HERE ON THE BIG ISLAND
By Kelly Moran
Getting Here is Getting Harder
Flying to and from the Big Island has long been a no-brainer; now it’s something you have to think about and plan ahead.
At the end of March, Aloha Airlines suddenly went out of business. The announcement came just as the huge Merrie Monarch Festival week was starting in Hilo, forcing many hula troupes and fans to scramble for passage.
And as if that wasn’t a hard enough knock, ATA Airlines went belly-up a few days later, leaving passengers stranded both in Hawaii and on the Mainland. For Hilo, that knock doubled the pain, as ATA had been flying Hilo’s only non-stop Mainland service – to Oakland, where ATA had a partnership with and connections to Southwest Airlines.
It’s true that Aloha had been operating under bankruptcy protection for a few years. And it’s true that the rising cost of jet fuel is forcing many carriers to cut back on redundant flights, and raise ticket prices. But neither Aloha nor ATA telegraphed a warning of impending collapse to their own people in Hawaii – not to crews, back-office staffers, baggage-handlers . . . nobody got a heads-up.
Hawaiian Airlines immediately added flights, including some to the Mainland destinations ATA had been serving, especially Las Vegas; and also offered free interisland travel, on a standby basis, to Aloha’s ticketed passengers. Other stranded people found seats on the small interisland carriers, Island Air and Go, which – so far – continue to fly.
At the Hilo and Keahole (Kona) airports, half of the facilities are now empty and idle. This, even though both have rather attractive terminals. Hilo’s lounge area has classic, koa lanai furniture. And Keahole – though it’s scheduled to get a major face-lift in the next year or so – is still delightfully old-fashioned, with outdoor wheel-around passenger ramps.
Unfortunately, neither airport is likely to be served by more flights or a new carrier, any time soon.