Southwest Airlines has started selling tickets to Hawaii, with the first flights taking off March 17.
The initial flights will be between Oakland and Honolulu, with additional flights from Oakland and flights between San Jose and Honolulu, Kona and Maui added in April and May. Tickets are available on Southwest's website for the new routes.
Introductory fares started at $49 one way for travel into mid-June, according to Southwest's website. The cheapest fares were available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but as of 12:30 p.m. ET, the $49 tickets were sold out with limited other cheap fares left. Fares for peak summer travel range from $189-$214 each way. The airline didn't formally announced the start of ticket sales but quietly launched a Hawaii ticket portal.
Southwest has a low-fare calendar to help find the cheapest fare.
The starting dates for other Hawaii routes, according to Southwest's website are:
Oakland-Maui: April 7
Oakland-Kona May 12
San Jose-Honolulu: May 5
San Jose-Kona: May 12
San Jose-Maui: May 26
Southwest last year announced that it planned to fly to Hawaii from four California cities: San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose and Oakland.
The long-awaited details come after the airline received Federal Aviation Administration approval for long over-water flights last week. The last major hurdle — six test flights to and from Hawaii — was cleared on Feb. 19.
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Southwest, the nation's largest domestic carrier, is a late entrant to Hawaii. A slew of competitors already fly nonstop flights between the mainland and Hawaii, with a heavy concentration in California, Southwest's initial target.
Travelers hope Hawaii flight competition brings down prices
Hawaiian Airlines offers daily nonstop flights from Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego, San Jose and Sacramento, California. Alaska Airlines offers nearly 30 daily flights from the West Coast to Hawaii, including flights from San Diego, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento and San Jose.
Travelers have been hoping Southwest's market entrance brings fares down, especially during popular vacation periods like spring break, summer and Christmas break. Fares between California and Hawaii often drop below $300 round trip during fare sales for low-season travel, but peak summer fares on nonstop flights to Hawaii are routinely $650-$800+ out of the airports Southwest is initially targeting. (Southwest is not initially offering flights to Hawaii from Los Angeles or San Francisco, where there is more competition.)
Southwest has talked about flights to Hawaii — a top destination for travelers hoarding frequent-flier points on any airline — for years and formally announced plans to begin Hawaii service in October 2017. It has dribbled out details since. Last year, the airline said it planned to serve four islands in Hawaii: Oahu, home to Honolulu; Maui, Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii, home to Kona.
Hawaii service was delayed because of government shutdown
Southwest initially dangled the prospect of flights beginning in late 2018.
Southwest executives said the airline was nearing the final phase of its efforts to get so-called ETOPS (extended range twin engine operational performance standards) certification from the FAA, with flights due to start Feb. 1, when the federal government shut down a few days before Christmas.
ETOPs certification, a lengthy process involving new flight manuals and procedures, training and exercises and test flights with FAA officials, is required for twin-engine planes on routes where alternate airports aren't in close range should flight troubles arise.
Southwest Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven said on Jan. 24 that the government shutdown put the Hawaii flights approval process at a "total standstill.''
He said Southwest had a shot at beginning flights by the end of March if the shutdown ended within a week but otherwise it wouldn't be able to start flights until April at the earliest. The shutdown ended Jan. 25, a Friday.
Southwest and the FAA resumed their ETOPS activities the next week, and Southwest's first Hawaii proving flight, from Oakland to Honolulu, was on Feb. 5. Exercises with the FAA took place in Dallas the week of Feb. 11, and daily test flights began later that week. Those flights included a diversion to Hilo, on the Big Island, on a Saturday flight from Oakland to Honolulu, according to flight tracker FlightAware.
The airline's last test flight was a flight from Maui to Dallas on Tuesday, Feb. 19. Southwest has no plans to fly from its Dallas home base to Hawaii but had flown from Oakland to Maui a day earlier.
The first Southwest Airlines test flight to Kahului Airport nears the runway Monday afternoon as Maui residents, airline employees and family members look on. "That was cool to see the first plane," said Jerry Potter (third from left) of Wailuku. Potter said he welcomed the competition Southwest will bring to the Hawaii market. "Competition and Southwest brought family home." One airline employee watching from the ground who declined to give her name said the experience on Maui has been positive. "I'm just happy to be here," she said. "Everybody at this airport is so friendly. This is the nicest airport I've seen." Southwest completed test flights from Oakland, Calif., and from Dallas to Honolulu earlier this month; the tests are part of the federal certification that Southwest must complete before offering flights to Hawaii. #mauinews #maui #southwestairlines #kahuluiairport 📷 Matthew Thayer
A post shared by The Maui News (@themauinews) on Feb 19, 2019 at 12:50pm PST
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tickets on sale now for new Southwest Airlines Hawaii flights beginning March 17