From Hawaii With LUV: A Review of Southwest's 737-800 From Honolulu to Oakland
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[tpg_rating tpg-rating-score="74" ground-experience="7" cabin-seat="20" amens-ife="7" food-bev="17" service="23" pros="Sufficient Wi-Fi, plenty of options in the IFE system and a free snack box." cons="No seatback IFE screens and I forgot to check-in." /]
Although Sunday was Southwest’s big debut bash for its inaugural flight to Hawaii, Monday also marked a first for the Pacific island newbie: its first passenger flight back from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oakland, California. Flight WN6569 was the inaugural Southwest return.
Even though it didn’t have quite as much pomp and circumstance as the leg to Honolulu from Oakland (i.e. no hula dancers on board), the “Luv” carrier was still in celebration mode. And with classic Southwest perks like two free checked bags and friendly crew, plus decent Wi-Fi speeds over the ocean and Hawaiian-themed drink selections, plus cheap Southwest fares to and from Hawaii, there was reason to celebrate.
When Southwest first announced the date of its first flight to Hawaii, it was selling fares for just $49 each way. As you could expect, those tickets went very fast. Fares on the first flight off the island weren't quite as low, but still a steal. We paid just $79 for the one-way flight from Honolulu (HNL) to Oakland (OAK) with The Platinum Card® from American Express in order to take advantage of the card's 5x bonus category on airfare purchased directly through the airline or with Amex Travel (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). We earned a total of 395 Membership Rewards points, which are worth just about $8 according to TPG's current valuations. Plus, since this was a paid fare, I was able to earn Rapid Rewards points for the journey, though I earned just 330 in total. Even though the points earning was meager, it didn't really matter, since the ticket was just so cheap.
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It was the first day for the Southwest check-in and ticketing area at HNL, and the newly unveiled counters were sporting balloons to mark the occasion.
Computers at the brand-new bag drop were still under wraps, and self-service kiosks were waiting to be activated for the first time.
The Southwest concourse is in Terminal 2, and it was a substantial walk through the airport after security, but not unmanageable.
The concourse that Southwest uses at HNL is completely new, built from the ground up beginning in October 2018. The space was originally earmarked for interisland flights for Island Air, but when that carrier went belly up in 2017, the empty lot became an opportunity for Southwest to build gates to its own specifications.
Southwest has four gates at HNL: G7, G8, G9 and G10. And of course, there was plenty of space for the pylons, an integral part of Southwest's signature boarding style. The carrier has open seating, so all seats are first come, first served, and passengers board according to a group letter and number based on how early they check in. Southwest also offers Early Bird check-in for $15 to $25 that automatically checks passengers in, guaranteeing a solid boarding position. Business Select can be purchased for $30, $40 or $50 per flight and guarantees one of the first 15 boarding positions (A1 through A15).
The entire gate area felt fresh and comfortable, especially compared to the rest of HNL's T2, all of which was either under construction or extremely dated.
There was plenty of seating, with outlets and USB ports scattered throughout. I was able to charge both my laptop and phone without an issue — particularly important because Southwest’s 737-800 planes don’t have outlets available to passengers.
There was also a new Starbucks, which was up and running and a bar featuring Hawaii's Kona Brewing Co. that had yet to open.
There were festive touches around the gate area to mark the airline's first passenger flight out of Honolulu. A balloon arch adorned our departure gate, G7.
Live Hawaiian music and cake set the mood for a celebration.
The gate also had large windows looking out at planes parked on the tarmac -- a feature sure to delight AvGeeks passing through. Passengers could also watch takeoffs from the runway behind the tarmac. I spotted Southwest’s 738 parked from Sunday’s inaugural flight — the same 6-year-old jet that operated the carrier’s verification flights to Honolulu with the Federal Aviation Administration would also be taking us back to the mainland. At 11:10am, a second Southwest jet also landed: Flight WN808, which was its second-ever passenger jet from OAK to HNL.
