Image: Hawaii
Heather Titus  /  Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA)
Hawaii is an incredibly beautiful vacation spot, but it has become more costly to get there from several U.S. mainland destinations as a result of Aloha Airlines and ATA going out of business.
updated 6/3/2008 2:36:12 PM ET 2008-06-03T18:36:12

Stop by the ticketing hall of Honolulu International Airport's InterIsland Terminal these days, and you'll see what a split personality looks like, up close.

One side of the terminal is clogged with passengers, many of them waiting in long lines just to use self-check-in. These are the Hawaiian Airlines counters. Down the hall, however, the Aloha Airlines desks sit in silence. A few lone, bored security people amble around, making sure nobody disturbs what remains of a once-vibrant airline.

Hawaii has always operated a little differently than other American states, with two daily newspapers in its small capital, Honolulu, and two state airlines, Hawaiian and Aloha. But at the end of March, Aloha suddenly went bust, leaving more than 3,000 employees without work.

Why do bad things happen to good airlines?
Crippled, it said, by predatory pricing on the inter-island routes that were its bread and butter, Aloha (currently embroiled in a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Mesa Air Group, parent company of the low-fare, inter-island flyer go!) insisted it could no longer compete, disappearing almost instantly.

The news for Hawaii wasn't good, but it was about to get worse.

On April 2, Indianapolis-based ATA Airlines, which was relied on for key mainland services, both by Hawaiians and by mainlanders coming to spend money, disappeared as well.

Many Aloha mainland services were operated by United Airlines — for instance, nonstops from Los Angeles and Chicago — but the loss of both Aloha's and ATA's departures represent a significant decrease in service, affecting markets such as Oakland, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Who benefits?
The news is certainly good for Hawaiian Airlines, which has been setting records since April 1, flying an unprecedented 718,767 passengers during the month, according to data obtained by Travel Weekly.

According to a Hawaiian Airlines spokesperson, an uptick in load factor — that's airline-speak for more fully packed planes — was part of the key to the airline scooping up extra butts. But Hawaiian's Keoni Wagner also told the Honolulu Advertiser that "the extra capacity we put in the market met demand."

Some of these extra services include a new daily nonstop to California's Oakland International Airport from Honolulu (a busy route for both ATA and Aloha). Hawaiian is also putting larger planes on interisland routes.

Immediately after the double-header of bad news, The Arizona Republic reported a $300 fare jump on available seats from Phoenix on US Airways, one of two remaining carriers serving the Islands (the other is Hawaiian) from Sky Harbor. TheSan Francisco Chronicle reported a similar jump from the Bay Area — $700 for an August roundtrip on United versus $420 on ATA.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

A recent check of midsummer, midweek flights show fares starting at $670 round-trip on Northwest from San Francisco to Honolulu. Even so, on Memorial Day, discovered that United slashed fares from both Newark and Houston to Honolulu and Kauai to under $300 including taxes, for travel through April 2009.

Interisland fare changes: too early to tell
One of the most bitter domestic airline feuds in recent memory is what Aloha blames in part for its downfall. Aloha rival go! is still flying, and, according to parent company Mesa, which usually contracts with other airlines to operate short-haul services on smaller planes, it has almost doubled capacity since the shutdown.

While go!'s arrival on the scene in 2006 — days after Aloha emerged from its previous bankruptcy — did bring the islands closer together, with its $19 fare sales and breezy accessibility (a recent flight will be remembered for having the most cheerful and friendly cabin crew you could ever hope to fly with), it did so at a loss, and to the detriment of Aloha. Mesa Air Group CEO Jonathan Ornstein famously said that he could fly empty planes and cover it with profits from elsewhere in Mesa's sprawling network.

Ornstein's remarks grated on Hawaiians, many with connections to people working at the competing "hometown" airlines. However, despite insistent claims that go! was an unwanted outsider and "had no Aloha," it continues to fly, now with ever-so-slightly-higher prices. A ticket for May travel from Honolulu to Kona purchased more than 15 days in advance cost $55; the same ticket for June travel was showing for $59 each way.

Take the waters
The strife in the air coincides with the state's troubled waters. Last year's almost-failed effort to give Hawaii its first high-speed ferry service is today just limping along. After launching the Hawaii SuperFerry from Honolulu to the Maui port of Kahului and Kauai's Lihue, protests and other actions led to cancellation of the Kauai service and left the company operating with just one route (Maui-Honolulu), once a day.

