Southwest’s Hawaii “Sharks” — Healthy Competition Or Bad Sportsmanship?

Filed Under: Southwest

Southwest Airlines recently launched flights to Hawaii, which got a lot of people excited. The airline has been talking about launching flights to Hawaii for years. Initially I felt like they were dragging it out, and then they launched flights with just a couple of weeks notice, which sure is an interesting strategy.

Fortunately they created quite a splash by launching $49 one-way fares to Hawaii, which is even better when you consider that this includes two free checked bags.

The airline does intend to expand service to Hawaii. Maybe it’s just me, but when Southwest announced they were launching Hawaii flights, I figured they intended to operate a moderate amount of service, but not quite operate as many flights as Alaska and Hawaiian.

Their flights to Hawaii will likely just be from the West Coast (just like Alaska), and the airline also has the disadvantage of not operating any redeyes, and of also not properly selling connections to & from Hawaii, though I imagine that could change over time.

Southwest gave us a glimpse of their Hawaii ambitions with some wall art that appeared in the ETOPS center at Oakland Airport.

Here are the pictures being shared on social media:

As you can see, you have a much bigger Southwest “shark” chasing Alaska and Hawaiian sharks, and then you also have the Southwest “shark” eating an Alaska plane.

I’m told this has since been taken down. I’m also not quite sure on what level the decision was made to put this up to begin with. On one hand, I doubt the CEO is behind it, though on the other hand I also doubt it was a rogue employee, or anything, since someone had to order these airline-themed sharks.

Personally I think Southwest is showing bad sportsmanship here. A shark gobbling up another shark isn’t friendly competition.

But it does give us a glimpse of just how ambitious Southwest apparently is with Hawaii. Based on this, I suppose we can expect that they’ll be adding a lot of flights to Hawaii.

To be perfectly honest, I’m surprised they see that much demand for the market. With how much competition there already is, it’s not unusual to see $300-400 roundtrip fares from the West Coast to Hawaii. Add in the lack of last minute, high revenue business demand and general seasonality of Hawaii, and I’m a bit surprised. You can also expect that as Southwest adds more capacity, fares across the board will decrease.

What do you make of Southwest’s Hawaii ambitions, and in particular their “sharks?”

  1. “Personally I think Southwest is showing bad sportsmanship here. A shark gobbling up another shark isn’t friendly competition.” that’s how capitalism works

  2. I see it as good spirited competition. Seriously were any sharks actually harmed?
    Such snowflakes.

  3. i suspect that Southwest’s internal culture is all about being the upstart and challenging the incumbent – they need to regularly renew their own underdog status

  4. This even being a legitimate question, much less receiving an affirmative answer, shows how soft you and the country have become.

    Oh no, they actually want a shark to eat an Alaska plane. Really vicious!!

  5. Now if only Southwest could operate at a level of competence that you could depend upon to get you to the West Coast on time to catch a Hawaii bound flight.

    My experiences with their performance this spring has been miserable. Cancelled flights with absolutely no help in getting you to where you need to be.

    That shark might simply represent their customer service attitude this spring.

  6. Quit being so sensitive. Seems like good fun and a fun way to motivate competition and “winning” for it’s employees. Besides it’s not like they put it at the checkin counters.

  7. *laughs in Ryanair*
    “I’m sorry, is this some sort of American joke that I am too Irish to understand?”
    (seriously, FR has some WILD ads)

  8. They can crow all they want about Hawaii, but right now they’re completely incapable of getting anyone anywhere with any reliability. I’ve had three canceled flights in the last month.

    Southwest loves to play the victimized underdog – think back to all the whining and stomping around they did when the mega-mergers were happening a decade ago, demanding access to LGA and DCA – but they don’t seem to have any qualms about going after other airlines. That’s capitalism, yes, but Southwest has been so irritatingly vocal about the need for fair play throughout its history that this kind of behavior is especially galling.

    I hope Hawaii is a massive flop for them.

  9. Meanwhile, TPG first reports about the DACA flight attendant detained for 6 weeks and she’s released soon thereafter.
    Keep up the good work Ben (Lucky). This kind of news is probably also important to someone.

  10. Lucky, can you please please contract out a trip report to Debit? Please. I predict it will be one of the most read and commented article.

  11. Based on the scale of the plane and shark models it looks like Southwest portrays itself as a Megladon. Let’s hope they don’t bite off more than they can chew and go extinct.

  12. Debit is full of shit. I doubt he’d be willing to give Ben his identity to actually book him a ticket. But maybe Ben is just Debit keeping things interesting in the comments. Anytime Debit posts there seem to be 3x comments.

  13. I find the joke is on them.
    Those two fishes (no they are not sharks, look carefully) are ahead of the shark and not in the belly. So Southwest is just showing how behind they are.

    Now a SharkMAX8 might be a game changer, it might just dive right to the bottom of the sea, no pun intended.

  14. It’s in good fun, meant as a motivational thing for the employees, and likely was never meant for the public to see. Do people think that Alaska and Hawaiian didn’t know what was going on before they see southwest put a shark on the wall? It didn’t hurt anyone and reflects a corporate desire to do better than the competition. No harm no foul here.

  15. “the airline also has the disadvantage of not operating any redeyes”


    Not operating a 6 hour red eye flight (when you include time for boarding and disembarking) with a 32 inch pitch, minimal recline, and 3 across seating on each side, is a disadvantage?

