US DOT approves United, American request to temporarily suspend neighbor island travel


On Saturday, May 2, the Hawaii Tourism Authority reported that 823 people arrived in Hawaii including 188 visitors and 315 residents.

According to the statistics, 69 people from out of state arrived in Kona (six intended residents, 22 residents, and 33 visitors).

Eleven people arrived from out of state to Lihue (four visitors, four residents, and one intended resident).

Over 700 people arrived on Oahu, (151 visitors, 289 residents, and 103 intended residents).

Maui had zero arrivals, according to HTA.

On Thursday, the US Department of Transportation approved American Airlines’ request to temporarily suspend flights to Kona, Lihue and Kahului.

A few days before, the US DOT approved United Airlines’ request to temporarily suspend flights to Hilo, Kona, Lihue and Kahului.

With empty planes and a mandatory 14-day quarantine in place, flights to Hawaii have been virtually empty.

“They’re losing tons of money,” said aviation expert Peter Forman. “I’m thinking 75% of the seats full would be the absolute minimum for breaking even maybe you need 80% of the seats full just to break even.”

Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines suspended direct flights to the neighbor islands via mainland routes back in mid-April.

According to the Hawaii DOT, “As of last week, only Delta Airlines was still flying trans-Pacific routes to Kahului, Lihue and Kona Airports. The flights are not daily, but three to four times a week. All other airlines had already suspended neighbor island trans-Pacific routes.”

The HDOT said the only trans-Pacific flights coming to the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport are from San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle and Guam.

American Airlines’ request to suspend its service temporarily to Kahului, Kona and Lihue is in effect through August 18.

The US DOT wrote in the approval, “American’s service to these points requires long travel distances of several thousand miles, and the imposition of Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine order for all travelers to or within Hawaii severely impacts and discourages such passenger travel. Moreover, various State and local government officials in Hawaii have submitted filings in Docket DOT-OST-2020-0037 noting the existence of the 14-day quarantine period and the goal of minimizing the number of visitors to Hawaii until the current public health emergency has ended. Further, American continues to provide scheduled service to Honolulu, Hawaii. We agree that it would not be reasonable or practicable for American to serve Kahului, Kona, or Lihue, Hawaii at the current time under the terms of Order 2020-4-2. However, because the carrier requested to suspend service to these Hawaiian points only until August 18, 2020, we are limiting the term of the exemption accordingly, and will expect American to re-start service to these Hawaiian covered points on August 19, 2020.

American Airlines told KHON2 in a statement:

“At this time, we will continue to serve HNL daily via a flight from Los Angeles (LAX) operated on a widebody Boeing 787-9. Beginning June 4, American is scheduled to add a second daily flight to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW).”

The US DOT approved United’s request with a similar approval note as American Airlines.

United’s request goes through September 30, and includes Hilo’s Airport.

Hawaiian Airlines cut most of its mainland routes. For now, routes to and from Honolulu include Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Alaska Airlines filed a service level exemption request on April 13, and it was granted on April 17.

In a statement from Daniel Chun, Director of Sales, Community & Public Relations, Hawaii Alaska Airlines

“In support of Hawaii’s COVID-19 efforts, we suspended all flying to Kauai, Maui and Hawaii Island since April 9th.  To comply with the CARES Act, we were pleased that the U.S. DOT granted our request for exemption to allow for this temporary suspension in service, citing Hawaii’s goal to minimize the number of visitors to the Islands at this time.  We are currently operating just two daily flights to Oahu, intended to allow for essential travel, as well as to carry lifesaving supplies and cargo to our island state.  This is a significant decrease from our normal average schedule of 30 daily flights across four islands, and while we are saddened by this pause, we are happy to do our part to help slow the spread of COVID-19 within our community.”

Delta Airlines told KHON2 they have not filed an exemption request to the US Department of Transportation for their flights to Kahului, Kona, or Lihue.

Passengers traveling on any other airline will have to go through Honolulu first then fly either Hawaiian Airlines or Southwest Airlines to their neighbor island destination.

“What they’re really trying to do is take us back to the old days temporarily where we have flights from a few west coast cities and they all go to Honolulu and they all take inter island flights out from there to get to the neighbor islands,” explained Forman. “So, this is really the most effective way to get people to all the Hawaii destinations when there simply aren’t enough passengers to support the direct flights anymore.”

However, he said mail delivery and cargo could be impacted by the lack of flights coming to Hawaii.

“Mail certainly has been going on some of these flights so it’s going to have to re-route how a lot of the mail and cargo gets to some of the destinations,” Forman said. “So, it’s inevitable that these changes are needed because planes are way too empty right now.”

***While the service suspension date for Alaska and United is until Sept. 30, and Aug. 18 for American Airlines, the companies can lift the date at anytime.

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