Alaska Airlines takes on Southwest with boost to Hawaii routes

May 25, 2021

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Alaska Airlines is expanding its Hawaii reach from Southern California.

Over the weekend, the Seattle-based carrier boosted two of its newest Hawaii routes from Los Angeles (LAX). Specifically, Alaska’s service from LAX to both Kona (KOA) and Lihue (LIH) has been upgraded to daily service beginning on Nov. 20 and Nov. 19, respectively. Daily service will run through the winter holidays and continue at least through the end of the schedule in April 2022, per Cirium timetables and confirmed by the carrier.

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The airline first announced each of the routes in July 2020, and commenced the flights in December 2020 and May 2021 with 3x and 4x weekly frequencies, respectively.

Now, however, the carrier seems is upgrading them to daily service as Hawaii has seen strong leisure demand this year. And, with the widespread vaccine distribution and recent relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, airline executives have said that pandemic-weary travelers are booking more trips.

In fact, Alaska Airlines CEO Ben Minicucci recently told NBC News’ Lester Holt that leisure bookings are “back to pre-pandemic levels,” adding that, “we believe that on the domestic leisure side, we’re pretty much 100% and for to get us back to 2019 levels, we’re forecasting to be back there by the summer of 2022.”

But there’s seemingly more to Alaska’s latest route-map adjustment. It comes just ten days after Southwest Airlines announced a major Hawaii expansion of its own, with three new gateways and 15 new routes beginning in June.

Southwest is adding Hawaii service from Las Vegas (LAS), Los Angeles (LAX) and Phoenix (PHX) to four of the Aloha State’s most popular airports: Honolulu (HNL), Maui (OGG), Kona (KOA) and Lihue (LIH). Southwest is planning to fly from LAX to both KOA and LIH on a daily basis beginning on June 27.

By boosting its flights on the aforementioned routes to daily service, Alaska can better compete with Southwest’s new routes. (Alaska already flies once-daily between LAX and HNL and OGG.) Alaska will also compete with the other incumbents in the market, including American Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian and United.

This isn’t the first time that Alaska has seemingly responded directly to its competition. In the weeks leading up to Avelo Airlines’ inaugural flight from Burbank (BUR) to Santa Rosa (STS), Alaska announced that it would debut service on that route beginning on July 1, in addition to added frequencies on other STS routes.

An Alaska Airlines turboprop in Santa Rosa, California (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Reading between the lines of Alaska’s press release for its Santa Rosa announcement, it seemed clear that the airline’s trying to position itself as the carrier of choice for those traveling to California’s famed wine country.

“Alaska was the first commercial airline to resume service to Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in 2007. The airline has long been the airport’s largest carrier. In 2019, three out of four passengers to Santa Rosa/Sonoma County flew on Alaska,” it read.

A similar narrative recently unfolded between Alaska and Delta. Just one week after Delta announced expanded service to Alaska, including a new route from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) to Anchorage (ANC), Alaska Airlines issued a press release to announce the exact same route.

Delta’s expansion in Alaska seemingly reignited the competition between the partners-turned-adversaries.

For Alaska, adding flights from Los Angeles to Hawaii comes shortly after the carrier pulled out of the Oakland to Hawaii market. On March 15, the airline shared with TPG that it’d permanently cut all routes between Oakland and Hawaii, and it will instead focus on serving Hawaii from its San Francisco and San Jose stations in the Bay Area.

Featured photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

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