Airlines still marketing flights to Hawai‘i, Kaua‘i

  • Allan Parachini / Special to The Garden Island

    Passengers check in with Alaska Airlines at Lihu‘e Airport Thursday.

LIHU‘E — COVID-19 or no COVID-19, some airlines on Thursday continued to market travel to Kaua‘i aggressively, with one-way fares between Lihu‘e and Seattle going for just $159 on the Alaska Airlines website and $129 on Southwest Airlines.

And while both of those carriers said they expect to reduce flight frequency to Lihu‘e soon, both have apparently put the step off until early next month.

American Airlines and Delta Airlines did not respond to calls and emails asking them to clarify their intentions in terms of continuing to fly to Kaua‘i during the COVID-19 crisis.

At Delta, website copy continued to try to lure passengers to Hawai‘i. “Fly with Delta to get the best fare guarantee and a superior experience that you can’t get on just any airline.” At American, website copy online Thursday continued a promotion of vacation packages through April 15.

Meanwhile, the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority said the actual number of passengers arriving at all airports in Hawai‘i had dropped dramatically since March 16. Statewide, according to HTA, passenger arrivals declined by about 87%, from 20,485 on March 16 to 4,131 on Tuesday, the last date for which the agency published figures on its website.

For Kaua‘i, the passenger volume decline was even more dramatic, reflecting a fall of more than 98%, from 1,236 on March 16 to just 38 on Tuesday.

“As far as we know,” said Marisa Yamane, director of communications and public relations for the agency, “the majority of the flights into our state are now canceled or being canceled.”

Mayor Derek Kawakami said, “Despite low airfares being advertised, I hope visitors understand that visiting Hawai‘i at this time will come at the cost of a 14-day mandatory quarantine, per an order from Governor David Ige.

“That means any visitor who arrives on our island will go directly to a hotel room and cannot leave that room for 14 days unless it’s a medical emergency or to get back on a plane to return home. Any food or supplies needed throughout the duration of those two weeks will require delivery.

“Guests cannot leave the hotel room to walk around the property, or visit the pool or beach, or any other outdoor activity. And Kaua‘i police officers will be helping us to enforce the mandatory quarantine.

“So anyone tempted by these cheap deals should realize it’s not worth it.”

The drop in actual passenger arrivals coincides with imposition of the state’s new requirement, which went into effect Thursday, requiring that visitors self-quarantine for 14 days in their hotel rooms or other accommodations after they arrive.

While the drop-off was dramatic, Southwest, Alaska and United Airlines said they were still operating Hawai‘i flight schedules. In Alaska’s case, the decision came with aggressive promotion tactics.

“Enjoy aloha every day as you visit historic landmarks and learn about the rich culture of the islands,” read copy on the Alaska Airlines website. “Watch whales and walk volcano rims. Explore off-the-beaten-path destinations, from hidden beaches to small island towns. Soak up the sun while you learn to surf, snorkel, or kayak. When evening falls, you can enjoy world-class dining and nightlife.”

Quickly, however, various airline public-relations personnel tried to tamp down the impression that the carriers continue to heavily market Hawai‘i destinations.

At Southwest, spokesperson Brad Hawkins said the airline now plans to discontinue most service to Hawai‘i on April 5. He said the carrier will reduce its schedule to two flights per day between Oakland and Honolulu.

Hawkins said Southwest would then use the two aircraft making the daily flights to establish and maintain “limited inter-island service at the request of the state.”

On Thursday morning, Southwest’s website offered one-way fares between Oakland and Lihu‘e of as little as $154 each way for departures on Sunday — before Southwest’s self-imposed scheduled reduction goes into effect — and return on the hypothetical date of April 12.

“The prices are not about trying to get visitors over there,” Hawkins said in a phone interview. “They’re about making it affordable for people to move about for essential travel.” He said Southwest would operate two flights a day between Lihu‘e and Honolulu.

The Oakland-Honolulu nonstops, he said, “enable the interisland essential service. The other thing we’re trying to do is get our cargo capabilities plussed up.” That decision appeared to reflect steps taken by a variety of air carriers around the world to start using idled passenger planes to move cargo.

Southwest’s strategy appeared to mirror that of Hawaiian Airlines, which announced earlier this week that it was suspending its entire schedule except for one daily round trip between Los Angeles and Honolulu. Hawaiian said it would maintain a reduced schedule of inter-island flights, on which it uses smaller Boeing 717 jetliners.

At Alaska, spokesperson Daniel Chun said, “the COVID-19 situation has been quickly changing and evolving here in Hawai‘i, as it has been around the world. The health and safety of our guests, employees and communities is our highest priority.”

He said Alaska had worked over the past week to reach every passenger scheduled for Hawai‘i travel to “encourage them to adjust their travel plans.” Chun said Alaska will be “evaluating” its current schedule between now and March 31. From April 1 to April 8, he said, Alaska will cut its Lihu‘e schedule to just one flight per day, from Seattle, “to provide a minimal level of service for those who have essential travel or need to return to or from Kaua‘i.”

Starting April 9, he said Alaska will suspend all Kaua‘i flights.

“Any low fares you are seeing online now are to help get people back to where they need to be — back home to Kaua‘i or back home to the continental United States, before these reductions in service start next week.”

At United Airlines, a spokesperson said an inquiry from The Garden Island about United’s fare sale and service strategy involves “things we generally don’t comment on.” However, she said United has cuts is overall Hawai‘i service by 70%, including flights from the mainland to Honolulu. She said United has already reduced its service from the mainland to Lihu‘e to one flight per day.


Allan Parachini is a Kilauea resident, furniture-maker, journalist and retired public relations executive who writes periodically for The Garden Island.

