KAILUA-KONA —- About a week ago, Waikoloa residents Francis Blas and Kaelynne Manoha decided to plan a spur-of-the-moment family trip to Honolulu.
“We wanted to go on a trip for Mother’s Day, and we just went on the Southwest (Airlines) app, because one of my friends told me to go ahead and download it because you get some free points,” said Blas. “So I downloaded it, and she told me she wanted to go on a trip. So we booked the trip that day.”
And on Sunday morning, the family waited at Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport where they would soon board Southwest’s first flight from Hawaii Island to Honolulu.
“It opens up a lot of opportunities,” said Blas as the family waited at their gate on Sunday. “You can fly to other islands, and you don’t have to break the bank for it.”
Southwest’s arrival to Hawaii Island has been eagerly anticipated since the airline announced its plans in March. Its inaugural flight touched down at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport on March 17 from Oakland International Airport in California.
The airline launched service between Oakland and Kahului, Maui, on April 7 and started flying between Honolulu and San Jose earlier this month. Southwest’s interisland service kicked off at the end of April when it began flying between Honolulu and Maui.
“We are overwhelmed, gratefully, by the response to the service that we’re offering,” said Brad Hawkins, Pacific spokesman for Southwest Airlines, saying interest and bookings in Hawaii are outpacing what the airline normally sees in mainland markets.
Each Southwest Airlines flight is capable of holding 175 passengers. The first flight from Honolulu to Kona had 93 passengers aboard, Hawkins said, and the first flight back to Honolulu had 140 passengers.
Mother’s Day getaways
Blas and Manoha weren’t the only ones taking the opportunity to celebrate Mother’s Day with an interisland getaway.
Oahu resident Betty Jane Manewa, after she came in through the gate to the airport off Southwest’s inaugural flight from Honolulu to Kona, said her daughters Gordean Manewa and Dawnlynn Moe had surprised her with the trip.
The women said they think the arrival of another airline into the market is great, saying it will offer new options for those traveling to, from and among the islands.
Dawnlynn Moe said Southwest’s flight might also make it more feasible for people to fly, and they all agreed it would make it a little easier for residents to visit family on other islands.
“In Hawaii, family’s important,” said Gordean Manewa.
And while local families are seizing the opportunity the new flights offer, visitors to the state are also seeing value in the new routes.
For Pennsylvania residents Gary and Brenda Hornberger, Southwest’s appeal lies in its friendly attitude and service to customers.
“Whenever we can, we fly Southwest,” said Brenda Hornberger.
And having the option now to take Southwest flights to Hawaii, she said, is wonderful.
“We’ll probably come to Hawaii more often than we would have otherwise,” she said.
The Hawaii Department of Transportation also acknowledged the excitement it has sensed from travelers.
“We have heard from many in the traveling community who are extremely excited to have another airline enter the market and provide more flights, routes, and seats to and from Hawaii, especially interisland service,” HDOT Deputy Director Ross Higashi said in a statement. “Southwest Airlines provides the community with more options to choose from when flying between the islands and mainland.”
Following a blessing Sunday morning, Hawaii Airports District Manager Chauncey Wong Yuen said the challenge now for the airport is to provide a quality level of service to travelers and balance functionality with the culture and aesthetics associated with the region.
“It points to the need for larger, more comfortable facilities that can accommodate those increases in traffic,” he said. “Right now, we’re in the same basic footprint we were in 1970 when the airport opened.”
Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines still has plans for more announcements about additional flights into, out of and within Hawaii.
Details on the previously announced mainland gateways of San Diego and Sacramento as well as the airline’s fourth Hawaii destination of Lihue, Kauai, are still to come.
At the Hawaii Island Visitor Industry Charity Walk on Saturday, Southwest Airlines executive vice president and chief revenue officer Andrew Watterson confirmed plans to start flying between Honolulu and Hilo late this year or early next year.
That will make Hilo Southwest’s fifth destination in the state.
Watterson said the airline also intends to serve Hawaii Island from the mainland, but said “the question is when.”
“And we’ll unveil that over the next couple months,” he said.