When Southwest Airlines begins selling tickets for flights to Hawaii next year, there’s no indication any of its routes would include nonstop trips to and from McCarran International Airport.
The Dallas-based discount carrier, the largest commercial operator at the Las Vegas airport, announced Wednesday that it has begun applying for Federal Aviation Administration authorization to fly its twin-engine jets on extended operations and would begin selling tickets in 2018.
Southwest Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly told Southern California Southwest employees about plans Wednesday and the company then issued a release with the formal announcement.
The airline did not announce details of what routes would be served. Southwest currently serves 10 airports in California, including Los Angeles International, Burbank, Long Beach, Orange County, Ontario and San Diego in Southern California.
A Southwest spokesman said Thursday that while routes and destinations haven’t been announced for either Hawaii or the mainland, Las Vegas is likely to have good access.
“We haven’t announced routes or destinations but California will play a key role to access the islands,” said spokesman Dan Landson in an email. “You can anticipate there will be ample connectivity to our Hawaii routes based on the number of flights between Las Vegas and California.”
McCarran currently has nonstop flights to and from Honolulu on Hawaiian Airlines, which has 18 flights a week, and Allegiant Air, which has two a week and is in the process of exiting the market when the last of its Boeing 757 jets are retired.
Hawaiian has the most to lose when Southwest jumps in since there is little hotel capacity being added in Honolulu so most of the air travel market will be shifts in share as opposed to growth, a source familiar with the market said.
But for now, Southwest officials are happy to effect a plan that has been speculated on for more than a decade.
“A day long-awaited by our customers, fans and more than 55,000 of the world’s most-loved airline employees is finally within sight — a day that will showcase your hospitality, about as far southwest as you can go in the U.S.,” Kelly told the gathering of employees in Southern California.
What is ETOPS?
Earlier this month, Southwest began flying its Boeing 737 Max 7 and Max 8 jets, a quieter and more fuel-efficient version of its 737 fleet. The airline will be required to get FAA approval for ETOPS — Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards, a rule that requires permission to fly routes that are more than 60 minutes away from an airport suitable for an emergency landing.
Boeing has said the new Max 7 and 8 jets have the range to fly to Hawaii from Las Vegas, but officials are reviewing the potential impact on summer flying when high temperatures affect the performance of fully fueled aircraft.
That’s an issue that affected operations of jets flown by Norwegian Air Shuttle and Hainan airlines. Norwegian canceled its Las Vegas flight schedule to Europe and Hainan moved its departures to Beijing to after midnight when temperatures are cooler.