New nonstop flights directly from major mainland cities to Hawaii’s
neighbor islands, such as United’s just-announced service from
Denver to Kona, has prompted Hawaiian and Aloha airlines to look
long and hard at its money-losing interisland service.
And even though the carriers have cut the number of interisland
flights by 14% and the number of seats by 20% in the past six
months, those cuts may not be enough.
The carriers also have asked the U.S. Department of
Transportation for an antitrust exemption so airline officials can
sit down and work out a viable interisland strategy. The proposal,
which the DOT accepted and will make a decision on by Oct. 1,
allows the carriers to fly 50% of the services.
Keoni Wagner, spokesman for Hawaiian Airlines, affirmed that
nonstop mainland-neighbor islands service has created less demand
for interisland service. He also said that the general downturn in
travel, due to Sept. 11 and the flagging economy, hasn’t helped
By coordinating interisland service with Aloha, Wagner said the
aim is to “reduce a state of overcapacity in this market that has
built up over time. We would coordinate a reduction in total seat
capacity in the market, with each carrier flying 50% of the
capacity needed each month. We would not coordinate specific flight
schedules or fares.”
Wagner said that if the plan is approved, the DOT will oversee
In the not-so-distant past, interisland service generated up to
30% of the airlines’ revenue. But these are not normal times.
The proposed cutbacks, which would especially affect Hawaiian
locals, are causing some apprehension over the prospect of
less-frequent flights and higher fares. However, that fear is less
of an issue since the proposed Hawaiian-Aloha merger was called off
earlier this year.
Travel agents in Hawaii are watching the scenario with
Danny Casey, president of the ASTA Hawaii chapter, said there
has been “very little noticeable impact from any reductions in
flights by either airline during the early part of the year.”
If the airlines’ proposed get-together passes scrutiny, Casey
said Hawaii’s interisland travelers will need to adjust to a new
way of traveling.
“Customers will have to start making their reservations much
more in advance of travel to ensure their desired airline and
flight times,” Casey said. “The days of just showing up at the
airport with a coupon and catching the next available flight will
be gone in most circumstances.”
Casey said brand loyalty may also disappear, replaced by when
and where travelers need to go.
“Although several people have said that the combining of
schedules will lead to higher prices, the reality is that
interisland pricing is difficult to predict, because there are
forces at work in the marketplace that push prices up and keep
prices down,” he said.
Rachel Shimamoto of All Ways Travel in Honolulu agreed that
something needs to be done.
“It’s like twins going on a diet it trims the schedules for a
realistic fit,” Shimamoto said, noting that passengers have been
spoiled with a lot of choices. “And perhaps they have to stick to
taking the flight that’s booked; no more no-shows since there were
so many flights to choose from.”