  1. Champagne For Caren March 27, 2020 12:47 am Reply

    TGI got the memo that continuing to allow local “journalists” to take squishy pics all scrunched together, and promote a soft lock-down isn’t the right thing to do. Now, I would like to see a companion piece to this, for the scumbags, yes I said scumbags, that are marketing Kauai as a “safe place to ride out the Virus!”. Yes, that happened, and is happening. It takes a fisherman to cast a reel and set the bait, and the fish gets hooked.

    It is going to be a sad day for a lot of Kauai people, when their few ICU rooms, and ventilators are taken over by MAINLAND TOURISTS, leaving locals outside the doors with no options but to die with little dignity, unable to access their own healthcare services, because in 14 days these viral refugees are going to start testing positive and need essential services.

    Our mayor did a great job locking us down early. If you are out of a job, go grab a food delivery gig in the meantime. I have a feeling there’s gonna be a lot of need. Of course, you will also have to get tested before you get that job. Hmm, wonder who will win the battle of the testing kit availability.

    The visitors, or the locals? My bet is this. A., you don’t get to eat for two weeks because you took a food deliverers test they needed to get the job so they could get the food to you, or B. You hang out for a day, swing around and get back on the next plane. Thanks for leaving the food and essential items on island for us. Please return to your home states of origins.

    We have almost 80 thousand people on this island, and we can keep the food businesses and stores afloat just fine. All of this whining about how you can’t live without tourists is ridiculous. Of course we can. We did it for years after Iniki. We catered to local people for a change, and we came back. So, concentrate on the local market and not the tourists for awhile. You will find the customers way more friendly and easier to get along with.

    TIme for all of the little joyful planehoppers to have a little waked up call. Oh, and by the way, the neighbor down the hall from you will probably be a homeless person, since they will be housed in empty hotel rooms to save their lives. Won’t that be a thrill for the himuckety mucks. Poor babies.

    Don’t fly to a tiny island with limited medical services to ride out a world wide pandemic next time. Bozos. Oh, and GI, stop telling us to be nice to these people. When people here start dying trust me, things are going to get very real here. Best to stay on the side of the people who live here and stop pandering to the tourism machine that enslaves us all.

    After this, Kauai people want off the plantation. We can think of something else to do.

  2. Pilot March 27, 2020 2:48 am Reply

    As of March 26 American Airlines not longer serves Kauai.

  3. Charlie Chimknee March 27, 2020 6:58 am Reply

    As flights cancel, it brings to mind the days following Iniki, when basically only one island was severely impacted as to basic necessities such as food, water, and electricity.

    At least we can be fairly assured of water, and our electricity may partially fail where solar is not the source and oil to electric is.

    It’s about the shape for oil and Food planes planes for food as well.

    And the County “red tape” and time and cost to set up a farm is very trying amd lends easier to failure than success.

    But recalling the days after Iniki when the store shelves were empty, and the US Navy had plenty ships and food to bring to Kaua’i, and we were the only island in need.

    What we got when the emergency rations were passed out at the Kapaa Armory was breakfast powdered eggs, and later a chopped hot dog. Into tender little morsels.

    Talk about feeling isolated, and at least no one was sick.

    So please keep those planes coming , They just may be our bread and butter on the table at the food lines.

  4. Everythingisawesome March 27, 2020 7:31 am Reply

    Airplanes are used for more than just transporting tourists. Why is this even a story?

    1. HAD March 27, 2020 1:46 pm Reply

      I agree, people are scared and I don’t think this headline is helping. And I don’t think it reflects the actual situation. Read farther down and the author starts to do better with the 98% decline in arrivals. I hope TGI starts to do better.

  5. NomoEKomo65 March 27, 2020 8:42 am Reply

    The aloha has been fading fast for the last decade and only marketing has kept people coming to the island so it comes as no surprise that they would continue to market even when it means being confined to your hotel room for weeks upon arrival. I don’t see traffic jams, high prices, plastic debris on beaches, overcrowded parks, bad roads, and the loss of aloha reflected in the mayor’s words in their brochures.

  6. Doug March 27, 2020 8:46 am Reply

    Everyone needs to reference this article after the crisis is over and remember which airlines did not care about Kauai’s health, Kupuna, etc. We need to send a message and stop using Alaska and Southwest after this is all over.

  7. Joe Public March 27, 2020 9:11 am Reply

    Unbelievable!! Now we all know what airlines to avoid when all of this is over..greedy bastrds

  8. FACT March 27, 2020 1:15 pm Reply

    FACT is AIRLINE and HOTEL greed are the very reasons TOO MANY TOURISTS have come to a way overcrowded Hawaii…Kauai is just starting to feel what Oahu and Maui know. HOTELS and AIRLINES RUIN PARADISE!

  9. WestsideResident March 27, 2020 9:35 pm Reply

    This isn’t about flights. This is about hate.

    Aloha is found in greater amounts here and there all over the world than on Kauai.

    So we need flights to import sanity and a loving spirit.

  10. Everythingisawesome March 28, 2020 5:24 am Reply

    To those that call the airlines “greedy”…
    From another news story with actual research; “On Thursday, many flights arrived with less than 10 passengers.” To Honolulu. Do you think the airline is losing money with only 10 passengers? Yes. Yet they continue to serve the islands, and pay their employees, at a LOSS! How is that “greedy”? You should be thanking them for serving us and keeping necessary transportation available in a time of need.

  11. Kauaidoug March 28, 2020 11:09 am Reply

    Anyone stupid enough to get on a plane in the last two weeks to come here should get 2 weeks quarentine. If you aren’t smart enough to see what is going on here then you deserve what you get but I don’t think some of these posts are showing much Aloha. Maybe they are saving for somewhere else

  12. behappy March 28, 2020 10:56 pm Reply

    Stop bringing people here to either imfect or get infected. Stay home!

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