    Looking forward to your trip report of flying a Hawaii red eye in economy on any airline. Looking forward to it: as in, would love to read it, but not exactly holding my breath waiting for it.

  16. Why are you making a mountain out if a mole hill? This is funny and you can be sure Alaska and Hawaiian also have some sort of thing (maybe not official) but something that is also doing something similar to SW. I can’t even believe you are offended by this, I’m speechless. At the end if the day they are ALL competitors, so again why are writing this frivolous article?

  17. Ben, I hope your college degree isn’t in business. I’m pretty sure this is how capitalism works.

    I thought I was a thin-skinned millennial. This REALLY takes the cake if we’re calling this mean-spirited.

  18. I think the conversation isn’t asking if this was offensive, rather asking if it is professional. Personally I found it funny

  19. What’s largely been ignored (and is again here) is Southwest’s intra-island service. This is a huge threat to Hawaiian (not Alaska) and a big risky, bold move for Southwest. It would be akin to Hawaiian launching Houston-Dallas service! That would never happen!
    As far as I know (but I could be wrong), no other mainland airline has tried to serve this distinctly local/cultural market. (Mesa started up a subsidiary to do it with regional jets, but they kept the management and branding local; there are probably other examples).
    I also think is shows the vulnerability of the last three region-specific US airlines (Alaska, JetBlue and Hawaiian), who rely entirely on owning one thing and cannot spread risk geographically. Hawaiian, especially, is a one-trick pony.

  20. It’s all in good fun business environment. Let’s not make it seem more than it really is. Just competitive fun.

    Southwest has no first class for a 5/6 hour flight, no thank you! Although $98 round trip would be tempting!

  21. Although this is pure speculation, Hawaiian Airlines is far too embedded in Hawaii and has enough resources and political pull to ever be ousted from its home market. It may take a dent in its inter island profits (it is a near-monopoly, after all) but most of its profits are in the Transpacific flights

  22. GOOD for Southwest. Competition is the key to success and progress. It benefits the consumer and keeps the competition on it’s toes. Soon the other airlines will offer specials, and who wins? The consumer. So I say let the competition be fierce and the resulting prices low.

  23. Sure it’s bad taste. Especially if you’re native. If you’ve spent any time in Hawaii, you know that “home rule” is a legit movement and anyone who complains about “snowflakes” hasnt seen pushback against foreigners until they have been called “haole”. Hawaiians are perfectly comfortable using all the tools in the shed to clip the ambition of uppity mainlanders. Texans might be cocky, but aloha only goes so far. “It’s just business” goes both ways. Just try calling a 300 pound native boar hunter a snowflake. SWA just lost the culture part of the war before they really even got started. This was a dumb move.

  24. Trey – your business degree is outdated if you think this doesn’t matter, or is funny. The Hawaiians are a proud people, they have their own nationalist movement, and they’re getting sick of outsiders. Any business degree starts with Porter, and one of those forces is Regulatory. If SWA is perceptually the worst kind of mainland invader, then the Home Rule voter will be happy to make SWA’s environment challenging indeed. Any MBA would know to stay far away from starting this kind of conversation on day one. As a former PR professional, I’m cringing at the stupid self inflicted friction of this thing.

  25. The sharks are totally hilarious. Even if one is rooting for Alaska, as I am. It’s basically mascot humor. A pity they were taken down. It fits with their joking culture too. Nothing wrong with this. People who are actually offended by this need to get a grip.

  26. There’s nothing wrong with some good-natured competitive humor. It’s clear to me that someone grabbed a model of an Alaska plane and stuck it in the shark’s mouth to snap this picture. That wasn’t part of the original display as the three sharks were certainly ordered all at one time and there’s already an Alaskan Air shark that Southwest is pursuing. Lighten up, everyone, and stop looking for a reason to be offended.

  27. Mnbska – I’m in college right now getting a business degree, and it is the Porter’s Five Forces that’s outdated. Pretty sure if you walked into any business college at least sort of worth their salt, you’d be laughed out of the building for thinking that Porter’s Five Forces wins over economic theory.

    I don’t know why you’re thinking I’m laughing at Native Hawaiians or the state government, I just think calling this offensive is rather thin skinned. And for you to get so worked up over this is rather thin skinned in itself. You’re extrapolating a four sentence comment.

    Also, since you’re a former “PR Professional”, you’ll have to forgive me for thinking you have no idea what you’re talking about when it comes to business.

  28. Hahaha! Business is dog eat dog and deep down we all know it. Hilarious that someone at Southwest went this far to motivate their team. Ridiculous Southwest had to take it down. Interesting to see their level of determination to own their Hawaii routes.

  29. I think WN’s intentions weren’t malicious, but this was a bad move. Locals in Hawaii are weary of overly aggressive competition in the local aviation market. Especially since the last newcomer, Mesa Air, came in with the goal of pushing Aloha out of business. They succeeded and and screwed us over in the process by handing HA a monopoly on a silver platter. And, needless to say, we don’t want something like that happening again. So many of us in Hawaii view the new competition WN is providing as a good thing, but we don’t want history repeating itself!

  30. I think it’s funny. Who made those tricked out fish and shark replicas anyway? They got talent.

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