We just noticed more routes just disappeared from one airline’s schedule. That makes at least three Hawaii-centric airlines that have culled routes to the islands. And we predict it isn’t even close to done there.
Why Southwest just pulled two more routes.
After we just wrote about 7 Southwest Hawaii flights that were removed from their upcoming schedule four days ago, we found yet more. Los Angeles to Lihue and Los Angeles to Kona are no longer. It isn’t totally surprising as those routes are frankly intensely competitive. The airlines on these routes, other than Southwest, include American, Delta, Hawaiian, and United.
Also, starting mid-March, Alaska Airlines will join in the brawl and begin daily nonstop flights on these important routes. In a nutshell, too many flights and competition just no longer made sense for Southwest, which is otherwise already occupied.
Today Hawaiian addressed removing the Orlando route. We think others could go too.
Earlier this month, we wrote about Hawaiian Airlines pulling their Honolulu to Orlando Route. We also just heard from Hawaiian on their quarterly results call, including regarding route changes.
CEO Peter Ingram said that while “demand to from and within Hawaii remains very strong…. [with] yields improved compared with 2019 and “premium demand leading the way.” He acknowledged that staffing remains an industry problem and they are trying to stay out of that news. Ingram said that pilots and flight attendants are “a primary constraint.” He also acknowledged what we’d mentioned: a labor agreement negation is in process with an unknown outcome and timeline.
Now specifically regarding Orlando, Hawaiian said, “with the delays of our 787s, we knew we wouldn’t have sufficient aircraft… [and demand] during off periods, it has been somewhat softer than we’d anticipated.”
Another route we’ve wondered about is Austin to Honolulu, which started last year and has been operating twice weekly. As we mentioned, the route doesn’t appear to perform adequately based on persistent low pricing.
Hawaiian’s Boston to Honolulu seems to have the same problems as Orlando and Austin. That began four years ago and is the longest domestic route. Starting at five times weekly, it is now down to three times, with unsustainably low rates.
Alaska Airlines pulls Hawaii routes and goes seasonal on others.
Flights between Anchorage and Honolulu were recently canceled until November or beyond. The company said service will return in November “along with our Maui and Kona nonstop service.” Staffing levels at Alaska are a primary factor, according to the company. Flights to Honolulu resume starting mid-November, with the other two flights returning towards the end of December.
Also stopped service between Sacramento and the Hawaiian Islands.
What’s going on with the airlines anyway.
For one thing, airlines expanded too quickly regarding circumstances post-Covid, including insufficient critical personnel. As a result, the three largest airlines in the US and others have decided to reel back their expansion plans for the foreseeable future.
A bill in Congress is designed to extend airline pilots’ mandatory retirement age from 65 to 67. It was previously 60 before it was increased to 65 years ago. The “Let Experienced Pilots Fly Act” will require pilots over 65 have medical certifications renewed every six months. This will help in the short term as the pilot shortage will take up to three years to be corrected. That’s how long it will take students enrolled now in flight school, to become certified.
Increased reliability limits expansion.
American, Delta, and United, at least, are all curtailing growth plans in exchange for the likelihood of greater reliability in terms of canceled and delayed flights.
At United Airlines, for example, they are stuck at about 90% of pre-Covid for the rest of the year. By 2023, they hope to grow to 8%, which would still be down significantly from their prior 2023 growth estimate of 20%.
UAL’s CEO said, “We’re essentially going to keep flying the same amount that we are today, which is less than we intended to, but not grow the airline until we can see evidence the whole system can support it.”
American’s CEO said they’re in the same boat. They also plan to remain down about 10% compared with 2019. “We have taken proactive steps to build an additional buffer into our schedule and will continue to limit capacity to the resources we have and the operating conditions we face.” American fessed up that it could take up to 3 years to get to staff levels that will support airline growth beyond pre-Covid levels.
Delta joins the other two majors in having far too many cancellations and delays, saying they will limit growth for now. Delta also gave all SkyMiles members 10,000 miles to apologize to those who were delayed more than 3 hours or had a flight canceled.
American canceled 1,200 flights this summer due to an unrealistic schedule. Pilots are a huge problem there and at other airlines, and AA said they’ll offer pilots pay rises of up to $64,000 to remain in the cockpit.
Alaska Airlines recently lowered its growth plans for 2022. The airline suffered a meltdown this spring due to hundreds of flights that had to be canceled even as demand surged.