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Southwest Airlines says Hawaii flights are a 'priority'
USA Today Online
Southwest Airlines is getting closer to adding Hawaii flights, a vacation destination travelers have been begging the nation's largest domestic airline to add for years.
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly, in Phoenix on Wednesday for Southwest's annual shareholders meeting, said flights to Hawaii are a high priority for the airline. In contrast, he said Canada flights are on the airline's radar but not a priority.
"We're deciding what our plans are for 2018 and Hawaii is important to us,'' Kelly said in a meeting with reporters after the shareholder event in downtown Phoenix.
For the first time in a few years, Kelly said, Southwest had a wide open agenda for 2018. The airline focused on new Dallas flights in 2015, added international flights in Houston in 2016 and this year is adding a new international terminal in Fort Lauderdale.
Asked if Hawaii flights could begin as early as 2018, Kelly didn't rule it out but didn't sound promising.
"I doubt it,'' he said. "We have not decided exactly what we want to do for 2018 yet.''
He said Southwest must take several steps to prepare for the launch of Hawaii service, including Federal Aviation Administration certification for flights over the Pacific, flight crew training and technology support.
"We still have a lot of work to do and we don't have a committed work plan yet on Hawaii ... but it's pretty high on the priority list,'' Kelly said.
The airline plans to use the new Boeing 737 MAX to go to Hawaii. The airline's first MAX will begin flying for the carrier in October. The airline expects to have 14 of the planes, which offer an extended flight range, by the end of the year.
The first batch of Hawaii flights would be from the West Coast, Kelly said, but did not say where. Phoenix and Las Vegas are seeking non-stop service to Hawaii on Southwest, but those cities would not be in the first batch of flights because a different Boeing 737 MAX plane not yet in the fleet would be needed on the route.
American and Hawaiian airlines offer non-stop flights between Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport and Hawaii.
Discounter Allegiant Air tried Hawaii flights from Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in the far-east Phoenix suburb Mesa but the service was short-lived.