Pandemic-delayed flight to Honolulu via Southwest finally takes off

Southwest Airlines launched its first nonstop flight between San Diego and Oahu on Wednesday.
(Courtesy of Southwest Airlines)

More than seven months after postponing the start of its new flights between San Diego and Hawaii because of COVID-19, Southwest Airlines on Wednesday debuted the long anticipated nonstop route.

The new flight, originally planned to start in April of this year, was postponed indefinitely in March due to a sharp decline in demand as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision to now launch the new flight comes as Hawaii only last month reopened its tourism economy. No longer do visitors have to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival, but they do have to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

The new Southwest flight departs daily from San Diego at 8 a.m., and flights from Honolulu leave each day at 12:45 p.m.

“We’ve been anticipating this route for many months and welcome Southwest’s new daily service to Honolulu,” said Kimberly Becker, San Diego County Regional Airport Authority President and CEO. “There has always been high demand for leisure travel to both San Diego and Honolulu, and with a military presence in each city, a desire to visit friends and family. We appreciate Southwest’s continued investment in our city as they add Hawaii to their expanding list of nonstop markets from San Diego.”

A nonstop flight to Maui also had planned to start last April, but there is no new start date for that route. According to Southwest Airlines, it not on the airline’s schedule, which currently runs through next April.

The debut of the Southwest flight to Oahu came on the same day that the airline increased the frequency of its other California flights to Hawaii from San Jose, Sacramento and Oakland. That now returns the schedule to pre-pandemic levels, said Southwest spokesman Brad Hawkins.

Southwest is not the first airline to fly nonstop to Hawaii from the San Diego airport. Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines also offer a variety of nonstop flights. However, because of the pandemic, the airport lost all nonstop service to Hawaii between April and June. Hawaiian Airlines was the first to resume daily service to Honolulu, starting on July 16. Alaska followed suit on Aug. 1, said San Diego airport spokeswoman Sabrina LoPiccolo.

Beginning this month, Alaska beefed up its service even more, resuming nonstop service to all three remaining Hawaiian Islands — Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. With those changes and the debut of the Southwest flight, San Diego has now
returned to 2019 levels of Hawaii departures — five a day for the non-summer months.

While it’s unknown how full those flights to Hawaii are, the volume is likely lower than before the pandemic, given lingering concerns among some people about contracting the virus and the airlines’ decision to block off the middle seats. For Southwest, that practice will end after Nov. 30.