Fight arises over flight fee

LIHUE — Less than a week after Jennifer Johnson bought a plane ticket from the mainland to visit her mother on Kauai, historic floods rocked the North Shore, cutting off road access to the family home in Hanalei.

She contacted Hawaiian Airlines to reschedule and was issued a credit in the amount of her ticket to be used at a later date. But when she re-booked the flight eight months later, the airline charged her a $200 fee for changing the reservation.

Johnson felt she had little choice but to pay the additional cost and scheduled the flight. When she finally arrived in Hanalei and mentioned the incident to her parents, her mother, Cyndy Johnson, decided to do something about it.

“This is just not right,” the elder Johnson said. “I mean, come on. Give us a break!”

Johnson decided to take up her daughter’s cause and emailed a letter on Jan. 7 to a senior vice president with Hawaiian Airlines’ public affairs office requesting a refund.

“We have all been through a great deal up here on the North Shore. Many homes were completely destroyed. Ours was flooded and suffered major damage,” Cindy Johnson wrote. “It seems to me that your airline, which is based in Hawaii and has long served these islands, should have waived any change fee.”

Johnson also addressed her email to The Garden Island, hoping that an airline representative might take her request more seriously if it garnered some media attention. But over a week after the letter was sent, Johnson still hadn’t received a reply.

“I have gotten no response from them whatsoever,” Cindy Johnson said Tuesday morning.

To make matters worse, Jennifer Johnson’s partner had also purchased a flight with Hawaiian Airlines back in May and was given credit to be redeemed at a future date.

Because the area surrounding the Johnson’s home is still so difficult to access, she decided not to make the trip with her partner this month.

She still intends to visit later when the flood damage has been more completely repaired, but with her $700 Hawaiian Airlines credit set to expire in April, she finds herself running out of time. As Cyndy Johnson explained, “the road isn’t gonna be open by April!”

Hawaiian Airlines issued reservation fee waivers to ticket holders flying in and out of Lihue between April 14-16, allowing those customers to reschedule flights for free.

But Jennifer Johnson and her partner, whose flights were booked outside of the three-day window, were out of luck despite the fact that their travel plans were upended by the natural disaster.

“Our access in and out of the area is very limited to this day,” Cyndy Johnson wrote in her letter to Hawaiian Airlines, explaining the ongoing difficulty associated with visiting family and friends beyond the roadblock.

“Only residents are permitted to use the convoy system. All others are turned away at the checkpoint,” she wrote. “We are not permitted to have visitors, not even children and grandchildren unless they are also current residents of the area. When family members come we have to go the other side to see them.”

The Garden Island spoke with a Hawaiian Airlines communications official Tuesday afternoon who reviewed Johnson’s complaint letter and sent the following response via email:

“We offered any guest whose travel in April of last year was disrupted by the tragic flood on Kauai the option to re-schedule flights without incurring change fees by calling our reservations team by May 7. We always listen to our guests’ individual circumstances and encourage them to contact us should they have questions regarding their reservations.”

Representatives from the airline called Cyndy Johnson at her home late Tuesday evening after TGI’s inquiries but did not offer a refund, she said.

Johnson and her partner booked their flights a week before the flood, but because their trip was not scheduled until early May, they were not eligible for the Hawaiian Airlines fee waiver.

  1. IKUDIAS January 16, 2019 6:08 am Reply

    Shame on HAL for taking advantage of those lil ole north shore haole homeowners as they fly in and out for visits. I wonder if the few remaining local families have had this terrible experience as well.

  2. Uncleaina January 16, 2019 6:30 am Reply

    Sorry- this isn’t news. It’s not even a public interest story. Sad they had to pay a fee but stuff happens. The main problem is the county and their draconian rules about who can go past the checkpoint.. Hawaiian Airlines seems to have done a lot to help people affected by the flood, but they can’t take care of everything. There’s not a single house past Hanalei that isn’t valued at more than a million dollars, so paying $200 isn’t a big deal.

  3. Bluedream January 16, 2019 7:36 am Reply

    My heart cries for these wealthy Californians and their million dollar homes. Sniff sniff.

  4. Kauaidoug January 16, 2019 9:12 am Reply

    Ridiculous! How hard is it for a “local” company to hear and act on a refund such as this. Hawaiian, there is soon to be a new player in the field so you better pay attention. I, for one am considering a SW credit card for future use. Especially after seeing this story. Thank you TGI. And sorry to the Johnson’s, Ridiculous!

  5. I saw a Vampire once January 16, 2019 11:10 am Reply

    Sad. No refund. Maybe they should state on the ticket next time, free ticket to Hawai’i. Non-transferable. Used on only reservation flights only.

  6. Scott January 16, 2019 11:38 am Reply

    The disease of ME … woman doesn’t ask fees to be waived for all travelers, just her. She believes she is special – although she agreed to ticket terms when she bought ticket.

    Maybe should have purchased trip insurance???

  7. manongindashadow January 16, 2019 4:19 pm Reply

    “Action Line!” They may be able to help you.

  8. Prentiss January 16, 2019 8:00 pm Reply

    Sorry this happened, but we’ve been visiting Kaua’i for over 30 years now and have had to change our plans maybe half a dozen or so times. We’ve had to pay the change fee every time. It’s a fact of life. Get over it.

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