After unexpected dry-dockings and numerous stops and starts on a second daily Maui service — not to mention an uncertain timetable for its return to Kauai — the future of the SuperFerry looks murky. The second daily Maui departure has been inaugurated, but a new CEO says the people of Kauai can decide whether or not they want the service. (He probably shouldn't worry about keeping the phone lines free.)

But wait, there's more
It doesn't take a financial analyst to recognize that Hawaii might still be over-served, at least when you look at the Oahu-Maui route. There are now two daily ferry departures, plus dozens of daily flights to Kahului (and even some to tiny Kapalua and Hana) by various airlines. People may be flying, or taking the boat, but are they paying enough to keep the airlines in the air?

According to the Department of Transportation, Maui's Kahului — along with three other Hawaiian airports — featured the lowest average round-trip fares in the United States last year. It used to be even cheaper to get there. In a separate report on the change in average airfare from 1995 to the present, Kahului rings in at the third-most-changed, from an average round-trip fare in 1995 of $50 to a current fare of $183. Whether the increase is enough, time will tell.

© 2013 Imaginova Corp.

Photos: Hawaiian paradise

loading photos...
  1. Waimea Canyon, Kauai

    Kalalau Valley, on Kauai's west side, is more than 3,000 feet deep and provides stunning panoramic views. Waimea is nicknamed "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific." (John Borthwick / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Honolulu, Hawaii

    Men row their Hawaiian outrigger canoe towards Waikiki beach, with Diamond Head in the background. Outrigger canoes are now used for recreation purposes and to ride the waves, but in times past they were the main means of transportation between the Hawaiian Islands. (Mike Nelson / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. The tranquil waters of Oahu

    Hanauma Bay is one of the finest stretches of beach in the world. (Eric L Wheater / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Surfer's paradise

    Australian Luke Egan competes on Oahu's North Shore, one of the best places in Hawaii to ride the big waves. (AFP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Water colors

    A school of manini fish pass over a coral reef at Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve in Honolulu, Hawaii. (Donald Miralle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Wailua Falls

    The beautiful 83-foot tiered Wailua Falls is an easily accessible, must-see waterfall on the island of Kauai. Wailua Falls was first made famous when it was featured in the television show, "Fantasy Island." (James Randklev / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Emerald peaks

    The iconic, towering emerald peaks of the 1,200-foot Iao Needle, stand out in Maui's Iao Valley State Park. (Adina Tovy Amsel / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Historic reminder

    The USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, marks the resting place of many of the battleship's 1,177 crew members who lost their lives during the Attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 by the Japanese. The memorial is the "ground zero" of World War II. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Aloha!

    Hula dancers welcome the sailing crew of a Hokule'a, a canoe, into Kailua Bay. (Ronen Zilberman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The heart of Hawaii

    The sun sets on Honolulu, Oahu's capital and Hawaii's largest, most populous city. (Robert Y. Ono / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Polynesian heat

    Brandon OFueo Maneafaiga, 23, of Waianae, Hawaii balances two flaming knifes during the 13th Annual World Fireknife Championship at the Polynesian Cultural Centre in Laie, Hawaii. (Lucy Pemoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Explosive attraction

    People watch from a viewing area as an explosion takes place on Kilauea, one of the world's most active volcanoes, in Pahoa, Hawaii. Legend says the volcano goddess Pele dug fire pits as she traveled from island to island looking for a home with her brothers and sisters. She finally settled at Kilauea's summit, where she lives at Halemaumau crater. (Leigh Hilbert / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Forces of nature

    The Dragon's Teeth are bizarre lava formations eroded by wind and salt spray at Makalua-puna Point. (Karl Lehmann / Lonely Planet) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Heaven on Earth

    Astronomy observatories are seen on the peak of the snow-covered, Mauna Kea mountain near Hilo, Hawaii. Mauna Kea is a dormant volcano. (Tim Wright / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. On the way to Sainthood

    Tourists walk through a cemetery past the grave, left, of Father Damien at Kalawao, Hawaii. After cancer patient Audrey Toguchi prayed to Father Damien, known for helping leprosy patients in Hawaii, to help her, and her cancer went away, Pope Benedict XVI approved the case in July 2008 as Damien's second miracle, opening the way for the 19th century Belgian priest to be declared a saint. (Eric Risberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Cool colors

    Rainbow eucalyptus (Mindanao Gum) trees grow in Keanae, Maui. Once a year, these magnificent trees shed their bark and take on the colors of the rainbow. (James Randklev / Corbis) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Magic Sands

    An aerial view of La'aloa Beach Park or Magic Sands beach in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The beach is called Magic Sands because when rough surf hits, all of the sand is emptied off the beach and temporarily moved out to sea. (Brian Powers / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments