Planning a Trip to Hawai`i?
The busy inter-island tarmac in Honolulu:
Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines in back to the right and go! in front to the left.
Pacific Northwest to Hawai`i
Traveling to the Hawaiian Islands is about to become more competitive. Recently, Alaska Airlines announced it would begin direct flights from Seattle to Hawai`i starting Oct. 28th and offered introductory fares as low as $109 one way. Currently, only Hawaiian and Northwest Airlines offer direct flights daily to the Islands from Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. United makes one flight a week from Seattle to Honolulu and those closer to the Canadian border can fly from Vancouver, B.C. to Honolulu on Air Canada or Air Pacific.
In addition to Honolulu, both Hawaiian and Northwest have a direct route to Maui from Seattle. Northwest also flies Portland to Maui and Seattle to Kona on the Big Island. Alaska will offer direct flights from Seattle to Honolulu and will be the first major carrier to fly directly to Lihu`e, Kaua`i.
Inter-island travel-by air
In Hawai`i, inter-island competition is also heating up. Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines have steadily held the local market for over 60 years in spite of occasional attempts by other carriers to break in. None were able to sustain competition until the arrival of go!, a scrappy small carrier backed by Arizona-based Mesa Airlines.
The new upstart go! has lasted over a year now and shaken up the industry with prices from $39 to $9 one-way anywhere in the islands. Hawaiian and Aloha usually match rates by offering several low-priced seats per flight. Then go! announced an anniversary special a few weeks ago of $1 one-way ($2 round-trip.) The huge response in the first hour of sales crashed their website which go! tried to compensate for by increasing the number of $1 seats from 1,000 to 2,000. Hawaiian and Aloha declined to match go!’s latest sale price and air travel experts have been watching the sparring. While all agree that it is good to have competition, there are rumors that such tactics are an attempt to bring down the inter-island carriers that have a long history in the Islands. Terry Uemura of HGS Travel in Seattle said, “It’s ridiculous and affects our people in Hawaii. Yes it’s nice for us to save money but at the expense of hard-working dedicated employees at Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines. Do we really want to see either of these two airlines disappear? What a disaster that would be. I think there is a definite separation between good competition and a joke!”
Jonathan Orenstein, CEO of Mesa, go!’s parent company, said, ”Some carriers have made claims that we’re trying to put them out of business but with only 8% of the available seats (50 seats in each of go!’s 5 planes,) we’re the smallest player. There’s nothing evil about what we’re doing.” (See go! to read more from our interview with Mesa’s CEO.)
go! entered the market in 2006 at a time when inter-island travel prices reached new highs - over $100 one way between islands - with locals complaining of the high cost of flying. Rodney Wong, a retired teacher living in Hilo, reports that on the Neighbor Islands, people sometimes forego necessary medical treatment in Honolulu because of the expense and difficulty of inter-island travel. “They also don’t attend family functions like graduations, weddings, birthday parties, baptisms and, sad to say, funerals. I know that many UH-Hilo and UH-Manoa students don’t participate in commencement exercises because their families cannot afford to be there,” said Wong.
As Hawaiian and Aloha Airlines struggle to keep up with go!’s low prices, they are also suing Mesa for allegedly using information it received as a potential buyer when the two island-based airlines were in bankruptcy proceedings.
Hawaiian, Aloha and go! compete for inter-island travelers by using Honolulu as a hub. To go from Hilo to Kaunakakai on Molokai for example, passengers must fly into Honolulu and then change planes. But there are other small, inter-island companies such as Mokulele Airlines, Island Air and Pacific Wings that provide service on the less-traveled routes at varying prices.
Inter-island travel – by sea
There are also passenger ferries from Maui to Molokai and Lana`i. The Moloka`i Princess has a daily run from Maui to Molokai that costs $40 one-way and takes an hour and fifteen minutes. The Maui – Lana`i ferry takes 45 minutes, runs twice a day and costs $26 one-way.
The new Superferry will soon enter into the fray by offering inter-island transportation that will allow passengers to take their cars. But there are still several hurdles: one is the U.S. Coast Guard certification and inspection process and another is the protest on all the islands by those who want more studies around environmental impact. According to the Superferry website, ticket prices will range between $52 and $62 one-way. Add at least another $59 to ship a car and pay extra for bicycles, surfboards and pet kennels.
The Alakai, the first superferry completed by shipbuilder Austal in Alabama, left Mobile in the middle of June and is expected to arrive in the Islands sometime in July. John Garibaldi, president and CEO of Superferry, expects service to begin by the end of August with 3-hour sailings from O`ahu to Maui and Kaua`i. Upon completion of a second ferry, the 4-hour 15-minute trip between O`ahu and Hawai`i island should be in operation by 2009.
This kind of fierce competition coupled with high gas prices makes it anyone’s guess what will happen next. But for now, visitors to the Islands as well as returning transplants and local travelers have more options for getting to and around the Islands.
Mahalo to Kaweo Kanoho at Tours by Charlie in Hilo, Hawai`i, and Terry Uemura at HGS Travel in Seattle, Washington for their input to this story.
In researching the front-page story on travel to the islands, I called or email several airlines. Below is a conversation I had with Jonathan Orenstein, Chairman and CEO of go!’s parent company Mesa . ~Rochelle delaCruz
RdC: Why did you decide to bring go! to the islands?
JO: Last year when I saw that it cost $280 round-trip on your old-time carriers to fly from Honolulu and Maui, I felt there was a demand for reasonably-priced airfare.
RdC: After one year in operation, where would you say go! is in the building of its Hawai`i market?
JO: We know it’s impossible to be profitable or build brand recognition overnight so we feel good about the progress made so far. In one year, we’ve carried 650,000 passengers with our 50-seat, 5-plane operation and since - as part of Mesa - we’re not a startup, we think we can compete for a long time.
RdC: Do you think the 3 main companies – Hawaiian, Aloha and go! – can survive?
JO: Sure but there are lots of variables, the main one being current fuel prices. Hawaiian and Aloha are very unhappy with go! but keep in mind that we’re the smallest player and offer only 8% capacity (number of seats) of the market.
RdC: Many in the Islands are critical of the arrival of Wal-Mart, saying that it forces the closure of many small, local businesses and changes island culture into any town, USA . They say go! as an outside company is trying to do the same. How do you respond to that?
JO: I’m aware that people are comparing us to Wal-Mart, but we’re not a big company from the Mainland trying to take over. We’re just a small airlines trying to provide a needed service.
RdC: Right now, fares are see-sawing. Where do you think it will stabilize?
JO: I can promise that once things settle down, our normal fare structure will be between $39 and $79. Even if we sold all our seats at the highest price of $79, that’s still cheaper than what the inter-island fare was the day before we started. And even though we’re taking a lot of criticism, we’ve gotten lots of positive feedback from our passengers, regarding availability, service and convenience. We intend to be an integral part of island travel.
Returning to his roots on the "Friendly Isle," award-winning author Kirby Wright will host a talk story session and book signing of his new book Moloka`i Nui Ahina, at the Lodge at Molokai Ranch, 11 a.m. on Wednesday, July 4, 2007.
Molokai Nui Ahina is a novel based on the life and times of Wright's paniolo grandmother who worked at Pu'u O Hoku Ranch on the island's east end. It is written from the perspective of two grandsons who spent their summers with their grandmother at the ahupua'a on the east end. Among the boys' adventures are encounters with various island residents, including the kahuna woman who freezes pictures of her enemies, the girl who seduces the Chief of Police, the man who referees cock fights in Kaunakakai and the beautiful divorcee who lives in the saddle room. These characters shape the narrators' sensibilities as they learn the secrets of their grandmother's wild past in Honolulu and the intensity of her struggles on "the Lonely Isle."
Born and raised in Honolulu, Wright is a graduate of Punahou School in Honolulu and the University of California at San Diego. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Wright has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and is a past recipient of the Ann Fields Poetry Prize, the Academy of American Poets Award, the Browning Society Award for Dramatic Monologue, the San Diego Book Award, and Arts Council Silicon Valley Fellowships in Poetry and The Novel. Before the City, his first book of poetry, took First Place at the San Diego Book Awards. Punahou Blues, his coming of age novel set in Honolulu, was a Finalist at the San Diego Book Awards and received Honorable Mention at the Hawaii Book Awards.
Moloka'i Nui Ahina will launch exclusively in Hawai`i on the island of Molokai. It is the first book written by someone from the island in 43 years.
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