$5M allocated to hire outgoing charter flights
|||Aloha Airlines pilots see progress|
|||Seats from Vegas to Isles severely cut|
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Robbie Dingeman
Looking to help roughly 9,000 ATA Airlines passengers stranded in Hawai'i by the carrier's sudden shutdown, the Hawai'i Tourism Authority yesterday approved $5 million in emergency funding to help hire charter flights to get people home.
The state tourism agency scheduled an emergency meeting to respond to the double blows of ATA and Aloha Airlines shutting down service in the same week.
The two airlines represented 15 percent of air traffic between Hawai'i and the West Coast, with ATA accounting for 12 daily flights to Los Angeles, Oakland, Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Rex Johnson, president and chief executive officer of the Hawai'i Tourism Authority, said the announcement of ATA's Wednesday closing on the heels of Aloha's last Mainland flights on Sunday meant quick action was needed to help stranded passengers.
"Hawai'i's reputation is on the line," Johnson said. "We needed to get something done."
He said the agency pitched the idea to as many airlines as possible in a request for proposals issued yesterday that asked: what aircraft are available, what cities could be served, number of flights per week, a preliminary schedule of departures and cost per seat.
Hawaiian Airlines, which had already added extra flights earlier in the week to fly Aloha passengers home, responded to HTA's request by adding two more flights next week.
Flight 1012 will depart Honolulu on Monday and Wednesday at 2:20 p.m. and arrive in San Francisco at 10:15 p.m. Return flight 1011 will depart San Francisco those same evenings at 11:35 p.m. and arrive in Honolulu at 1:45 a.m. the following day. The fares can be booked at HawaiianAirlines.com /kokuafare after 12 noon today.
Johnson said HTA would subsidize the cost of the tickets on the charter flights, which would cost an estimated $312 a seat. HTA is considering charging passengers $200 and having HTA pay the remaining $112.
"The next three days will be very, very tough," Johnson said. He said the industry is helping to try to get these passengers home within "a reasonable time" but it's not clear how long that will take. "This includes visitors trying to return to the Mainland as well as Hawai'i residents on the Mainland who are trying to return home," Johnson said.
Board member Cha Thompson asked if three Aloha 737s sitting on the tarmac could be used to help ease the crunch. When other board members said the bankruptcy presents legal hurdles to those planes flying, Thompson shook her head. "Common sense has to play a part," she said.
John Monahan, of the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau, said the visitor industry has been responding to the unusual situation. He didn't have a clear estimate of how many days it might take to fly out all the visitors. "It's really hard to tell," he said.
Various hotels statewide are offering discounts to stranded passengers for extended or emergency accommodations.
"While we anticipate some short-term impact to Hawai'i's air service, we are hopeful that there will be minimal long-term disruption," Johnson said.
Hotel association president Murray Towill said the industry cooperation has helped keep things moving. "It's going to get more complicated as people are supposed to be leaving and not able to get out," he said.
"In the last five days or so we've lost 15 percent of our lift from the West Coast or over a million seats," Johnson said.
Monahan said the cooperation of Hawaiian Air, hotels, travel agents and industry officials has been amazing in working through a bad situation. "We're going to maintain our reputation of aloha," he said. "It's the right thing to do."
Reach Robbie Dingeman at firstname.lastname@example.org.