A Southwest Airlines jet arrived in Hawaii this afternoon without a hitch, marking the start of the carrier’s service to the isles.
The carrier’s inaugural flight, appropriately numbered 6808, came from Oakland International Airport to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. The 175-seat plane carried about 165 passengers — a robust 94 percent load factor indicating that demand was high.
Enthusiasm from the passengers and Southwest employees, some dressed like leprechauns, was so strong that it sounded like an early St. Patrick’s Day party was unfolding. The debut got a full-court press with Hawaiian blessings on both sides. In Honolulu there were lei greetings, hula dancers, hapa-haole music and a display of aloha attire that harked back to days of old.
Erie, Pa., natives and big Southwest fans Tim Klan, wife Holly and 10-year-old son Mark made sure not to miss the hoopla. The family has been on 700 Southwest flights since the couple first booked the carrier in 2001. They’ve visited each of the more than 100 destinations that Southwest flies and have been on 30 of the carrier’s inaugural flights.
“If we are going to go somewhere new that they fly, we try to get an inaugural flight. It’s a huge party. Everyone at the gate and at the airport is in a great mood and really happy,” said Klan, whose family managed to get Southwest’s Hawaii debut flight for $99 each way. “We’ve been waiting for this. We’ve already booked five round trips to Hawaii. We’re coming back for all the other inaugural flights.”
Southwest’s arrival in Hawaii has been eagerly anticipated since its announcement last year that it planned to start flying to Hawaii from the California cities of San Diego, Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento and then add interisland routes that include Maui, Hawaii island and Kauai. The carrier had anticipated flying sometime in February, but the government shutdown delayed regulators from completing the carrier’s certification.
To fill planes quickly, Southwest kicked off its Hawaii service with introductory low fares offering trans-Pacific flights for as little as $49 each way and interisland sales from $29. Southwest’s introductory fares won’t last forever, but they’ve already meant lower fares to and from Hawaii as other carriers, mainly Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, have responded to the increasingly competitive environment.
Southwest will start service between Oakland and Maui on April 7. Southwest will begin flying between Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport and Honolulu on May 5 and begin service between San Jose and Maui on May 26.
On April 28 Southwest will begin interisland service, four times daily in each direction, between Honolulu and Kahului. Beginning May 12 the carrier will begin service between Honolulu and Kona flying planes four times daily in each direction.
The additional interisland service will make it possible for Southwest to offer connecting service between Kona and both Oakland and San Jose.
By the end of May, Southwest already will have added 12 daily trans-Pacific flights to and from Hawaii and 16 interisland flights, Steven Swan, Southwest’s senior director strategic planning and airline partnerships, said in an earlier interview.
“At the peak of the service that we’ve already announced, we will be at 4,900 seats a day,” Swan said. “That’s 2,800 interisland air seats and 2,100 trans-Pacific air seats daily that have been added to the Hawaii market.”
Southwest has said that it will announce service between Hawaii and San Diego, Sacramento, and interisland service to Lihue in the “coming weeks.”