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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 12, 2001

America's bloodiest day
4,000 travelers stranded in Hawai'i

By Frank Cho and Michele Kayal
Advertiser Staff Writers

Thousands of travelers were stranded in Hawai'i yesterday after terrorist attacks involving four jetliners forced the shutdown of the nation's air traffic system and diversion of several Mainland-bound flights from Asia to Honolulu and the Neighbor Islands.

Travelers who had been on a Las Vegas-bound flight out of Los Angeles found themselves in Hawai'i yesterday after their plane was diverted to Honolulu International Airport. About 25 planes landed here before the airport was closed.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

The grounding, which was to be in effect until at least 6 a.m. Hawai'i time today, affected about 40,000 flights nationwide and left local airline and tourism officials scrambling to find housing for about 4,000 passengers from grounded flights statewide.

"(The airline) didn't tell us anything at first," said Fernando Covarriebias, a Los Angeles watch salesman who was returning from a business trip to Hong Kong. "We were on our own it seemed."

But by yesterday afternoon Hawai'i tourism officials said they found about 3,000 available hotel rooms on O'ahu — more than enough, they said, to house the stranded travelers.

"It's unfortunate, but I am taking it in stride," said Ian Watson, a surveyor from Brisbane, Australia, who was headed to Vancouver, Canada, on a four-week vacation.

"The people that were expected to leave Hawai'i (Tuesday) obviously won't. But they already have accommodations. It's the others that we were concerned about," said Tony Vericella, president and chief executive officer of the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau.

About 19 overseas flights were allowed to land in Hawai'i yesterday before the airports were closed, Vericella said. Six of those were flights — with about 1,500 to 1,800 passengers — that were diverted from Mainland destinations. Another 2,500 passengers arrived on regularly scheduled flights.

"We should be able to accommodate everyone, but tonight (Tuesday) is the critical point," said Murray Towill, president of the Hawai'i Hotel Association.

Hawai'i's hotel industry has stepped forward with a variety of discounts to help stranded travelers over the next 48 hours.

Marriott and Renaissance Resorts Hawai'i offered discounted rates to guests who were forced to extend their stay because of canceled flights. Starwood Hotels & Resorts said it plans to waive early departure fees and long distance phone charges for the next two days so guests can call family members on the Mainland. Other hotels also discounted their telephone service, representatives of the hotels said.

Outrigger Hotels and Resorts, the Ohana Hotels chain and Sheraton Hotels & Resorts offered discounts of 50 percent or more on room rates for people who were stuck here.

With September a relatively slow month in the visitor industry, tourism officials expected to have more than enough rooms. Still, the average daily visitor census suggests about 145,000 visitors were visiting or stranded statewide yesterday.

Waylaid travelers filled the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel by early afternoon, and a spokeswoman said the Sheraton chain expected that the rest of its rooms at three other Waikiki hotels would be full by the end of the day. The Hilton Hawaiian Village opened rooms that were being renovated to accommodate some of the unexpected guests, a Hilton spokeswoman said.

Outrigger Enterprises, which has 31 properties and 10,000 rooms in Hawai'i between its Outrigger and Ohana brand hotels, yesterday had enough room for both guests who couldn't depart as expected and for those who were diverted here.

Outrigger was expecting about 4,500 people in 1,800 rooms to check out today, said spokesman Jim Austin, none of whom did. He said the hotel was expecting about 1,300 rooms to be filled by 3,250 arrivals. In the end, Austin said, it had significantly less than that.

"The only arrivals we would have done are those who flew in on those 21 flights," Austin said.

Outrigger extended a compassion rate to stranded guests, Austin said, and waived all long-distance charges. All cancellation and early departure fees are also being waived. Televisions have been moved to the lobbies of most of the hotels to help guests keep informed.

The Mauna Kea Resort on the Big Island's Kona side prepped a number of rooms in case stranded JTB travelers, who found themselves at Kona International Airport yesterday morning, needed rooms.

The resort also placed large-screen TVs in central meeting rooms at its Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel to help guests keep up on the news. Easels also have been placed in the lobbies for airport-like information updates.

The hotel has extended a "distress rate" to stranded guests of $195 a night at Mauna Kea Beach Hotel, and $175 at the Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel.

Despite the lower rates offered at many hotels, Jerry Steuber, a passenger on a Canada 3000 flight bound for Vancouver said he planned to stay overnight at the airport because he could not afford to pay for a hotel. "I am just going to stay here overnight and see what happens," Steuber said.

Oregon resident Wanda Bennett, spending the first day of her weeklong vacation in Hawai'i yesterday with her mother, was considering cutting her stay short.

"Like everyone else, I just want to be with my family right now," said Bennett, a United Airlines employee based in Portland, Ore. "But since we flew on standby, I'm not sure how or when we'll be able to go home now."

Jim Roche was scheduled to fly home to Albuquerque, N.M., last night following a three-week vacation visiting family and friends on Maui.

"I could think of a lot worse places to be stuck," he said. "I guess I've got an extended vacation," said Roche, a television producer who is staying with his parents in West Maui.

A seasoned traveler, he has no qualms about jumping on a flight to the Mainland.

"I think it's important that we keep going," he said. "Their (terrorists) true goal is to undermine our psyche, our freedoms, the American way of life. We can't let them do that."

Reach Frank Cho at 525-8088, or at fcho@honoluluadvertiser.com