LIHUE — Kauai is still waiting for Southwest Airlines to announce flights into Lihue Airport, and airline representatives say that will happen soon.
And while flights to the mainland are catching eyes nationwide, Southwest representatives say they’re just as focused on interisland travel.
“That’s something local customers want,” said Steven Swan, Southwest’s senior director of strategic planning and airline partnerships.
Swan was on Kauai over the weekend after Southwest announced flights from California to Oahu, Maui and Kona. He traveled to the Garden Island with Brad Hawkins, senior adviser for Southwest’s communications team, who said they couldn’t yet speak about connections on Kauai — or the deals that are expected to come with those flights.
Southwest opened up their flights from the mainland to Hawaii with fares less than $50 one-way — a fare that averages about $250 for a one-way flight, according to websites like Kayak.com and Orbitz.com.
From Oahu to neighbor islands Maui and Hawaii Island, Southwest announced flights starting at $65 one-way.
That’s providing competition for Hawaiian Airlines, the only carrier that’s been offering interisland flights since Island Air left the skies in 2017. A search on Google Flights showed one-way April flights from Kauai to Oahu starting at $69 and ranging up to $100, depending on the day and time of the flight.
Brent Overbeek, Hawaiian Airlines senior vice president for network planning and revenue management, said he couldn’t talk about future pricing or schedule changes, but did say that Hawaiian Air prides itself as being “Hawaii’s hometown carrier.”
“We have employees who work and live in the community, we’re blessed to have a group that’s ingrained in the islands,” Overbeek said. “We have a real robust level of service. We have a formula that works well and resonates with our guests and we’ll continue to compete.”
Whatever debut deals Southwest is planning for Kauai flights as they enter the interisland realm will be announced with the flights.
“(The announcement will), be sometime with in the next two to six weeks,” Hawkins said.
They did say that Southwest aims to stay in the game when it comes to interisland flights — and to offer “a different kind of service” than Hawaiian Airlines with features like no baggage fees.
They’ll be flying fewer times between islands.
“We announced four flights daily (from Oahu to other neighbor islands),” Swan said. “It’ll most likely be similar for Kauai.”
In comparison, Hawaiian Airlines offers flights between neighbor islands between 17 and 19 times daily — on almost an hourly basis from 6:30 a.m. to 11:50 p.m.
Several companies have given it a go at interisland travel — Aloha Airlines offered flights until 2008. Island Air ceased travel in November 2017 after filing for bankruptcy in October of that year.
Southwest says they’ve got the chops to make it, though, with a big enough customer base on the mainland to balance any hits they might take for hops in between islands.
“We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t think we’d be able to make money,” Swan said.
Hawkins points out Southwest dominates a large corner of California air travel, and serves major population centers like Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta.
Hawaiian Airlines says it’s not going anywhere, and will continue to offer that robust schedule of flights between neighbor islands.
“Price and schedule are number one (in importance for customers),” Overbeek said. “We think we’ll check the boxes for our residents.”