and non-expiring flight credits. These are features that are hard to beat. They have become endearing to Hawaii residents as much as visitors who were already familiar with the Southwest before arriving in the islands.

With Hawaii interisland travel the same as a bus, train or subway system might be on the mainland, Southwest also entered the market that is primarily important to residents, but also visitors. For example, while Hawaiian typically has two dozen daily flights on the most popular interisland routes connecting Honolulu with Maui, Southwest has up to 15. And between Honolulu and Lihue, Hawaiian has 17 flights, while Southwest has 9. The only islands not served of the Southwest are Lanai and Molokai. And not since Aloha Airlines has there been such a prolific 2nd Hawaiian airline.

Now to today’s pilot situation and tense negotiations with their union.

Southwest and its pilots have been at loggerheads for over three years.

So how likely is a strike? There’s a small chance of that happening, and here’s why. First, the last strike by a US airline was about 13 years ago. Other airlines, such as Hawaiian and Delta, have ultimately caved to pilot demands with pay increases of up to 34%, and Hawaiian pilots making up to $448 an hour, after potential strike threats. But nothing is ruled out. Before there is any real possibility of a strike, however, cooling-off periods will be necessary after release from negotiations from NMB.

How would a Southwest pilot strike affect air service to and from Hawaii?

In a word, it would be a disaster. From a practical point of view, they represent a huge airlift for visitors and residents, and it will be challenging for other airlines to make up for that absence. That’s especially true now, with airlines stretched very thin in terms of pilots, equipment and other constraints.

$$$: What would happen to Hawaii airfares without Southwest?

This is one of the most interesting aspects of that possibility. We estimate that if Southwest flights were taken out of the Hawaii flight equation temporarily, flights in the markets listed above would immediately double in price or more. So interisland flights would jump to $100 as a base fare. And flights from the mainland to Hawaii from those cities would jump to a starting point of $250 each way.

Southwest is still cleaning up past problems.

Recently, the company said it is spending $2 billion to clean up its past mess. Last December’s unprecedented nationwide meltdown cost Southwest more than a billion dollars. After that, the company’s CEO, Bob Jordan, said that Southwest would invest an additional $1 billion to improve its technologies to prevent future problems. Jordan said they are “Currently budgeted to spend more than $1 billion of our annual operating plan on investments, upgrades and maintenance of our IT systems.”

How concerned are you about a possible disruption to flights from Southwest Hawaii?

We will continue to follow this story with updates. Let us know our thoughts.

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