Merrie Monarch participants find ways to cope
The unexpectedly quick shutdown of Aloha Airlines has prompted perhaps hundreds of Merrie Monarch Festival participants to scramble for other flights to Hilo this week.
For one kumu hula in particular, it affects her family personally.
The son and daughter-in-law of Karla Keli'iho'omalu-Akiona both work for Aloha.
"My son is on his last flight now," she said when contacted yesterday afternoon at her home. "And (my daughter-in-law) is dancing Merrie Monarch with us. After the rally last week, she came to practice and said, 'You know, I may not have a job after the festival is over.' But now it's too bad that the announcement came sooner than expected."
Syl Kop of Hula Supply Center and a crew of six were booked on Aloha to leave tomorrow.
"I guess I'm going to sit here and make other flights," she said when told the news. Kop said at least a third of vendors from Oahu were using Aloha Air to fly to Hilo to set up shop in and around the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium next to the festival site.
Another kumu, whose halau was booked on Aloha, remains optimistic.
"Right now I'm very positive. We're packed and ready to go," said Olana A'i, who leads Halau Hula Olana with her husband, Howard. "I hope that everyone will understand how important a local airline like Aloha is to us -- to think of those losing jobs, and the families in halau who work for both Aloha and Hawaiian. Our prayers is that things will work out for them.
"We feel the camaraderie and realize the anxiety of other halau who have to change their flights as well. But we won't give up. We have to think for the best," A'i said.
From the Hilo stadium site yesterday, festival Assistant Director Luana Kawelu said, "I'm just praying for the best. As of now I haven't gotten any word from the kumu or the public that they won't be able to come because of this."
Keli'iho'omalu-Akiona said that while her halau, Na Mea Hula O Kahikinaokalalani, was booked on Hawaiian Airlines, "we do have supporters and family members of dancers who were going on Aloha."
"This is affecting people in many different ways, both personal and those of us associated with Merrie Monarch. I know it's weighing heavy on the minds of my son and daughter-in-law, who have a baby girl."
Keli'iho'omalu-Akiona was in the delivery room when her grandchild was born June 12, the date she and her halau received the invitation to make their first appearance at the Hilo festival.
"A lot of people who dance at Merrie Monarch, a lot of kumu and their families, have also danced for the airline on occasion. ... I hate to see Aloha Airlines go under. It's just sad. Change is always difficult."