Hawaiian Airlines Gets Community Feedback

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

Last week, Hawaiian Airlines representatives heard from Molokai residents on their service to the island and flight schedule reductions that began on Sept. 15. For the next 90 days, while one of their planes receives regular mandatory maintenance on the mainland, the midday flight to between Molokai and Oahu will be discontinued, said Alanna James, senior director of `Ohana by Hawaiian. In addition, the direct flight between Molokai and Maui will also be eliminated — a change that may be permanent.

“I realize during this 90 days, our schedule is not going to be great for you guys,” acknowledged James. “Today we learned a lot. This is temporary, and I realize it’s not great, but we will take your feedback.”

The maintenance is required every two years by the Federal Aviation Administration. Two years ago, James said `Ohana tried to maintain its regular schedule while being one plane down, which resulted in a lot of delays and cancellations. This time, she said, they opted to reduce the schedule to maintain reliability of the flights that are scheduled. For the next 90 days, one plane will be in operation, while the second will remain a spare.

While the reduction of the midday flight to Honolulu is temporary and will be returning to the regular schedule in December, James said that may not be the case for the Maui flight.

Blaine Miyasato, state government liaison for Hawaiian Airlines, explained the Maui flight was originally designed just to shuttle the plane to its next required destination.

“It was never really intended to be permanent,” he said. Additionally, the numbers of customers flying the Molokai to Maui route is very low. “The airline is a business, and part of running a business is to look at load factor, or number of people on the airplane [and] … it’s not remotely profitable.”

Hawaiian Airlines came to Molokai for the meeting at the request of Molokai’s Rep. Lynn DeCoite, who said she has been in discussions with the airline for the last couple of months regarding the schedule changes. Miyasato called DeCoite “relentless” in contacting him on the subject.

“On behalf on Hawaiian Airlines and by extension, `Ohana by Hawaiian, there is no doubt that we are committed to this community,” said Miyasato. “`Ohana was started to serve certain communities in Hawaii that are underserved, Molokai being a really big component of that… [If anyone thinks] that this is precursor that `Ohana is pulling out, that’s not remotely true, we are committed to this island, we are committed to Molokai and to all of you.”

James said the Maui schedule through Honolulu would still allow for day trips to doctor appointments, and they worked to ensure a portion of seats will be available at the same price as a direct flight.

Miyasato also stressed that to make it easier for Molokai customers flying to Maui, the gate change in Honolulu will only be one gate away.

Yet wheelchair-bound customers and caretakers said it’s still not easy.

“You keep saying, ‘it’s just [gate] 49 to 50,’ but when you’re in a wheelchair… you don’t know how difficult it is,” said Amanda Adams, who is a caretaker for her wheelchair-bound father. “I hear all [these] financial things, but… Molokai shouldn’t be cut out because you’re going to lose some money… I wish you guys could jump on the plane with me one day and let’s take my dad to Maui and let me show you how difficult it is.”

James said they’re considering bringing a fourth plane into service in the future, which she said would help with reliability.

Residents agreed something needs to change.

Rochelle Borden said even with `Ohana’s normal operations, delays and cancellations are frequent and communication about delays is poor.

“Getting emails at 3 o’clock in the morning to let you know your flight has been cancelled and you’re scheduled to catch the [flight at] 6:57 in the morning and this is affecting high school athletes that are suppose to be traveling…” said Borden. “Now we’re going to have to scramble to get ourselves to the destination… that is a major concern.”

“You gotta work on your reputation on Molokai,” commented another attendee. “A lot of people aren’t riding you guys unless they gotta. I don’t know if you know it or not, that’s a big problem.”

In response to complaints about high prices of flights, airlines representatives acknowledged that as flights fill up, the rates for tickets increase — a system they said is used by all airlines.

“That’s probably why your numbers are low,” said one resident. “Unless you’re in a wheelchair or medical insurance is covering, the prices are too high… You really gotta look at the prices.”

James said Molokai isn’t the only island affected by the changes — Lanai will also be reduced from five flights to four daily. In response to Molokai’s frustration, James said `Ohana is currently the only airline flying into Lanai, and the demand for the flights is a lot higher than Molokai.

Yet residents said it shouldn’t be just about the numbers.

“The Molokai population, from the business standpoint, will never hit the numbers,” said resident Beverly Pauole-Moore. “We’re worried right now, because it’s going to be a disadvantage… Ohana, we depend on you exclusively for our kupuna and wheelchairs.”

Miyasato said the meeting gave them a lot to think about.

“One of the things we’ve learned from this… this is a really special market because of people like you, and what I mean is, we need to focus on the uniqueness of the community,” said Miyasato. “I don’t want to over promise and under deliver, but we… have to have plan B. We hear you.”