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Hawaii Bound: Southwest’s Low-Cost Service Heads for the Pacific Island Chain

​​​​After several years in process, Southwest Airlines is finally cleared to operate its low-cost flights between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland.

After several announcements and years in process, Southwest Airlines is finally cleared to operate its low-cost flights between Hawaii and the U.S. mainland and intends to start selling tickets very soon.

The Federal Aviation Administration approved the low-cost carrier to fly to the islands from the West Coast, Southwest said. The announcement this week came as a lift for the airline, which has been besieged with problems with its mechanics’ union after a cascade of hardware issues that have grounded dozens of jets. The airline and its mechanics have been locked in negotiations for more than six years.

Southwest had initiated plans seeking approval to fly to Hawaii in October 2017, hoping to start selling tickets by 2018. But those approvals were delayed because of the political chaos in the U.S. that resulted recently in a partial government shutdown. The airline had been waiting for the FAA to sign off on its plans to fly Boeing 737-800 jets long distance over water.

“Were it not for Hawaii, we would absolutely be adding some more international routes and augmenting some of our flying,” Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told analysts on an earnings call in January. “So, it’s simply a matter of prioritization, and Hawaii, I think, deserves that kind of prioritization. It’s that big of an opportunity.”

Southwest’s service to the Aloha State could create what has been fondly tabbed “the Southwest Effect,” making Hawaiian vacations that much more affordable. In markets where the airline operates nonstop service, one-way fares are, on average, $45 lower than comparable routes on other airlines. The new Southwest route competes with American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines but there is little speculation at this time about the “effect” and its impact on competing fares.

Currently, Southwest plans to fly to the islands from four California cities: Oakland, San Diego, San Jose and Sacramento and fly to Honolulu, Kahului on Maui, Kona, and Lihue on Kauai. The airline also intends to offer service between the islands, according to reports. Southwest plans to grow its flight operations by 5 percent this year, and half of that will come from Hawaii, the airline said.

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