Losing Lift

Re-assessing the airline industry after the fall of ATA and Aloha

By: Marty Wentzel

After the recent back-to-back casualties of Aloha and ATA airlines disrupted thousands of travelers heading to and from Hawaii, tourism officials expressed a mix of concern and guarded optimism about the long-range impact on the state’s visitor industry.

Aloha discontinued service on March 31, followed by the demise of ATA on April 3.

According to numbers from the Hawaii State Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, Aloha accounted for 5 percent of the state’s trans-Pacific market it also flew interisland routes and ATA had a 10 percent share. Particularly hard-hit was Oakland, Calif., served by both carriers.

Hawaii Tourism Authority president Rex Johnson said the closures removed one million seats from Hawaii’s North American market.

While certain carriers have already added lift in response, “it will take more airlines stepping forward before we’re back to capacity,” said Johnson. “We will certainly explore every opportunity to continue to build demand.

“That said, this shouldn’t impact visitor perceptions of Hawaii,” Johnson added. “HTA underwrote flights to help stranded passengers get home, and hotels offered them special rates. That amounts to travel insurance.”

Hawaii state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert concurred.

“There’s no question that the last few weeks have been very difficult, but we are bullish about the future,” she said. “We need to act as quickly as possible to maintain the health of the visitor industry.”

Tourism officials will meet in early May to make an appropriation designed to encourage carriers to add more lift to the islands, Wienert said.

Shari Chang, ResortQuest Hawaii senior vice president of sales and marketing, agreed that Hawaii “stepped up to the plate” as a destination. She added that the airline closures reflect the overall market forces of a competitive airline industry.

“Hawaii as a destination continues to be an exceptional experience in terms of its cultural offerings, outdoor adventures, accommodations, service and beaches. In fact, with rising oil prices and the unfavorable exchange rate, Hawaii provides the perfect place to make the visitor’s dollar go further,” Chang commented.

The passing of ATA and Aloha commanded headlines earlier this month, but now they are yesterday’s news, according to Outrigger Enterprises Group sales and marketing senior vice president Rob Solomon.

“What’s relevant to clients is what’s happening right now,” he said. “Adverse publicity fades away quickly.” Solomon said rates for May travel out of Oakland are still reasonable.

“This summer, as always, you’ll see the fares go up,” he said, “but looking at my computer right now, I see plenty of affordability this fall. If clients are flexible and don’t visit Hawaii in the high season, they will find airline seats within their budget.”

Now that the immediate clamor over ATA and Aloha’s shutdowns has subsided, the Hawaii Tourism Authority can begin formulating long-range goals.

“Certain markets on the West Coast are going to need additional tourism promotion funds,” said HTA’s Johnson. Echoing that sentiment was Ed Hubennette, Marriott International vice president, fresh from a West Coast visit with sellers of Hawaii travel.

“Wholesalers tell me that Hawaii needs to boost marketing efforts in base markets on the West Coast,” he said. “California and Mexico have increased tourism spending, and Hawaii must step up its own efforts.”

At the same time, travel agents need to keep a watchful eye on airline trends in order to remain successful as sellers of Hawaii travel.

“Agents must take the time to stay on top of which carriers are flying and which ones have seats available,” Hubennette said.


Several carriers are filling the trans-Pacific void created when Aloha and ATA airlines went out of business.

On May 1, Hawaiian Airlines begins nonstop daily service between Honolulu and Oakland.

Starting June 5, Delta Airlines commences nonstop daily service between Los Angeles and Kauai, and Los Angeles and the Big Island (Kona).

Beginning July 17, Alaska Airlines launches year-round daily flights between Seattle and Maui. Seasonal flights between Anchorage and Kahului will operate twice weekly from Oct. 31-April 25.