New trouble looming for Southwest Hawaii flights

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Flights from Southwest Hawaii could now face bigger problems than we thought. Aren’t these supposed to be behind us? The challenges may affect the number of flights that can be operated to Southwest Hawaii and talk of higher prices in the future. If Southwest raises prices, it’s a foregone conclusion that Hawaiian will follow.

Changes threatening Southwest Hawaii flights:

  • Prices will need to rise, including Hawaii fares, as the airline lacks the capacity to meet current and projected travel demand. Southwest’s CEO recently said that they could fly many more flights if it weren’t for the pilot shortage.
  • Earn more money with fewer flights and passengers. Southwest said it is “looking for higher revenue with reduced capacity.” That is the result of there not being enough pilots to fly more flights.
  • Some flights from Southwest Hawaii may disappear. With Southwest unable to fly all of its planes, even at the same time it has expanded flights to Hawaii, it appears that more flight frequency changes are on the horizon.
  • There will be more seasonality of flights in Hawaii. A clue to this from Southwest and the fact that they’ve already started scheduling some of their flights to Hawaii after hours, only to reschedule them later. So we anticipate true seasonality based on the time of year in their future flight schedule to Hawaii, but they may only fly certain days of the week on a given route, as Alaska Airlines does.

You can’t fly all your planes right now.

It still goes back to when the airline, during Covid, slowed down employee acquisition and even encouraged some early retirements, among other things. And Southwest, like other airlines, underestimated the growing demand for travel and the speed with which it returned. This all comes together and not in the best way for travelers to Hawaii or the Southwest.

For most airline employees except pilots, that problem has been fixed, or at least to the extent possible. But when it comes to the pilots, that’s a problem Southwest can’t easily fix. It has reached fans recently, according to its CEO Bob Jordan.

During his third-quarter earnings call, the Southwest CEO said, “If we could fly all of our planes, meaning we had enough pilots to fly the plane on property, we would be about 5%, 6%, 7%, 8 % highest percentage of capacity or ASM this year at this time. That’s how much further we could fly. It really is more that the factor that is the combination of short-haul, medium-haul and long-haul flights”.

What is Southwest doing to remedy the problem?

Jordan said: “We are on track to hire 1,200 pilots this year and 2,100 pilots next year as planned. We wanted to restore our operational reliability. Going forward, we believe we have capacity that is better suited to seasonal demand.” Our pilot recruitment and training continue to be the factor driving growth as we move forward. We continue to attract high-quality pilot candidates, and Southwest Airlines’ new-pilot training program is strong.”

  • First and foremost is the hiring of 1,200 pilots this year and 2,100 next year if things go according to plan.
  • Creativity has also entered the job search at Southwest and other airlines. For example, the photo above of a Southwest pilot and ffirst mate father daughter team. We are seeing more and more of these creative employment opportunities.
  • Outside of Southwest’s direct scope, other proposed possibilities include reducing experience hour requirements. The mandatory retirement age could also be changed from 65 to 67.
  • Airlines, including Southwest, are looking to attract pilots from as many sources as possible. One of these has been the regional airlines, which have been losing their pilots to the major airlines.

Southwest’s pilot plans could include foreign pilots.

The airline is considering seeking US authorization for H1B visa holders from other countries to serve as Southwest pilots. They have a pilot in mind to hire, or at least that’s what they’ve said. A pilot would certainly be a way to test these uncharted waters.

SWAPO, the Southwest Pilots Union, doesn’t accept any of that, whether it’s one pilot or hundreds. Recently, while stating that they were unaware of this new development, SWAPO issued a letter of concern over what they see as a threat to their union members. The union does not like the precedent this would create.

This pilot issue started years ago.

The shortage of qualified pilots has been a problem for several years and for a myriad of reasons. Among them is that many pilots are reaching the mandatory retirement age (65). The old path for military pilots to become commercial pilots has slowed down significantly. Then Covid hit, more pilots left with great retirement offers, and others just wanted to change jobs.

Airlines that fly to Hawaii, including American, Delta, Hawaiian and Southwest, have established new training programs with dozens of flight schools. But that will take time, and the problem is expected to continue for years.

There are currently about 135,000 airline and commercial pilots in the US It is estimated that the airline will need about 30,000 more pilots by the end of this decade.

Do you have any concerns about these developments affecting Southwest Hawaii flights?

Our first thought is that if inter-island flights are withdrawn, we could see an end to the current $39 inter-island airfares and return to previous stratospheric fares for such short flights. Ugg.

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