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Sunday was a momentous day for Southwest Airlines: the carrier landed its inaugural flight to Hawaii at Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL). The flight marked a culmination of 18 months of planning for the Dallas-based airline.

And Southwest employees were brimming with the aloha spirit to mark the historic occasion. Same goes for the passengers, in particular the Klan family, who’ve been on the past 30 inaugural Southwest flights.

The day was full of celebrations with traditional Hawaiian flare. Festive decorations began at the check-in area of the departure airport in Oakland, California (OAK). Heart-shaped balloons and Hawaiian flowers adorned the bag drop.

Gate 4 at OAK was transformed into nearly an all-out luau, with live Hawaiian music, hula dancers and themed cake and cookies.

“Wonderful exciting day for Southwest Airlines, and of course mostly for our people,” Andrew Watterson, the airline’s executive vice president and chief revenue officer, said at the gate. “This has been a long road. Our people worked very hard for this, and our people are enjoying this.”

Southwest’s Andrew Watterson with Danny and Anna Akaka.

“This is a tremendously important day for Southwest Airlines,” Watterson added. “We hope to bring low fares and great service to the people of Hawaii and the people of the Bay Area.”

The festivities continued into the morning and until boarding began. Even the gate agents were decked out in Hawaiian garb.

Passenger Jared Padget, a Southwest employee based in Dallas, was looking forward to boarding to Honolulu. In fact, a group of employees even made OAK – HNL boarding pass t-shirts for the flight.

“There are a lot of employees on the flight today. It was sold out the first time I went on to buy it but eventually I got one for $99,” Padget said. “There’s a group of us, coworkers, we all work together at Southwest. Another lady created theses shirts and printed them out and we thought they’d be fun to wear on the first flight.”

Then, it was time for the traditional Hawaiian blessing of the gate, from Danny and Anna Akaka, who are married.

“This is a very traditional Hawaiian blessing called a piko,” Danny Akaka said. “It’s a purification blessing, which we have these maile leis, which we untie at the beginning of the ceremony which we untie to represent cutting the cord, the spiritual cord. But in Hawaiian, we say piko is the umbilical cord. It’s kinda like giving birth to this new flight, this new route to Hawaii.”

The blessing opened with the blowing of a conch shell, then was followed with the untying of the leis and sprinkling of salt water with Hawaiian tea leaves.

With the blessing finished, the Boeing 737-800 that would operate Flight 6808 to the Aloha State arrived. The aircraft was registered N8329B, a 6-year-old 738 that also operated Southwest’s verification test flights to Hawaii with the Federal Aviation Administration in February.

All passengers boarding received a fresh flower lei before walking onto the jet bridge.

The crew also donned leis, with greenery on the dash of the flight deck, too.

In flight, Southwest offered a new snack box with fruit snacks, pretzels, crackers and a cheese spread. Plus, the carrier put “a tropical twist” on its drink menu with Kona Longboard® Island Lager® for purchase, as well as the Southwest take on a Mai Tai: Blue Chair Bay® Coconut Spiced Rum mixed with Minute Maid® Pineapple Orange Juice Blend — a delicious and potent potable concocted by Southwest’s own flight attendants.

The in-flight entertainment definitely got an Aloha Spirit upgrade: live hula dancers who performed three dances in the plane’s single aisle.

Upon landing in Honolulu, more hula dancers were there to celebrate. And passengers received another welcome fresh flower lei.

Southwest plans to roll out similar festivities when its other Hawaii routes launch on the following dates:

Oakland (OAK) to Maui (OGG): Launches April 7
San Jose (SJC) to Honolulu (HNL): Launches May 5
San Jose (SJC) to Maui (OGG): Launches May 26
Inter-island Honolulu (HNL) to Maui (OGG): Launches April 28
Honolulu (HNL) to Kona (KOA): Launches May 12

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All photos by Jessica Puckett/TPG.

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