Southwest Airlines has started selling tickets to Hawaii with service beginning March 17.
The questions started the second Southwest Airlines put tickets to Hawaii on sale Monday.
Travelers trying to snag cheap tickets to Honolulu or Maui from cities including Baltimore, Chicago and St. Louis turned to social media and the airline’s reservations center in droves to find out why they could book a flight to Hawaii but weren’t finding any flights home.
The problem wasn’t that the flights were sold out, though many of Southwest’s new nonstop flights between California and Hawaii sold out quickly thanks to fares as low as $49 each way.
One traveler fired off a post on Southwest’s Facebook page: “Is there a point to fly to Hawaii from St. Louis when there are NO available return flights?”
A passenger from Austin, Texas, told Southwest via Twitter that he couldn’t complete his booking because there were no flights coming back.
The issue is Southwest’s initial, limited flight schedule from Hawaii to California doesn’t get passengers into California in time to catch Southwest flights to most cities east of California. So the airline isn’t selling many round-trip itineraries with connections. The exceptions are nearby cities, including Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver, Portland and Seattle.
The two new daily Southwest flights from Honolulu to Oakland, for example, arrive in Oakland at 5:50 p.m. and 9 p.m. local time.
The last flight from Oakland to Chicago Midway: 4:50 p.m. The last nonstop between Oakland and Chicago is even earlier: around 2:30 p.m.
The last flight from Oakland to Baltimore: 2:35 p.m.
The story is similar from Maui to Oakland, where the daily flights arrive at 5:20 and 8:50 p.m.
Travelers trying to book a round trip Southwest flight between Baltimore and Maui on the airline’s website will find daily flights to Maui for sale and a blank calendar on the way back.
Travelers trying to book a flight from Honolulu to Chicago Midway run into the same issue.
Southwest competitors, including Hawaiian, American and United airlines, get around this problem by including red-eye flights from Hawaii to the West Coast. The flights leave Hawaii late at night and arrive early the next morning. That leaves passengers groggy but allows connections around the country.
Southwest doesn’t have any red-eye flights from Hawaii or any city but hasn’t ruled them out.
Travelers are also likely to see increased connections to and from Hawaii as Southwest grows its Hawaii operation, which is starting slow but is expected to account for half of the airline’s growth this year, according to CEO Gary Kelly.
Southwest plans to offer nonstop flights between two more California cities, San Diego and Sacramento, and Hawaii. It will also beef up its schedule to and from Oakland and San Jose. And it plans to add flights to Kauai, too.
“When developing these schedules, our primary focus was to offer the best possible timings for local customers (in Hawaii and California),” Southwest said in response to questions posed on its Southwest Airlines Community message boards. “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.”
Until then, travelers outside the West Coast bent on flying Southwest to and from Hawaii have to buy (or cash in frequent-flier points for) separate tickets: a one-way ticket to Hawaii, a return ticket from Hawaii to California and a ticket the next day from California back home.
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