By Russ Lynch
United Airlines' first flight of its new direct Los Angeles-Kona service is scheduled to arrive at Keahole Airport at 6:21 p.m. United is using a Boeing 757 with a capacity of 188 passengers for the service.
A local visitor industry organization, Destination Kona Coast, working with the Big Island chapter of the Hawaii Visitors Bureau and the County of Hawaii, will stage a welcoming party with entertainment, Kona coffee, juices, leis and gifts for the passengers.
United is offering a $298 Los Angeles-Kona round-trip fare to promote the daily service. Its only current Kona service is one flight a day from San Francisco. The airline has had a part-time staff in Kona but starting July 1, its employees there will be upgraded to full-time, the airline said.
On the same day, United will add a daily flight from Los Angeles to Kahului, Maui, also using the 757. It now has one Los Angeles-Kahului flight a day.
The increased neighbor island service is part of an overall move by United to increase capacity to Hawaii from the mainland. It has already begun to use reconfigured Boeing 747 jumbo jets on the major mainland-Hawaii routes, cutting out the business section to add about 60 seats by lengthening the economy section.
Eventually, 10 747s will be altered that way, to raise their capacity to 450 passengers, from 390. By July, United says it will have about 4,500 additional seats each week in each direction between the mainland and Hawaii.
That makes it possible to bring as many as 40,690 people a week to the islands in July, compared with 36,206 a week in July 1995.
United and Japan Airlines, which started its Tokyo-Kona service Sunday and is running three flights a week using Boeing 747 jets, are the only airlines with scheduled passenger service to Kona from outside Hawaii.