Southwest Airlines' Hawaii service debuted Sunday, finally giving the nation's largest domestic carrier a footprint in the vacation hot spot.
Southwest Flight 6808, a 5 1/2-hour nonstop flight from Oakland, California, to Honolulu, landed at 2 p.m. local time. It was met by Hawaii Governor David Ige and Southwest Airlines President Tom Nealon.
Passengers on the inaugural flight were treated to leis and in-flight hula dancing and were the first to sample the expanded snack pack that will be served on the no-frills airline's Hawaii flights. In addition to the airline's standard red bag of pretzels, passengers got Wheat Thins, Welch's fruit snacks, Tic Tacs and a white-cheddar cheese spread. New drinks include Longboard Island Lager from Kona Brewing Company, Minute Maid pineapple orange juice and Blue Chair Bay coconut spiced rum.
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 18, 2019
"It's been a big hole in our network," Southwest Airlines Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Watterson said. "We fully expect because of our new service that more people in California will be able to enjoy warm water in the Hawaiian islands and also the people of Hawaii, to be able to come to the mainland for education, jobs and also for their vacation time."
Southwest has talked about adding Hawaii to its route map for years and made it a priority in late 2017 when it applied for Federal Aviation Administration certification for long over-water flights with its Boeing 737s. A slew of competitors, including United, Alaska, Delta, American and Hawaiian Airlines, have long had flights to the bucket-list destination.
Southwest's approval from the FAA arrived in late February, and the airline started selling tickets to Hawaii on March 4, with fares as low as $49 each way. The cheapest seats sold out within hours, and some flights sold out completely.
The airline is starting small, with one flight each way daily between Oakland and Honolulu.
Southwest will add a second daily flight between Oakland and Honolulu on March 24.
In April, the airline will add daily flights between Oakland and Maui and begin inter-island flights.
In May, the airline begins flights between San Jose and Honolulu and Maui.
These are the starting dates for those routes:
Oakland-Maui: April 7
Oakland-Kona May 12
San Jose-Honolulu: May 5
San Jose-Kona: May 12
San Jose-Maui: May 26
Southwest plans to fly nonstop from San Diego and Sacramento to Hawaii and also plans to serve the island of Kauai, but it has not announced when those flights will begin.
Travelers pepper the airline daily with questions about when those routes will begin and when tickets will go on sale.
Yes! Service to Lihue, Kauai (LIH) (as well as our nonstop service between Hawaii and San Diego and Sacramento) is still planned, and will be announced at a later date. We hope to welcome you onboard sometime soon! -Ana
— Southwest Airlines (@SouthwestAir) March 8, 2019
Southwest CEO Gary Kelly has repeatedly called Hawaii a big opportunity for the airline, especially given its strong presence in California.
The airline's initial Hawaii flights are on the Boeing 737-800, but Southwest has long said it plans to use the newer, more-fuel-efficient Boeing 737 Max 8 on flights to Hawaii.
But that's the plane that was grounded by the FAA last week in the wake of two fatal crashes in less than five months.
The grounding won't impact Southwest's Hawaii plans in the near term because the airline hasn't even had the plane certified for long over-water flights. Spokesman Brian Parrish said last week that Southwest has no timetable for seeking ETOPS certification for the Max 8. ETOPS stands for extended range twin engine operational performance standards.
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.
The grounding did affect some Hawaii flights on competitor United Airlines. The carrier uses the Boeing 737 Max 9 on some flights between Los Angeles and Hawaii.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Southwest Airlines launches Hawaii service from Oakland to Honolulu with new snacks, in-flight hula dancing