A Decade of Change In Hawai’i

I realize that Hawai’i is so far west that it’s off the radar of much of the country, but it’s always top of mind for me. Having vacationed there often as a kid (and going back for the first time in seven years this September), I’ve always paid close attention. Over the last decade, it’s been an incredibly exciting place to watch.

Think about what the market was like ten years ago. Hawaiian and Aloha were the two big interisland carriers, as had been the case for decades. Aloha had just started flying to the mainland. Hawaiian had recently replaced its DC-10s with 767s but still mainly flew the big airplanes to large cities on the West Coast. The big legacy carriers had their usual service to Hawai’i, much of it focused on Honolulu. Low cost ATA also had a fair bit of service in the market as did the odd charter carrier.

Logos of Hawai'i

Since that time, the market has been turned on its head. In the interisland market, Aloha went under and Mesa used shady tactics to take its place with go! in the interisland market. Others tried to grow and then retrenched (Island Air). Still others (Mokulele and go!) partnered, and then broke up.

To the mainland, things changed even more quickly. With Aloha and then ATA gone, there was a big opening in Hawai’i. Alaska Airlines filled it and now has a ton of service in the market. More and more service shifted to the outer islands to the point that it’s fairly rare to find a widebody to Hawai’i at all, unless you’re on Hawaiian.

Hawaiian has seen the most remarkable change of all. In the interisland market, it is now the undisputed king. go! is just a minor annoyance. Now, it is looking to cement its place even further by expanding back into a market it served years ago with Dash-7 turboprops. Buried in a recent release about interisland fare changes, Hawaiian noted that it has “signed a Letter of Intent to acquire turbo-prop aircraft with the aim of establishing a subsidiary carrier to serve routes not currently in Hawaiian’s neighbor island system.”

The market to places like Lanai and Molokai along with smaller cities on the bigger islands has been dominated by the likes of Island Air (with whom Hawaiian currently codeshares) and smaller players like Mokulele and Pacific Wings. Now Hawaiian wants a piece of that too.

But the most remarkable change has been in the long haul route network. Hawaiian’s operation to big west coast cities remains, but it has been surrounded by other opportunities. Hawaiian started pushing into other cities like San Jose and Sacramento. But it also looked elsewhere in the world.

With its recent announcement of service to Auckland, Hawaiian has continued to grow the Pacific Rim. Other than Sydney next door, there’s now also Manila, Tokyo, Sapporo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Seoul. Many of those North Asian cities are really made possible by the introduction of the A330, an airplane with longer range to help Hawaiian grow into these lucrative new markets.

But it’s not just about growth around the Pacific Rim. Hawaiian is also experimenting beyond the Western US and has pushed into New York. That might sound like a gamble since New Yorkers more frequently fly down to the much-closer Florida and Caribbean markets, but Hawaiian thinks it can make a go of it. It’s being smart about it and flies into JetBlue’s Terminal 5. It has also put together a partnership with JetBlue to feed its flight from around the Northeast.

The result is a dramatically different airline than what we saw just a decade ago. Will this all work? Maybe not. But it doesn’t have to as long as some of it does. There’s nothing wrong with trial and error, and this is an airline that seems to be willing to take some chances. I’d love to get into greater detail with them about their strategy, but I’m afraid I have never received a response from the PR folks over there so I stopped trying. But it’s still a lot of fun to watch from afar.

Hawaiian isn’t the only story in Hawai’i these days. Island Air has just announced big changes itself. I’m hoping to speak to the CEO over there sometime soon to get more detail about plans to compete in this fast-moving market. And the market isn’t done shifting.

Southwest has said it will fly to Hawai’i one of these days. Rumors have swirled about Virgin America working on it as well. And then of course, there’s Allegiant, which is finally starting up from small cities to Honolulu. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to look like in another decade.

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31 Comments on "A Decade of Change In Hawai’i"

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Jason H
Guest

I would be nice to see the fares to Hawai’i start to fall back some with some increased competition. I’d also love to fly Hawaiian on a flight from the mainland, but the logistics of that from DEN just make it easier to stay on a carrier that directly serves DEN.

On a slightly related note, is there any further evidence that the introduction of the A330 having a positive impact on Hawaiians dismal on-time performance in the non-interisland routes?

David SF eastbay
Member

Living in California, Hawaii was always an exotic location where people boarded wide body airplanes to travel to. It all seems so magical. Now it’s the same 737 you can fly to Reno on and the magic of getting there is gone.

I never cared for Hawaiian, so was sadden to see Aloha go away.

ChuckMO
Guest

Aloha flew the 737 so why are you sad to see them go?

