Peter Ingram occasionally hears the stories from people looking back on days when it cost $25 to fly between the islands and coupons were available.
The Hawaiian Airlines president and CEO had a couple of things to say about that.
“Everything’s gotten more expensive since then, including the price of airplanes and the price of fuel,” he said with a smile during his presentation at Tuesday’s Kauai Chamber of Commerce luncheon. “There was a time when, unfortunately, things that people remember nostalgically were not sustainable.”
That, Ingram said, is demonstrated by the number of airlines, including Hawaiian, that have served Hawaii and went through bankruptcy.
“We know it’s important to manage our cost structure so we can keep fares as affordable as possible,” he said to a crowd of about 200 people at the Aqua Kauai Beach Resort.
While there are certain times of day that demand is greater than supply, he said the airlines offers a variety of fares at different times.
“It will always be the case that if you’re able to be a little bit more flexible, if you’re able to buy in advance, that will typically give you the opportunity to find lower fares,” he said.
During his 40-minute program, Ingram covered ground ranging from economic and environmental challenges to the expected arrival of another competitor to having more direct flights and being part of the effort to avoid overtourism on Kauai.
Hawaiian Airlines flew a record number of passengers in 2018 — 11,840,178 — a 2.9 percent increase over the previous year.
That marks 14 straight years of growth as Hawaiian continues to expand its network and fleet. Hawaiian took delivery of nine A321neo aircraft in 2018, bringing the total size of its A321neo fleet to 11.
The A321neo will help the airline build upon its U.S. West Coast presence, including new, daily, nonstop service to Maui’s Kahului Airport from Portland, Sacramento and San Diego international airports, as well as to Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport from Long Beach.
The airline will begin new, five-times-a-week, nonstop service to Honolulu from Boston’s Logan International Airport on April 4.
It also now offers year-round flights from Los Angeles to Lihue and Oakland to Lihue.
“It was a year with a number of challenges,” Ingram said. “Certainly, not just from a business standpoint.”
The April flooding on Kauai and the volcano eruptions on Hawaii Island a few months later disputed air travel and devastated communities.
“Our hearts are with people in this community,” he said.
Ingram started with Hawaiian Airlines 13 years ago when it employed 3,300. He said the airlines knows that air travel to islands in the Pacific Ocean is critical and improvements can be made.
“Our airports haven’t been up to the level they need to be,” he said, “and the system that supports that, the administration system, is candidly, just not working. We’ve got to be more nimble, we’ve got to be a little bit more business like. We can’t have capital decisions only to be made when the Legislature is in session for a few months a year when we’re operating a 24/7 365 operation.”
Ingram said since he took over as president and CEO 10 months ago, one subject that keeps coming up is the announcement by Southwest Airlines it plans to start service to Hawaii.
He said he didn’t know of a date for that to happen.
“It might be a stretch to stay we look forward to the competition, but we are ready for the competition,” Ingram said.
He noted Hawaiian already competes with American, United, Delta, Alaska, Japan Airlines and Qantas.
“We compete with all of them and we do it very well,” Ingram said.
They do that by delivering “something that is authentic Hawaiian hospitality that is rooted in the culture and hospitality of this place,” he said.
It focuses on taking care of its guests, not by copying what other airlines are doing, he said.
“It’s a tough business,” Ingram said. “We don’t always get it perfect. We know there’s lots of opportunities for improvement.”
When asked — due to increased tourism on Kauai leading to crowded beaches, increased traffic and ailing infrastructure — if there was an opportunity for local government officials and the private sector to have input on Hawaiian’s flights to the island, Ingram that was a possibility.
“It’s actually a discussion we think is important for all of us in the community to engage in. The way we’ve approached it is to think about it from the standpoint of sustainability. Sustainability for us is not just about one or two things, but a number of things.”
He highlighted environmental, economic and cultural concerns. The airline wants to part of the effort to create balance between maintaining levels of tourism to support the economy, while protecting Kauai’s mountains, forests, beaches, and the ocean, and being respectful of the culture.
“We’re a company that calls this place home,” he said, noting it has 7,200 employees. “We want to be part of it for a long time.”