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Southwest unveils major Hawaii expansion with 3 new gateways, 15 new routes

May 13, 2021
9 min read
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Southwest Airlines is showering Hawaii with lots of love.

On Thursday, the Dallas-based carrier unveiled a major network expansion in the Aloha State, announcing 15 new routes and three new mainland gateways with more than 20 new frequencies.

Much of the new service begins in just over three weeks, so read on for the details about Southwest's latest route-map shake-up.

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3 new gateways each getting 4 routes

Southwest will establish three new mainland gateways to Hawaii, beginning with Las Vegas (LAS) and Los Angeles (LAX) on June 6. Three weeks later, on June 27, the carrier will launch Hawaii service from Phoenix (PHX), as well.

Though Southwest isn't establishing new cities — it's already launched or announced 16 of them since the pandemic began in the U.S. — this will mark the first time that the airline has flown to Hawaii from the aforementioned markets.

Each of those Southwest bases will get four routes to Hawaii — Honolulu (HNL), Maui (OGG), Kona (KOA) and Lihue (LIH) — starting over the course of the summer as detailed below. The majority of new routes will operate just once a day, but others will get more. LAX to OGG, for example, gets three daily frequencies during the summer.

By adding the three new gateways, Southwest can offer flyers in more than 40 mainland cities one-stop connectivity to four airports in Hawaii. Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix join the carrier's five established Hawaii gateways: Long Beach (LGB), Oakland (OAK), Sacramento (SMF), San Diego (SAN) and San Jose (SJC).

Southwest jets parked in Hawaii (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

The airline will face stiff competition on its Los Angeles to Hawaii routes — six of America's largest airlines already fly between the two states, including Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, Sun Country and United.

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Phoenix and Las Vegas aren't as competitive as L.A. Both markets are served by Hawaiian, while American flies from its Phoenix hub to all four of Southwest's Hawaii cities.

Either way, Southwest chief commercial officer Andrew Watterson is confident that the carrier will be successful. He told TPG in an interview that many of these flights were long-time requests from flyers based in one of the three West Coast cities, saying he thinks it will help drum up more business from Southwest’s existing customer base.

"If you look at all the places from which we fly to Hawaii, all of them are places where we have the largest customer base in that city or in that region. So that de-risks it for us. And it satisfies the pent-up demand that our customers had for us to fly to Hawaii. Either they were flying other airlines because we didn't offer it or they weren't going there because we didn't offer it... We think by going to these markets, we expand our offering to our current customers. It's not really a quest to win new customers," he said.

“We’re delighted that our partners at Southwest Airlines continue to expand service to Las Vegas with the addition of nonstop service from Hawaii,” said H. Fletch Brunelle, vice president of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said in a statement to TPG.

As for how the new routes will boost connectivity for one-stop flyers, Watterson explained that Southwest learned a lesson from its service between Hawaii and Oakland, which operates during the day, giving flyers the ability to connect onto their final destination the same night. The airline commanded higher fares for its well-timed schedule, which "surprised us" according to Watterson.

Southwest is going to stick to its eastbound daytime schedule for the new routes. "Most airlines fly redeyes back from Hawaii to the West Coast. We're flying daytime flights. So our flights leave in the morning and get to the West Coast in the late afternoon. And then you can catch the last flight back east and sleep in your own bed," he said.

Southwest's all-Boeing 737 fleet is outfitted in an industry-standard 3-3 configuration with comfortable leather seats. The carrier also offers free movies, live TV and messaging, as well as complimentary drinks and snacks. Just note that your devices should be fully charged before boarding since there are no outlets or USB ports on Southwest jets.

A networkwide Hawaii boost

In addition to starting Hawaii service from three more hubs, Southwest is adding three new routes and four new frequencies from existing gateways.

San Diego is a big winner, as the carrier will begin offering service from there to all four of its destinations in the Aloha State. Flights to Maui (OGG), Kona (KOA) and Lihue (LIH) start in June, joining the existing Honolulu (HNL) service, which is also gaining a second daily frequency as part of Thursday's announcement.

