Agency aids stranded travelers
$5M budgeted to help those grounded by airline shutdowns
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In an attempt to help speed the return home for stranded ATA passengers, the Hawaii Tourism Authority has budgeted up to $5 million in emergency funds to underwrite additional airline capacity.
In the aftermath left by the shutdown of Aloha Airlines and ATA Airlines, some 9,000 stranded visitors were still trying to get out of Hawaii yesterday, while another 1,377 visitors and residents were trying to make it back to the islands.
Capacity shortages in Hawaii's market mean that without assistance, stranded travelers could be stuck in the islands for days or even weeks. Longer-term risks include the possibility that Hawaii could lose up to half a million visitors this year unless more air seats are put into the market to replace the 15 percent that have been lost.
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The Hawaii Tourism Authority gave tourism leaders approval yesterday to spend up to $5 million in emergency funds to underwrite additional airline service for passengers who have been unable to secure alternative flights following the shutdown of ATA Airlines' operations.
In the aftermath left by the shutdown of two prime West Coast carriers, some 9,000 stranded visitors were still trying to get out of Hawaii, and another 1,377 visitors and residents were trying to make it back to the islands.
While some 6,200 passengers are scheduled to depart by Monday, thousands of people remain behind -- and that is bad for an economy that depends on visitor satisfaction, tourism officials said.
Following ATA's announcement, HTA immediately contacted other airlines with service to the West Coast about adding seats to Hawaii.
But due to the shutdown of Aloha Airlines' trans-Pacific service, "many carriers are already operating at full capacity and unable to absorb the void left by ATA," the agency said yesterday. ATA served the Hawaii market with 12 daily flights with routes to Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif.
The capacity crunch means that unless Hawaii finds a carrier that will step up to the plate, stranded travelers could be stuck in the islands for days or even weeks. Longer-term risks include the possibility that Hawaii could lose up to half a million visitors this year unless new air seats are put into the market to replace the 15 percent that were lost.
"We hope to accommodate half of these visitors by next week, but to do that we'll have to secure additional aircraft," said Rex Johnson, HTA president and chief executive officer. "While we anticipate some short-term impact to Hawaii's air service, we are hopeful that there will be minimal long-term disruption."
"It is too soon for tourism leaders to determine the long-term impacts of the bankruptcies, so for now, how these travelers are going to get home has become a multimillion-dollar question.
And while the state grapples with finding an answer, images of stranded visitors and news stories about their hardships in Hawaii have traveled faster and farther than they have.
"We believe (the negative publicity) is damaging to the industry," Johnson said. "Each and every player in the industry recognizes that Hawaii's reputation is at stake, and we can't have this thing happen."
"While more than 60 hotels statewide have made special offers to stranded passengers for extended or emergency accommodations, and Hawaii's visitor industry has banded together to aid travelers, there is no doubt that it has been hard on some of the visitors, said State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert.
"I've heard from visitors who were stranded by Aloha Airlines and rebooked on ATA," Wienert said. "This is terribly hard on all of them."
"If a carrier responds to Hawaii's request for added flight segments, stranded passengers likely will have to pay $312 one way, Johnson said. The state has discussed state-subsidized fares of as little as $200 for these one-way segments, but details have not been determined.
Meanwhile, Hawaiian, American and United airlines have offered to add some seats next week, but visitor industry leaders say that will not be enough.
"We can't get enough seats to satisfy everyone," said David Uchiyama, marketing director for the HTA. "We are at the tail end of spring break, and we don't really see much capacity coming back into the market until next Tuesday."
Hawaiian Airlines said yesterday it is adding two special round-trip flights between Honolulu and San Francisco next week.
» On Monday and Wednesday, Flight 1012 departs Honolulu at 2:20 p.m. and arrives in San Francisco at 10:15 p.m.
» The return leg, Flight 1011, departs San Francisco those same evenings at 11:35 p.m. and arrives in Honolulu on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, respectively, at 1:45 a.m.
Hawaiian said ATA passengers can make reservations at this Web page at noon today: HawaiianAirlines.com/kokuafare.
ATA passengers also can check HVCB's Web site www.gohawaii.com/ata for information on how to contact other airlines serving ATA's markets. It is recommended that passengers get in touch with these airlines to determine seat availability and booking instructions before going to the airport. ATA updates are also linked to HTA's Web site, www.hawaiitourismauthority.org, and all of HVCB's island chapters' Web sites (Oahu Visitors Bureau, Kauai Visitors Bureau, Maui Visitors Bureau and Big Island Visitors Bureau).
NEIGHBOR ISLAND WEB SITES
Kauai Visitors Bureau: www.kauaidiscovery.com
Maui Visitors Bureau: www.visitmaui.com
Oahu Visitors Bureau: www.visit-oahu.com
Big Island Visitors Bureau: bigisland.org