It's official. And it's just in time for those of us who are sick to death of winter.

Southwest Airlines is going to Hawaii.

This is more than a story about a much-anticipated airline route, or even the chance to get a cheap ticket to the 50th state. (Although if you act fast, you might be able to grab a $49 Southwest promotional fare -- provided you book by the end of the day today.)

Instead, this story is about a chance for a ringside seat, as an epic fight almost certainly breaks out among several major airlines. Although of course, the most existential challenge probably applies to Hawaiian Airlines, which suddenly will have to go head-to-head with Southwest.

Here's a brief recap, plus how the competition is likely to play out, and what we stand to learn by watching this all unfold.

'Before we can fly to Hawaii...'

I'm sure Southwest has been thinking about Hawaii for a long time, but one of the first public announcements I can find comes from 2014, when CEO Gary Kelly talked about the idea in an interview.

As he pointed out then, the aviation industry is interesting because it's so regulated that airlines have to telegraph their plans far ahead of time.

"We have work to do before we can fly to Hawaii, which I doubt we'll be able to keep a secret," Kelly said at the time.

Oakland to Oahu

Sure enough, it wasn't until 2017 that the airline officially announced its plans. And even then, the start date had to be pushed back earlier this year, because the partial government shutdown delayed Southwest's approval plans.

But that's all set now, and service begins on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, between Oakland and Honolulu. Beyond that, Southwest will begin service to Kahului on April 7, and add service from San Jose beginning in early May.

And, the airline plans to start inter-island service at the end of April, going head to head with Hawaiian Airlines.

'The Southwest Effect'

Lots of airlines announce new routes. But Southwest is the only one I know of that has such an economic impact that it has an entire phenomenon named after it.

The "Southwest Effect" is basically Southwest's record of entering new markets and upending the economics on routes as a result. Because while Southwest doesn't always have the cheapest fares, it can often spark a fare war by introducing other travel perks, like its insistence on avoiding change fees and baggage fees. 

A University of Virginia study found that in general, Southwest's entry into a new market drives the cost of tickets at all airlines down by an average of about $45.

Will it happen here? Time will tell, but apparently investors expect it to. Hawaiian Airlines stock dropped about 10 percent in a day, after the first reports came out about Southwest's new Hawaiian schedule.

It's an important story, and if it were up to me I'd fly out to cover it. For now however, we'll watch from afar.

Although if it doesn't warm up pretty soon here in the New York area, I might well conclude that an on-location reporting trip is just what honest journalism requires.

Published on: Mar 5, 2019
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