The airline, which has made no secret of its plans to fly to the vacation hotspot, made it official with events in Honolulu and Los Angeles on Wednesday night. "We're ready and excited to address a request we've heard for years", Kelly said.
"Hawaii is a market that we've long said we would like to serve one day", Tammy Romo, Southwest's chief financial officer said in a earnings call over the summer.
Southwest President Tom Nealon said the airline's new service will be "a game-changer in the USA -to-Hawaii market during an announcement from Honolulu's Waikiki Beach".
Southwest intends to launch the application process for Extended Operations Authorization (ETOPS) with the Federal Aviation Administration soon. The latest version of the planemaker's best-selling jet, the 737 Max, can fly farther and is more fuel efficient than older models.
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A new reservation system that allows for more complicated itineraries and overnight trips is also enabling Southwest to add Hawaii flights.
"We wouldn't be so bold as to say we'll start flying in October or November or July of 2018 and not go through the FAA process", Watterson said.
The new service will test whether Southwest, long known for short routes, can compete against larger carriers on flights that take more than five hours from the U.S.'s West Coast.
Airline experts said despite the increased competition between Hawaii and the mainland that fares are not expected to change much because it costs more per mile to operate Southwest's aircraft than the larger planes operated by Hawaiian Airlines and other carriers. Even if Hawaii flights start in 2018, they won't alter fleet or capacity plans for the year, the company said. Southwest is now operating nine MAX 8s and expects to have 14 in service by the end of the year.