KONA — For Kealoha Curnan-Medina, flying nonstop from Kona to Lihue will make seeing family easier.
“It’s great for family to come visit,” she said.
Curnan-Medina, who lives on the Big Island but is from Kauai, was traveling from Kona to Lihue Sunday morning aboard Hawaiian Airlines’ inaugural direct flight between the two islands.
“I bought a ticket just to be on the first flight,” she said. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this to happen. I hope it stays forever.”
There were 60 people aboard the morning flight, said Alex Da Silva, spokesman for Hawaiian Airlines.
The passengers were a mix of tourists and Big Island residents who wanted to see Kauai. Some people, like Ted Fuetsch and Jane Garfield, didn’t even realize they’d booked the first flight.
“We were looking for the right connection and saw that there was a non-stop flight,” Fuetsch said.
Fuetsch and Garfield, who are from Nevada but live part-time on the Big Island, had a wedding to attend in Poipu Sunday night. They were making the most of the trip and planned to have an extended stay on the Garden Isle.
“I’ve never been; I hear it’s beautiful,” Garfield said.
In January, the airline announced the launching of a nonstop flight between Lihue and Kailua-Kona. The 263-mile flight from Lihue Airport to Kona International Airport becomes Hawaiian’s longest Neighbor Island route.
“We are always looking for ways to make traveling throughout the Hawaiian Islands more convenient,” said Peter Ingram, executive vice president and chief commercial officer. “This new nonstop service will meet growing demand for travel between Kauai and Hawaii Island by residents and visitors who currently connect through Maui or Honolulu.”
Hawaiian Airlines recently added two B717s to its interisland fleet, which gives the airline the flexibility to add the route, he said.
“Whether our guests are visitors seeking to experience multiple islands, or residents visiting relatives or conducting business, they will enjoy the added convenience and flexibility of this nonstop service,” Ingram said. “From an airline perspective, we are delighted to continue to enhance our network of Neighbor Island flights to provide even more options to travelers.”
There are currently two daily flights between the airports. One leaves Kona at 9:38 a.m. Another leaves Lihue at 3:44 p.m.
“We believe the once-daily flights are appropriate as a start, but as we do with every route, we will monitor it and make schedule adjustments as needed,” Ingram said.
The route offers people a chance to see the entire Hawaiian Islands chain, said Jamie Hightower, a flight attendant who worked on the first flight between the islands.
“Being a part of our newest flight is an honor. It is a chance for me to be a part of the expansion of a company that I am proud to represent,” Hightower said. “I also wanted to join this flight because Kauai holds a very special place in my heart.”
Hightower, who has been a flight attendant for about five years, lived on Kauai as a child until her father moved the family to Oahu for a new job.
Hawaiian first launched flights to Kona from Honolulu on July 10, 1949, and started service from Honolulu to Lihue six months later on Jan. 8, 1950. Today, the carrier operates an average of 21 daily departures from each airport with its Boeing 717 fleet.
During the summer, Hawaiian offers direct flights from both Kona and Lihue to Los Angeles, and from Lihue to Oakland. In December 2016, Hawaiian started its first-ever international service from Kona with thrice-weekly flights to Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.
The 58-minute flight between the Big Island and Kauai cuts travel time, Curnan-Medina said. Before, she had to stop for a layover on Oahu. Because of that, she gets to spend more time with family.
Her niece, Sarah Fern, was also traveling to Kauai. She said traveling by air is second nature.
“In Hawaii, we’re raised flying. It’s in our blood,” she said.
Sunday’s flight was piloted by Capt. Tait Duryea and First Officer Mimi Mycynek. Hightower, along with Jill Chang, Ardee Pascual and Stanley Dickinson, took care of passengers along the way.
Before taking off, Kaniela and Anna Akaka blessed the plane, wishing it and its passengers a safe fight.
“Whether it’s a canoe or a plane, we always prepare for a voyage, to make things right,” Kaniela Akaka said.
Watching the company expand is an adventure, Hightower said.
“I never really left the islands growing up, and a vacation for our ohana was going to Kauai or Hilo to visit family,” she said.
“With the company growing and expanding the way that we are, I’m excited to see where we will be headed next.”