FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Hawaiian Airlines has increased seats to accommodate passengers who were stranded by the shutdown of Aloha Airlines. In the interisland terminal of Honolulu Airport, Tim Rokohl waited standby Tuesday for a Hawaiian flight to Kauai. He had originally been ticketed with Aloha.
Shutdown has allies and rivals winging it
Officials considered issues such as hotel space, airport security and adding flights
STORY SUMMARY »
| READ THE FULL STORY
Ripples in the pond from the plummeting rock known as Aloha Airlines continued to radiate yesterday with good news for some former employees and bad news for customers who paid cash.
The good news: Hawaiian Airlines and Mesa Air Group are boosting their hiring to handle expanded flight schedules in the wake of Aloha's halt to passenger operations Monday. Hawaiian said it has openings for 12 pilots, 35 flight attendants and seven mechanics.
The bad news: Unsecured creditors, including all those who paid for Aloha tickets using cash or checks, are unlikely to get a dime back, industry analysts say.
"The unsecureds are not going to get squat," one insider close to the case said bluntly.
But in an unprecedented move, Pleasant Holidays, Hawaii's largest travel wholesaler, decided that it will credit its customers the value of their Aloha Airlines tickets toward a new flight to Hawaii from the U.S. mainland.
FULL STORY »
As rumors became louder that Aloha Airlines would not be able to pay its bills, key officials in the Hawaii tourism and airline community started to make plans to soften the landing.
The behind-the-scenes planning to save the local tourism industry from chaos and a public relations disaster started more than a week before Aloha Airlines announced Sunday it was shutting down for good, Rex Johnson, Hawaii Tourism Authority president, told lawmakers yesterday.
In an interview after the legislative hearing, Johnson offered details.
The first warning came from John Monahan, Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau president, the former head of Liberty House and a trustee of Hawaiian Airlines, who called Johnson after reading about the bankruptcy filing by Aloha on March 20.
"With his experience going through the Liberty House bankruptcy and knowing about Hawaiian Airlines, he said this was very serious and Aloha would not be able to continue without additional capital," Johnson said.
"They were bleeding $2.3 million a week," Johnson said Monahan told him.
Monahan said he would talk to Mark Dunkerley, president and chief executive officer of Hawaiian Airlines, about contingency plans. Hawaiian had already started to discuss what it would do if Aloha failed.
"Mark said, 'Let's wait until Wednesday or Thursday (March 26-27), and if it is still serious, we might need some help with hotels. We don't want people laying around the airports if this thing goes in the tank,'" Johnson said.
Johnson added that he and Monahan still thought another investor or airline would rescue Aloha.
"On Thursday we talked to Mark and decided to finalize contingency plans because we didn't see anybody jumping in," Johnson said. "There were rumors that everybody was demanding cash only from Aloha."
Johnson called together Monahan, Murray Towill, president of the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association, Marsha Wienert, state tourism liaison, and Hawaiian's Dunkerley last Thursday.
"We gave ourselves assignments. Murray started talking to the hotels to say, 'If this is going to happen, can we get decent rates for those passengers stranded?' John started to build a special Web page with information."
Johnson prepared the tourism authority press release that would kick off the release of the information on hotels, airlines flights and information to the public.
Meanwhile, the state Transportation Department was hearing the same rumors about the demise of Aloha.
Brennan Morioka, state transportation director, said he started working on how to handle immediate changes. He held meetings with federal Transportation Security Administration officials in case security had to move from Aloha to Hawaiian Airlines.
"We assumed a worst-case scenario. We met with Aloha and other airlines and asked, 'If Aloha did this, what would your contingency be?'" Morioka said yesterday in an interview.
Morioka looked at what would happen to airport counter space and also to security, with alerts being sent to airport security throughout the state.
"In case there were crowds and they got out of hand, we were in contact with police, state sheriffs and contract security. Obviously, it turned out it wasn't needed, but we had it mobilized," Morioka said.
Then Morioka said Hawaiian asked for up to 100 more security badges and parking passes, and he figured that Hawaiian was getting ready to take over if Aloha failed.
That move, Morioka said, meant Hawaiian was planning to hire more people, whom he expected would be former Aloha workers.
"The airport staff worked throughout the weekend, making sure we had locations to safety park the airplanes for a long period, and we heard there would be an announcement Saturday," Morioka said.
Johnson said their tourism plans were ready to go Saturday.
"It was just a matter of waiting to push the button on the press release, which would trigger the Web site announcement, and the hotel association would send out up to 4,000 notices to members," Johnson said.
No announcement from Aloha came Saturday.
"Finally, on Sunday at 11, we got the release. Murray pressed his button, Mark put out a release saying there would be 6,000 extra seats and we started to tell people that nobody needed to worry because Hawaii tourism would be operating normally."
Wienert said the plan appeared to be working.
"We had our information to our clients within three hours of the Aloha announcement," Wienert said.
While there reports of confusion and chaotic scrambles at the airport, Wienert said "customers were well served."
The result, Johnson says, is that the image of tourism in Hawaii was not damaged by the collapse of one major local airline.
"That's the whole reason to have me out on the street telling everybody that everything is fine," Johnson said.