SMF to Hawaii for $99, thanks to Southwest

When I wrote about the airlines for The San Francisco Chronicle in the ’80s, I had the privilege of interviewing Southwest Airlines co-founder and CEO Herb Kelleher numerous times. At the time, Southwest was building a beachhead in California, knocking out PSA and AirCal.

Business books were written about Southwest when Herb was CEO; one of them — “Hidden Value: How Great Companies Achieve Extraordinary Results with Ordinary People” by the Harvard Business School Press — cited a profile I wrote about him for The Chronicle.

Once, I recall a fun night with Herb and fellow business journalists at a Society of American Business Editors & Writers conference in Phoenix. After speaking to the group, Herb showed up at “happy hour” with Wild Turkey in a brown paper bag, his well-known drink of choice. He had a great sense of humor.

Herb died on January 3, 2019, but the pioneering airline he founded continues to thrive.

The latest example occurred when Southwest entered the Hawaii market this spring, knocking down prices.

I received an email blast — and so did regular readers of this blog — promoting $99 one-way fares from Sacramento (AKA SMF) to Honolulu. Some flights from the Bay Area to Hawaii have been as low as $49 one-way, sparking a fare ware between Southwest, United and Alaska Air (an airline we enjoy flying regularly; their partnership with international airlines help us accrue frequent flier miles quickly).

Demand for Southwest service to, from, and within Hawaii is robust,” CEO Gary Kelly said last month during a conference call to discuss the company’s second-quarter earnings. “The load factors are significantly higher than what we are experiencing across the system. Keep in mind we just announced record load factors for the entire company and our Hawaii business is surpassing that.”

Kelly acknowledged the lack of available aircraft, —due to the well-publicized Boeing 737 Max groundings — resulted in expansion delays to Hawaii. But he said Southwest is “excited to resume growth plans next month with the first of several intended announcements.”

As a result, we can expect the low fares to continue for a while.

Author: jeffpelline

Jeff Pelline is a veteran editor and award-winning journalist - in print and online. He is publisher of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine and its website SierraCulture.com. Jeff covered business and technology for The San Francisco Chronicle for 12 years, and he was a founding editor and Editor of CNET News for eight years, among other positions. Jeff has a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley and a master's from Northwestern University. His hobbies include sailing, swimming, and trout fishing in the Sierra.

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