JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Chris Opiopio, left, was comforted yesterday at Honolulu Airport by fellow Aloha Airlines ticketing employee Nicole Fong. Aloha Airlines, which filed for bankruptcy earlier in the month, announced that it will cease all passenger flights after today.
Aloha employees and passengers hope the airline can find a way to survive
Chris Opiopio started off as just a voice on the phone, taking reservations from customers for Aloha Airlines 30 years ago.
Over the years, her co-workers became her family. She traveled all over -- to 37 out of the 50 states and abroad -- but one of her favorite memories is flying to every neighbor island on her first day off.
"I introduced myself to everyone that worked on the other islands, and told them, 'Just remember this face. Please, get me on the flight,'" Opiopio recalled with a smile.
But pleasant memories mixed with tears yesterday for the customer service representative known to local travelers as "Aunty Aloha."
Passengers reminisced to her about their first airplane ride, while employees struggled over their next move in a life after Aloha Airlines.
Opiopio braced herself when she heard Aloha's decision yesterday to shut down passenger flights to the neighbor islands and to the mainland, the apparent end of a 61-year run. Aloha, which filed for bankruptcy two weeks ago, has become a staple for many in the islands.
"I still have hope that somebody is going to step in and say, 'This isn't going to happen,'" said Opiopio, 54, who is a year away from retiring. "I can't imagine not getting up in the morning, getting in my truck and going to work."
While she worries about her health benefits, she is more concerned for the 1,900 employees -- family members, she says -- now without a job.
"I had many jobs," said Nicole Fong, 28, who has been with Aloha for only seven months. "This was the first time I was truly happy with the people I worked with."
Passengers flying on Aloha yesterday hoped the airline would somehow be able to survive bankruptcy.
"My first flight was with Aloha as a young boy going to Kauai," recalled Randall Tanaka, assistant general manager of the Hawaii Convention Center, who was flying to Kona yesterday. "It's sad that it's come to this. I think three carriers can survive in this marketplace. I hope they can make a comeback."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The ticketing counter and lines of Aloha Airlines were sparsely occupied yesterday, as reflected in a barrier sign at the Honolulu Airport.
Aloha officials said the company could no longer operate in Hawaii's tight competitive market -- which became even fiercer when go! Airlines, owned by Phoenix-based Mesa Air Group Inc., started a fare war in 2006 -- in addition to escalating fuel costs.
"I like to support local businesses," said Rick Fong, 44, of Kona, a frequent Aloha flier. "It's hard when other companies' prices are much lower. I want to have lower fares, but I'd like Aloha to stay."
Hawaiian Airlines President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Dunkerley offered his sympathies yesterday, adding that many Aloha employees are related or closely tied to his workers.
"It's our intent to meet the needs of the state's air transportation," said Dunkerley, who announced Hawaiian will add 6,000 seats to its daily flights beginning tomorrow. "I'm hoping that in doing so, we'll be at some point able to create additional jobs. It would give us enormous pleasure to take care of some of Aloha's unemployed workers."
Available options for Aloha passengers
Here is the latest on Aloha Air's planned shutdown:
Question: Which flights will Aloha operate through today?
Answer: Aloha will operate all of its interisland scheduled flights today. All trans-Pacific flights will operate with the exception of flights from Hawaii to the mainland and flights from Orange County to Sacramento, Calif., and Reno, Nev., and from Oakland, Calif., to Las Vegas.
Q: If I have a confirmed reservation with Aloha for travel after today, what do I do?
A: Aloha is working with partner United Airlines and other airlines who are prepared to assist you. For more information about United's accommodation options, contact United at (800) UNITED1 or go to their Web site at www.United.com.
Q: Can I get a refund?
A: Contact your travel agent or credit card company to request a refund.
Q: What if I paid by check or cash?
A: You can file a claim with the Bankruptcy Court.
Q: Can I continue to use my Aloha AirAwards credit card?
Q: If I have already redeemed AlohaPass Miles for United Airlines travel and it has already been ticketed, is it valid?
A: Yes. We recommend you contact United Airlines at (800) UNITED1 to reconfirm your reservation.
Q: Can I redeem AlohaPass miles after today?
Q: If I have already redeemed AlohaPass miles for a hotel stay or car rental, etc., is my travel award still valid?
A: If you received a confirmation, it should be valid. Contact the hotel or car rental company to confirm your reservation.
Q: If I booked travel on United Airlines through the Aloha Airlines Web site, will my travel still be honored by United?
Q: Whom do I contact if owed a refund or baggage claim settlement with Aloha Airlines?
A: File your claim with the Bankruptcy Court.
Q: What happens if I booked future travel on United Airlines using my AlohaPass miles? Is my reservation still valid?
A: Yes, if you have already been ticketed. Contact United Airlines at (800) UNITED1 to reconfirm your reservation.
Q: Is Aloha's air cargo service still operating?
A: Yes. Air cargo shippers can continue to call Aloha cargo locations at Hawaii airports.
Source: Aloha Airlines