Boarding ran about 10 minutes late, which the crew said was due to opening day hiccups, but otherwise the process went smoothly. As they boarded, passengers on this historic flight were given fresh departure leis and an inaugural certificate to remember the occasion.
All of Southwest's HNL gates have a ramp-style boarding, so passengers walked out on the tarmac and climbed the ramp to the plane. Normally, this would probably be seen as a drawback, but in Honolulu, it was a pleasant experience, because there were nice views of Diamond Head and the surrounding hills.
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The flight was completely sold out, with all 175 seats full. In the revelry of the inaugural flight to Hawaii on Sunday, I forgot to check in for my return flight, so I was in the dreaded “C” boarding group, which usually translates to a middle seat in the back of plane. But by the grace of the aviation gods, I was still able to find an aisle seat in the fourth row and overhead bin space for my rollaboard bag. A true miracle on this jam-packed flight!
The cabin sported Southwest's most recent interior design with blue leather seats... and not much other color.
Each seat had 32 inches of pitch and was 17 inches wide. The seat felt spacious enough for my four-and-a-half-hour flight.
Pushback was delayed by about 20 minutes, which the crew said was due to some last-minute luggage shifting. But the late pushback didn’t affect the flight’s arrival time.
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Inflight entertainment was available on personal devices through Southwest’s inflight Wi-Fi. The Wi-Fi was $8 per device, a huge perk on Hawaii service because competing carriers like Alaska and Hawaiian do not offer it once aircraft are over the Pacific Ocean.
Live TV, music and movies were available for free if passengers downloaded the Southwest app on their devices before takeoff. After takeoff, flyers could pay for Wi-Fi and use it to download the app. I downloaded the app with the onboard Wi-Fi after takeoff, and download speeds were surprisingly fast. In less than a minute, the app was up and running. However, the connection wasn’t strong enough for me to send instant messages and emails reliably.
The live TV worked well on the Wi-Fi, and there were only a few minor buffering issues. There were 16 channels available: CBS, TBS, NBC, Fox, HGTV, USA, FX, Discovery, Bravo, ESPN, NFL, Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC and Disney.
There was also a fair selection of movies. I watched "The Wife" and finally got around to watching "Crazy Rich Asians." I didn't have a stand for my phone, and there wasn't any obvious way to prop it up on the seatback or tray table, so I ended up holding it most of the time, which was bothersome but not terrible. I do think, however, that it's problematic that Southwest expects passengers to bring along their own devices for streaming, but doesn't provide power at each seat so that these devices can stay charged. Case in point: I wanted to save my computer battery as I had work to do once I landed in Oakland, which forced me to use my phone and its relatively small screen for entertainment during the flight.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Food and Beverage" tpg-rating="17" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" meals-purchase="Free snacks were provided" comp-alcohol="No" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Southwest offered soda, juice and coffee for free. Alcoholic drinks usually cost around $7. I wanted to indulge in one of the Hawaiian drinks the carrier is now offering on its island-bound flights, so I opted for the Kona Brewing Co. Longboard Island Lager, a refreshing, summery beer.
Southwest also has rolled out a new complimentary snack box on its Hawaii routes, with an assortment of crackers, pretzels, cheese spread and fruit snacks. Flight attendants also came around with Milano cookies and additional coffee and water before landing.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Service" tpg-rating="23" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" blurb="Southwest is known for its friendly crews -- and this flight was no exception." /]
The cabin crew was full of smiles on this special flight, and were fully accommodating. One flight attendant even remembered me from the inaugural flight in from the day before and asked how I was doing. An all-around pleasant and warm team.
I had an enjoyable flight from Honolulu back to the mainland with Southwest. Although I had minor grievances, like handheld IFE and being placed in the worst boarding group when I couldn't check in on time, the benefits far outweighed these small detractors. And having Wi-Fi on a Hawaii flight really tipped this service over the edge. As I just earned the Southwest companion pass through its latest credit card sign-up bonus, I'm likely to keep an eye on Southwest's website to book another affordable trip to Hawaii soon.
All photos by Jessica Puckett/The Points Guy.