March 19 (UPI) -- Southwest Airlines finally made its long-awaited maiden flight to Hawaii this week, achieving a historic milestone for the largest U.S. domestic air carrier.
Southwest was delayed launching the service because of the 35-day federal shutdown in December and January. The carrier moved fast after getting Federal Aviation Administration clearance this month and the first flight, from Oakland, Calif., to Honolulu, took off Sunday.
"It was a lot of work across the company. It was kind of bang bang bang there at the end of a year and a half of hard work," Southwest Chief Revenue Officer Andrew Watterson told UPI from Hawaii Tuesday.
Known primarily as a "no frills" carrier, Southwest said it wants to keep costs down but is letting bags fly free and offers in-flight entertainment. The airline has a history of forcing competitors to cut fares to compete, a concept called the "Southwest effect."
The Hawaii flights come as spring breakers are traveling nationwide. Southwest plans to open more routes in the coming months from San Jose, San Diego and Sacramento. The airline will also soon launch service between the Hawaiian islands. By the end of May, it plans to have 28 flights a day, Watterson said.
Part of the delay during the shutdown was getting Extended Range Twin-Engine Operational Performance [ETOPS] certification for the planes Southwest will use for its Hawaii service.
Southwest will still use those the planes with ETOPS certification for flights within the continental United States but they will be primarily kept on the West Coast, Watterson said.
To accommodate the Hawaii flights, Southwest established a new employee base at Honolulu's Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
Watterson said the airline now plans to establish more connections in the continental United States, such as new service from Lubbock and El Paso, Texas, to Denver. It's unclear if Southwest will use its ETOPS certification to launch service to other overseas destinations.