UPDATE: With taxes and fees, a round-trip Kalaupapa airline ticket is now $492.62 for topside Molokai flights and $499.82 for Oahu flights.
Fare hikes and schedule changes for Kalaupapa flights
By Melissa Kelsey
Pacific Wings is the only airline that flies to Kalaupapa peninsula, offering daily flights to and from Honolulu and topside Molokai. Last week, Pacific Wings drastically increased airfare prices for all Kalaupapa flights. According to Kalaupapa Acting Administrator Tim Richmond, the airline is charging an average of over $400 for a roundtrip ticket. The high prices pose hardships for the settlement’s patients and employees alike, according to Carol Franko, the Nursing Supervisor at Kalaupapa Nursing Facility.
“The prices are difficult for everybody right now,” said Kalaupapa patient Ivy Kahilihiwa, who said she did not think the state Department of Health would be willing to pay that much for patient airfare. “Nobody is rich to pay that kind of price.”
Franko said Pacific Wings also changed its Kalaupapa flight schedule in such a way that if travelers want to want to take day trips, they can only stay for a few hours. To make a reasonable trip, travelers would have to arrange for overnight accommodations at their destination. Many Kalaupapa workers commute to the settlement by plane, including the medical staff. In addition, patients regularly fly to Oahu for doctor appointments. Franko said that while fortunately many flights for both patients and staff have been scheduled ahead of time, all future bookings are on hold until the situation is resolved.
“It is not feasible to get a patient out for the day,” said Franko.
Kalaupapa community members also say Pacific Wings is considering not providing a wheelchair ramp for passengers once they arrive.
“Some of our patients here are handicapped and cannot walk on the plane,” said Kahilihiwa.
Surrounded by the highest sea cliffs in the world and rough ocean waters, Kalaupapa depends on air travel for its daily operations. Kalaupapa Home Settlement Supervisor Harry Arce suggested bringing in a second airline to service Kalaupapa to create healthy industry competition.
“It is just unfortunate because this is a working environment and people are traveling for needed services,” said Kalaupapa worker Mahie McPherson. “For Pacific Wings to take advantage of that is just wrong.”
Pacific Wings halted air service to Kalaupapa for one day last week as a result of a conflict between airline employees and security personnel at Kahului Airport on Maui. For that day, patients at Kalaupapa were only able to receive full medical services because a doctor hiked down the Kalaupapa trail to provide care, according to Franko.