More Partnerships for Mokulele
By Jack Kiyonaga, Community Reporter
As Molokai residents are well aware, flying to and from Molokai is expensive and unreliable.
Roundtrip flights to neighboring islands routinely cost well over $200. Molokai residents have been left holding the bag and wondering when flight service will improve.
Recently, Mokulele Airlines, owned by mainland company Southern Airways, entered into new agreements with Hawaiian and Alaska airlines. The agreements will allow the West Coast based airlines’ customers to book tickets directly to Mokulele destinations – including Molokai.
Southern Airways CEO Stan Little explained that he believes “our airlines working together will advance our shared goal to benefit the people of Hawaii.”
For Alaska Airlines, the aim of this partnership is “to create seamless travel for our guests anywhere they want to go,” according to CEO Ben Minicucci.
But will these partnerships help people from Molokai get where they want, including to medical appointments? Will more airline growth improve price and reliably of flights to and from Molokai?
The new deal “doesn’t really affect the people of Molokai at all,” said Mokulele Executive Vice President and former owner of Makani Kai Air, Richard Schuman.
While having an inclusive ticket package from the West Coast to Molokai will mean small convivences like checking a bag all the way through and earning miles points, Schuman doesn’t believe the agreement will result in much change in demand or pricing for flights.
The pricing algorithm for flights is “obnoxiously complicated” but a small increase in passengers shouldn’t raise prices, said Schuman.
For Schuman, big airlines like Hawaiian and Alaska adding routes to places like Kalaupapa is “more marketing for them” and less of a practical outreach to clients.
While substantial customer growth isn’t expected, Mokulele feels confident in their ability to meet the challenge of being Molokai’s sole flight provider.
With the addition of two 28-passenger planes, Mokulele is expanding its flight capabilities.
Mokulele only had about 20 percent of the Molokai flight market pre-COVID, explained Schuman. ‘Ohana by Hawaiian – which pulled out of Molokai service in 2021 — and now-defunct Makani Kai Air made up the other 80 percent. As such, Mokulele has had to grow to service this larger number of customers.
The resulting growing pains, higher prices and less dependability, have been hard for Molokai residents and those trying to travel to the island. Molokai social media pages are full of horror stories of severely delayed or cancelled flights, poor airline communication and a long list of missed off-island medical appointments due to flight issues. At a recent Molokai budget meeting for Maui County, only six of the 19 county representatives were able to make it to Molokai due to flight cancelations, spurring a promise by the mayor to look into options for improved flight service.
However, Schuman affirms that “it will get better.”
The airline is “growing as fast as we can,” explained Schuman. But this growth can only happen “one plane at a time.”
Schuman also reaffirmed Mokulele’s commitment to Molokai.
Mokulele’s “CEO is committed to Molokai and Molokai needs,” said Schuman.
These needs are substantial and unique. Flying 30,000 to 35,000 passengers a month on predominantly nine-person planes is no small feat.
“You have no other place in America like Molokai,” explained Schuman.
And while Molokai residents can be hopeful for the future, for now they will have to be satisfied with a sometimes frustrating reality.
As Schuman said, “We’re going to get you there today. Maybe not on time.”