The Southwest Effect

Southwest Airlines recently announced expansion of their flights from the mainland to Hawaii and adding routes between the islands. It is the inter-island flights that I and many other residents of Hawaii are most excited about.

Southwest is adding inter-island flights from Honolulu to Lihue, Honolulu to Hilo and Kona to Kahului. Service to the new routes start in mid-January 2020. Reservations are now being taken with introductory ticket prices of $29 each way.

Southwest started inter-island service from Honolulu to Kahului and Honolulu to Kona this past spring. The airline serves those routes with Boeing 737-800 NG aircraft.

The expansion of inter-island service by Southwest has resulted in lower inter-island air fares by not only Southwest, but also the longtime incumbent in the market, Hawaiian Airlines.

Screen shot of Hawaiian Airlines lower inter-island fares

I recently got an email from Hawaiian Airlines announcing $49 fares on some of its flights. Among the lower fares are Honolulu to Hilo, which for several years have been quite high in the $80 range to at least $130 each way. Now there are some $59 fares to Hilo and also to Kona. Compared to some of Southwest’s fares, the $59 may be in the ballpark but are not as low as Southwest’s, especially if you factor in the $25 first checked bag fee vs. first two bags flying free on Southwest.

In May when Southwest first started flying to Kona, I flew on one Hawaiian Airlines flight for $29. The first leg of that round-trip was $78 with the return flight at the lower price.

Since Hawaiian Airlines started charging for checked bags, most of the time when I flew on them, I avoided the bag charge by taking all of my stuff in my two allowed carry-ons. That works mostly on flights to the Big Island of Hawaii where I do keep some extra clothes and stuff at my sister’s place.

How can this be?

In recent years airlines have initiated a number of fees to squeeze more money out of passengers beyond the cost of the basic ticket. Baggage fees, change fees, entertainment access fees and more are the sad reality of most airline travel today. Luckily Southwest has set itself apart by not charging some of these fees.

Airlines have come and gone in the tough to compete inter-island market. Aloha Airlines, Discovery Airlines, Mid Pacific Airlines, Mahalo Airlines, Pacific Wings, Mesa / Go! and most recently Island Air, were airlines that once flew in the inter-island market. All are gone. The result has been years in higher fares whenever the market was stuck with one major carrier. Hopefully Southwest will be a permanent presence in Hawaii offering an option to market leader Hawaiian


Melvin Ah Ching is a photographer, consultant, blogger, desktop publisher, and computer enthusiast living and working in Hawaii. The Hawaii Files have been online since 2006.