Southwest Airlines is among the latest in carriers to announce flight reductions for Hawaii, which relies almost exclusively on airlift to bring visitors to the tourism-dependent state.
The carrier is announcing today that it will temporarily stop its new Kona’s Kahului road, which began in January, and has cut the rest of its Hawaii service in the middle. From April 5 at the beginning of May, the carrier will cut services from four times daily to twice daily between Honolulu and Kona, Lihue and Hilo. The carrier will reduce its daily service six times between Honolulu and Kahului by three times.
It’s also going to ready down its trans-Pacific service from a dozen flights a day leaving California and a dozen flights leaving Hawaii to two flights a day between Honolulu and Oakland.
The move, characterized as an excessive investment, is designed to fund Southwest’s inland gas services. Southwest to bring aircraft in Hawaii to keep its service entèrnland.
Southwest Chairman Tom Nealon told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in an exclusive interview Wednesday that the insurer would make reduction schedule network another 20% to 23% throughout the night and morning. The cuts, which are on top of an earlier 7.5% or so reduction, essentially bring coronavirus new-inspired reductions to 30% across the entire Southwest network.
Nealon said Southwest was “very committed to continuing to serve Hawaii,” but would “have to reduce Hawaii, just like every other piece of the network.”
But Nealon said southwestern plans include continuing to try to serve each station on its Hawaii network.
Nealon said that “Interactive travel is a very important service at this point whether it is medical supplies or recipients coming back and forth to their doctors,”. “Don’t forget we have 350 employees on the island and about half of those are very recent employees — they are local, so we want to protect them.”
Maintaining interisland services is also important in Southwest competition, which challenged Hawaiian Airlines’ long-standing interisland monopoly last year.
Nealon said during the Southwest’s first year in Hawaii, it carried more than 3 million passengers, through 18,000 flights, and 13,000 of those flights serving interisland customers, most of them local.
“They are not tourists, are local riders. So I think we are providing a service to the incredible community,” Nealon said. “I think we also saw the effect of the Southwest was really kind of elevating itself again. When Southwest enters a market, the market tends to grow and prices tend to drop.”
Prior to the cuts, there was competition to share Hawaii’s market between Southwest, Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines. Too much capacity on some roads pushed load factors and prices lower, but demand was still strong enough for carriers to keep defending their territory.
However, that has changed with the 14-day quarantine order for visitors and returning residents beginning today, composing the impacts of earlier stay-in-place orders for residents.
Daily commute counts at Hawaii’s airports have already dropped drastically even before the forties. On Tuesday, there were 4,131 passengers arriving, an 87% reduction on the same day last year when there were 32,330 passengers.
In mid-March, Hawaiians made a nearly 40% reduction system and cuts have only deepened since. On Wednesday, Hawaiian announced further reductions, but remained focused on its major flights and cargo services.
Starting Sunday, the length of the Hawaiian trans-Pacific network will include a non-stop daily flight between Honolulu and Los Angeles and San Francisco, with one weekly flight connecting Hawaii with its Pacific Island neighbors in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
Still, the carrier is offering a robust schedule integral to 41 daily round-trip trips. From Honolulu there will be 38 daily flights, including 13 to Maui, eight to Kona, seven to Kauai, six to Hilo, and two each to Lanai and Molokai. From Maui there will be a round-trip each to Hilo, Kauai and Kona in addition to Honolulu services.
Hawaiian is also expanding interisland freight services. Ohana by Hawaiian, the airline’s all-cargo carrier, began offering flights five days a week between Honolulu and Kahului and Kona.
Alaska Airlines also announced plans Wednesday to reduce its flight schedule for April and May by about 70% and other changes to save cash.
In a blog post, Alaska said, “Some regions we serve will see a reduction even greater service, such as Hawaii, where he was governor issued a mandatory 14 day self-isolation quarantine for all travelers entering in the state. “
Southwest initially was slower to respond to dropping demand than its main Hawaii competitors. The Federal Aviation Administration’s base of Boeing 737 Max aircraft has already slowed the carrier to reach its Hawaii growth goals.
But Southwest’s recent downturn shows how quickly businesses must change direction to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. Just two weeks ago, Hawaii was not on the short list as Southwest evaluated what the roads cut.
While this has changed, Nealon said he hopes the crisis “will not last forever.”
“We intend to come back strong and Hawaii is part of that back,” he said.