Southwest is launching service to Hawaii next week but is leaving far too much at the table thanks to its quirky scheduling policies.
The problem can be summed up in one word: redeyes. Southwest doesn’t do them and has never done them. But now that it is serving Hawaii, it really needs to start them if it wants to fully realize the potential of its new Hawaii service.
Right now, you will receive an error message on southwest.com if trying to book a return from Hawaii to the Midwest or East Coast. That’s because flights from Hawaii do not arrive in time to make same-day connections and the Southwest reservation system appears unable to handle overnight layovers or double connections.
It’s easy enough to get around this to book a return as a multi-city, routing Hawaii to the West Coast and then from the West Coast to your final destination. But if you do this, you are looking at an overnight layover in Oakland, San Jose, Sacramento, or San Diego. A hotel plus meals can often zap all the money you saved by flying Southwest over a competitor.
But why no redeyes? What is is the hindrance to offering redeyes? Southwest told its employees:
When developing these schedules, our primary focus was to offer the best possible timings for local customers (in Hawaii and California). As we continue to add service to Hawaii and increase some of our technical capabilities, we will only see more cities gain connections to the state.
We hear about this “technical capabilities” whenever redeyes are mentioned. Are Southwest’s systems really so old that they simply cannot handle a flight that departs one day and arrives the next? That doesn’t seem right, since many flights depart in the afternoon and arrive just after midnight.
Why Southwest Doesn’t Fly Redeyes
Cranky Flier put that question to Southwest’s Corporate Historian, Richard West, nearly four years ago. Are the lack of redeyes due to technical limitations or simply strategy?
It’s a little bit of both in terms of how we set up our schedule. On the technical side, there is nothing in our system that prevents us from operating a flight that spans two business days, and we frequently operate charter and maintenance flights based on operational or charter Customer’s needs. We have used software on the advanced scheduling side that was not originally built to accommodate redeye itineraries, primarily in the way connections are handled. There is an effort underway to have our scheduling system and all the downstream applications support selling redeye flying, but as of the moment, we don’t have any immediate plans to start offering anything along these lines at the moment.
That was in 2015 and in 2017 Southwest replaced its aged reservation system with a new platform that could supposedly handle redeyes. There is also nothing barring pilots or FAs from serving on redeye flights. But we still don’t see them and I have to wonder, based on the two quotes above, if there are still technical limitations at play.
I get that Southwest is a point-to-point airline and doesn’t sell double connections or overnight layovers. Its model has worked very well for it. But Hawaii is a new market and if Southwest wants to compete it needs to think about offering redeyes and double or even triple connections on its websites. Think about it, say a customer living in Washington, DC wants to fly Southwest from Maui. We are looking at inter-island flight, flight to the west coast, flight to Chicago or Dallas, and finally a flight to National or Dulles. If the passenger wants to subject herself to that sort of punishment, Southwest should not only be willing to sell her the ticket but make it easy to buy.