No Aloha for Southwest.
Mainland friends are surprised to learn I have never flown on Southwest Airlines. I probably never will, even though they’re planning to start service between the mainland and Hawaii sometime next year. I do have my reasons.
First, as a practical matter, I’ve been part of the American Airlines AAdvantage program for 25 years and I’m also a long-time member of the Hawaiian Airlines program. I have lots of miles on both airlines and between here and the mainland, I’m always on one of those two.
Second, Herb Kelleher, Chairman Emeritus and former CEO of Southwest, has been a bitter behind-the-scenes opponent of efforts to build a high-speed rail line linking Houston and Dallas. He played a major role in killing the project some 20 years ago and apparently the people now running Southwest are making a similar effort this time around.
And third, in addition to flights between Hawaii and the US mainland, Southwest is also talking about entering the inter-island market here. We have been down that unhappy road before. Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines battled it out for years with both companies often teetering on the edge of collapse and both going in and out of Chapter 11 more than once. Mesa Air tried to crack the inter-island market a decade ago and all they managed to do was put Aloha Airlines out of business permanently. Aloha shut down once and for all in 2008; Mesa left town a few years later.
Today, Hawaiian Airlines is a well-run, stable, and profitable airline employing some 5,000 island residents and another thousand on the mainland and in Asia and the South Pacific. While competition for the inter-island business from Southwest might result in slightly lower fares, a far more likely scenario would be Hawaiian Airlines becoming a marginal operation with all those local jobs constantly in jeopardy.
Too many corporate big shots consider this kind of competition as nothing more than a high-stakes game to determine who’s smarter, who’s more aggressive, who’s the winner. The problem with that is the big shots on the losing side just move on looking for their next big deal, while lots of the little guys—flight crews, reservationists, baggage handlers, mechanics—are screwed.
So, Southwest? Fly here from the mainland if you must. But stay the hell out of the inter-island business. Either way, I’m sticking with Hawaiian Airlines.