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Southwest began selling tickets to Hawaii this week, with initial $49 fares to Honolulu (HNL) and Maui (OGG) scooped up in the blink of an eye. It’s big news for sun-starved flyers in California, where flights are set to begin from Oakland (OAK) and San Jose (SJC) on March 17, 2019 and May 5, 2019, respectively.
But what about everyone else? We pushed Southwest’s booking portal to its limits testing out possible routing options from other West Coast cities, the American heartland and the Eastern Seaboard. While we did find availability from cities like Orlando (MCO), Atlanta (ATL), New York (EWR), Austin (AUS) and Chicago (MDW), getting back wasn’t as simple.
Overnight Flights on Southwest? “Not Right Now”
Across the board, Southwest’s ticketing engine throws up zilch when it comes to flying from Hawaii back to the mainland east coast, and with few exceptions (Chicago), fliers everywhere east of the Pacific time zone are left hunting for a different carrier if they intend to return.
The reason? Southwest doesn’t do red-eye flights. It never has, and while launching flights to an island chain some 2,500 miles away from the mainland United States feels like the ideal catalyst, it’s simply not in the cards.
I spoke with a Southwest representative following the debut of ticket sales to Hawaii, and was told that while the airline would “never say never” to flying overnight, the answer unambiguously was “not right now.” Moreover, I was informed that Southwest’s cone of connectivity for Hawaii is intentionally limited to the region west of the Rockies (plus Denver), and that the airline is not marketing service anywhere beyond that.
To clarify, it’s not because Southwest can’t operate red-eyes. There is no technical reason why the airline can’t schedule an overnight flight (unlike ETOPS certification, which it did need to fly to Hawaii). The airline grew up as a short-haul carrier, and it has grown its network by targeting destinations that did not require flying at times the only thing open is the local IHOP and legacy airline operation centers.
Hawaii’s Reliance on Red-Eyes
Those situated east of the Rockies have precious few options when it comes to flying back from Hawaii. If they leave on a daytime departure out of the islands, they’ll often land in California, Oregon or Washington at night, requiring a red-eye flight from there home to avoid a one-night stay in either a hotel or airport lobby.
Alternately, you can fly overnight (e.g. red-eye) from Hawaii on carriers such as Alaska, American, Delta, United and Hawaiian, putting you back on the US West Coast in the wee hours of the following morning. From there, it’s a bleary-eyed daytime flight back home.
A few carriers offer long-haul red-eye flights from Hawaii, such as Delta’s routes from Honolulu (HNL) to Detroit (DTW), Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP) and Atlanta (ATL) and United’s nonstop service between Honolulu (HNL) and Newark (EWR). Hawaiian will begin flying a red-eye between Honolulu (HNL) and Boston (BOS) in April 2019, creating the longest domestic flight in the entire country.
Given that Southwest’s initial service to Hawaii will begin and end in two California airports, connection options that don’t require overnight layovers are nonexistent. Southwest could conceivably get East Coasters back home from Oakland (OAK) and San Jose (SJC) if it began flying red-eye flights out of Honolulu (HNL) and Maui (OGG), but it’s evidently OK with leaving that business to other airlines.
If ever Southwest was to ponder its first overnight flight, launching service to Hawaii would be it. Considering that it has steadfastly refused to introduce overnight flights even after its debut in the 808, we’d say it’s very unlikely the airline will change course in the near future.
Because of this, central US and East Coast flyers should essentially cross Southwest off of their list when it comes to flying to Hawaii. The only sensible use of Southwest to Hawaii for those situated east of the Rockies is to create a trip within a trip — not a bad idea, but definitely a time-consuming one. For example, fly to California for a few days, enjoy Yosemite and In-N-Out, then continue on to Hawaii. For the return, you’d need another pre-planned stop in California, or look to points and miles for cheap one-way returns on a legacy airline.
Of course, we always recommend you keep an eye on TPG‘s Deals page, where we frequently post about sales to paradise.
Featured image by Marco Garcia / The Points Guy
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