Interestingly, Watterson said in a statement that boosting San Diego is partially in response to military travelers based in San Diego. They'll "especially benefit from these time-saving options at a time when we’re also bringing them new nonstop options between San Diego and Norfolk/Virginia Beach this summer,” he said. Norfolk, with a large base for the U.S. Navy, has a sizable military population.

Other frequency boosts include Oakland (OAK) and Long Beach (LGB) to HNL, which are going up to three and two daily services, respectively. The San Jose (SJC) to Maui (OGG) route will gain a second daily frequency in June.

Major news for Hawaii

With Southwest's expansion, it might appear that the carrier is trying to muscle its way in with the locals.

Despite all the new routes and its existing inter-island service, Southwest says it’s not trying to overplay its hand in the local market. Sure, some of the new services come as a "direct result of requests from the Hawaii marketplace," but nevertheless, "we don't have any pretenses of being the hometown carrier in Hawaii," according to Watterson.

Either way, Southwest's Hawaii expansion has a local angle. To support the ramp-up at its Hawaii outstations, the airline is hiring 100 ground-based agents and support staff, according to Watterson, with interested candidates being asked to fill out the form on the carrier's dedicated webpage.

The MAX will support the expansion

Many of the new routes will be made possible by Southwest's Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft.

When the carrier first announced that it was going to Hawaii, CEO Gary Kelly wrote in a blog post that "the MAX will be our Hawaii aircraft" and that "we intend to build [the MAX] into a multi-market offering among our west coast cities and the Hawaiian Islands."

Southwest Boeing 737 MAX aircraft (Photo by Mark Ralston/Getty Images)

At the time, Kelly had no idea that the MAX would be grounded worldwide for nearly two years following two fatal crashes, nor did he predict the pandemic.

But, for Southwest, it's now time to actualize the grand plan first unveiled in late 2017. Watterson told TPG that "this is the plan we'd always had. But circumstances conspired against us. First, it was the MAX grounding, and then it was the COVID pandemic in full force. Now that the MAX is back and COVID seems to be on the tail end of the pandemic, it makes sense to go back to our plan."

In order to fly the MAX over the ocean for such long distances without a suitable diversion airport, it needs to receive ETOPS (extended-range twin-engine operations performance standards) certification. This means that the plane and its crew are trained to handle diversions should an engine failure occur over the water.

Southwest has been working with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to obtain ETOPS approval for its MAX aircraft, and the carrier told TPG that it's in the final stages of receiving that certification, which will ultimately support Southwest's ambitious Hawaii growth.

You'll find the complete list of Southwest's new Hawaii routes below:

OriginDestinationDaily frequenciesStarting dateNotes
Las Vegas (LAS)Honolulu (HNL)2June 6Reduced to one daily trip on Sept. 7
Las Vegas (LAS)Maui (OGG)2June 27Reduced to one daily trip on Sept. 7
Las Vegas (LAS)Kona (KOA)1Sept. 7Service on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturday
Las Vegas (LAS)Lihue (LIH)1Sept. 7Service on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays
Los Angeles (LAX)Honolulu (HNL)1June 6Increase to two daily trip on June 27
Los Angeles (LAX)Maui (OGG)3June 6Reduced to two daily trip on Sept. 7
Los Angeles (LAX)Kona (KOA)1June 27
Los Angeles (LAX)Lihue (LIH)1June 27
Phoenix (PHX)Honolulu (HNL)2June 27Reduced to one daily trip on Sept. 7
Phoenix (PHX)Maui (OGG)1June 27
Phoenix (PHX)Lihue (LIH)1Sept. 7Service on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturday
Phoenix (PHX)Kona (KOA)1Sept. 7Service on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays
San Diego (SAN)Maui (OGG)1June 6
San Diego (SAN)Kona (KOA)1June 27Service on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays; Daily begins Sept. 7
San Diego (SAN)Lihue (LIH)1June 27Service on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturday; Daily begins Sept. 7
Oakland (OAK)Honolulu (HNL)3From June 6 through Sept. 6
San Jose (SJC)Maui (OGG)2June 6
San Diego (SAN)Honolulu (HNL)2June 6
Long Beach (LGB)Honolulu (HNL)2From June 27 through Sept. 6
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