Southwest to begin Hilo service in January

  • A Southwest Boeing 737-800 is shown at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. (Photo: Southwest Airlines)
  • Hawaii Gov. David Ige greets the Southwest Airlines' inaugural flight to Hawaii in March at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu. (Photo: Southwest Airlines)

Southwest Airlines will begin offering flights from Hilo early next year, it was announced Thursday.

New interisland flights between Hilo and Honolulu, as well as from Lihue, Kauai, to Honolulu will be available four times daily in each direction beginning Jan. 19, 2020.

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Additionally, nonstop flights between Kona to Kahului, Maui, will be offered once a day in each direction beginning Jan. 19.

New daily service between Sacramento, Calif., and Honolulu, and nonstop flights from both Oakland, Calif. and San Jose, Calif., to both Lihue and Kona also begin in January.

Steven Swan, senior director of strategic planning and airline partnerships for Southwest, said over the past few years, “the people of Hilo that we’ve met have been very vocal in asking for Southwest to serve the Hilo market.”

Southwest believes there’s a “good opportunity here for us, and we believe that we’ve got a phenomenal offering for the people of Hilo, whether they’re flying just to Honolulu or whether they want to connect on to the 90-plus destinations that we have on the mainland as well,” he continued.

Southwest Airlines confirmed in May that it will begin flights to Hilo but did not say when flights to Hilo International Airport would begin.

The airline announced in early March that it would begin service to the state with an inaugural flight between Oakland and Honolulu.

The airline launched service between Oakland and Kahului on April 7 and started flying between Honolulu and San Jose in May.

Southwest’s interisland service kicked off at the end of April when it began flying between Honolulu and Maui.

Service between Honolulu and Kailua-Kona began in May.

According to a report from Tribune News Service, Hawaiian Airlines has enjoyed a monopoly since the November 2017 shutdown of Island Air. The interisland market proved too tough for Aloha Airlines, which stopped flying in 2008, and go!, a regional brand of Phoenix-based Mesa Airlines, which ended Hawaii operations in 2014.

While community sentiment has been positive, community outreach senior specialist Kelly Knox said that internally, Southwest is “relieved and excited every time we get to bring new service and be able to come in and talk to people because there is a need in the community for competition, and we’re able to provide a great product and a great second option for folks.”

Work in Hilo has “illustrated and illuminated for us that the ‘Southwest Hospitality’ … is the same as the aloha spirit,” said Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins. “There’s just sort of a sympathetic support of the two. They just seamlessly go together.”

For Hilo, the news is amazing, said Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau.

“It’s going to add a secondary interisland option and really open up the gateway through Hilo.”

Birch said, too, that there has been great local demand for Southwest “to really make their decision to provide interisland access,” and for tourism, the move will add more seat and more access for travelers.

“Southwest is really making a big step right now entering the market,” he said, adding that Kona is “really going to be benefiting from great airfare” to the mainland.

Airfare in Kona has already been driven down since Southwest’s arrival, Birch said.

“It’s pretty amazing what the price points are right now,” he said. “They’ll make sure that stays the same for a little while longer once they start their routes in January.”

Rhea Lee-Moku, president of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce, said the announcement is not just exciting for the business community, but the community as a whole because it gives travelers options for work and play.

Lee-Moku, who retired from HELCO, said there were times she was working when she was not able to make a meeting off island because flights were full, and there are others who have experienced the same thing.

Having additional flights serving Hilo is “really exciting,” Lee-Moku said. “It gives people more options. It’s just all-around better service for Hilo and we need it.”

When asked about the possibility of Southwest offering mainland flights out of Hilo International Airport in the future, Swan said those are “the things that we’re always looking at.”

Southwest tends to take a “relatively conservative approach” when going into a new area, learning about the community and the market, he explained.

“Then we look at additional opportunities, and so I don’t see Hilo being any different than the other markets that we’ve gone into,” said Swan. “We have now, over the past five, six months, successfully been able to launch service to Hawaii. We’re incredibly happy with the performance that we’re having on the flights, whether those be crossing the Pacific or in the islands, and so if we saw that type of result from Hilo, it’s definitely something that we’d be looking to do in the future.”

Introductory fares offered for interisland flights through Aug. 22 begin at $29 one way, valid for travel on Tuesdays and Wednesday for nonstop service between Jan. 21-March 4, according to a Southwest news release.

One-way tickets for mainland flights begin at $99 when traveling on Tuesdays or Wednesdays during that same time period.

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For more information, visit http://southwest.com/Hawaii.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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