David SF eastbay
Member

Because they were a very old carrier that I used to fly around the islands and I miss them just like I miss Western, AirCal, PSA, Hughes Airwest, etc

ChuckMO
Guest

I think HA might be able to build a mini-DXB at HNL if they put their mind (and scheduling) to it. Island Air should be able to pick up a few code-share partners and become the new Aloha, at least inter-island. go! can GO as far as I’m concerned, tho I hate to see people lose their jobs because of it.

Colin
Guest

Brett – what type of shady tactics did Mesa use to get in the market?

David M
Guest

The short version is that Mesa expressed interest as a possible investor during the Chapter 11 bankruptcies of both Hawaiian and Aloha, gaining access to confidential business information, then turned around and started their own competing carrier. Both Hawaiian and Aloha sued, and Mesa lost the Hawaiian case. The Aloha case was apparently settled with one of Aloha’s majority stockholders in a deal which would have seen go! renamed to “Aloha Airlines”, but was later blocked.

Wikipedia has a good summary, with links to various news articles: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go!_(airline)#Lawsuits_over_formation

Colin
Guest

Interesting. Thanks for sending that along. Definitely a little fishy how they did things.

Laura
Guest

United still flies several 777s daily between San Francisco and Honolulu.

John L
Guest

Ugh, I’ve read your column for years, but may have to stop reading after that “Sydney is next door to Auckland” remark. Are you aware that the distance between Sydney and Auckland is the same as from Long Beach, CA to Deadwood, SD? World’s a big place buddy, you should know that.

Todd
Guest

Lighten up! Sydney and Auckland are not houses, so I think it’s fair to read Brett’s description of them a being “next door” to each other as a metaphor. And I’m pretty sure there aren’t any other big cities in between them in the middle of the Tasman Sea.

A
Guest

Are there really few to no wide body flights to Hawaii?!? Was this done to increase frequency and not add seats? Being an almost 100% leisure detination one would think that you don’t need 5+ daily non-stops. Just fly one R/T on a 777 and you’re good, right?

I’ve flown a 757 to Europe once and said never again. I’m in no rush to fly on a cramped narrow body all the way to “the islands.” Guess I’ll stick with those short flights to the caribbean.

David M
Guest
California to Hawaii is around 2500 miles, give or take a bit (SFO is a bit closer than LAX). So it’s about the same length as a transcon. A couple of examples: IAD-SFO: 2419 mi SFO-HNL: 2399 mi BOS-LAX: 2611 mi LAX-HNL: 2556 mi East coast to Europe is quite a bit longer, so it would definitely be worse: EWR-MAN: 3354 mi In short, if you have no problem flying a 757 transcon (which is big now with many of them on 737NG and A320), then you shouldn’t have an issue with flying a 757 to Hawaii either. The demand… Read more »
David M
Guest
Hilo (Big Island) to: – Los Angeles: United 738 – San Francisco: United 738 Honolulu (Oahu) to: – Anchorage: Alaska 738 – Atlanta: Delta 333 – Bellingham: Alaska 738 – Chicago: American 763, United 772 – Dallas: American 763 – Denver: United 763 – Fresno: Allegiant 752 – Houston: United 764 – Las Vegas: Allegiant 752, Hawaiian 332/763 – Los Angeles: American 752, Delta 752/753/763, Hawaiian 332/763, United 738/752/753 – New York/JFK: Hawaiian 332 – Newark: United 764 – Oakland: Alaska 738, Hawaiian 763 – Phoenix: Hawaiian 763, US Airways 752 – Portland: Alaska 738, Hawaiian 763 – Sacramento: Hawaiian… Read more »
Bill from DC
Guest
David, I greatly enjoyed reading your analysis of this. It is nice to see the east coast getting more nonstop service to reduce the ugly double and triple connects often required to get to Hawaii but these flights are often at a significant cost premium, especially in the nonstop markets (i.e., when not originating from a small or mid size city and connecting through IAD, ATL or EWR). I would be remiss if I didn’t include a little love note to DL’s former L1011 service from LAX and SFO to HNL and OGG. There were always easy upgrades via the… Read more »
David M
Guest

The west coast secondary cities see the same thing. Taking a nonstop flight on Hawaiian or Alaska from SMF or SAN to HNL is often more expensive than connecting via LAX or SFO on United, Delta, or American.

Ivan B Zhabin
Guest
David, I would qualify the statement “same length as transcon”–there are some of differences between flying transcon and flying Hawaii that do not necesarily allow taking an aircraft from one route and plugging it into the other. 1) A narrowbody airplane will need to have ~500 lbs ETOPs equipment that is not needed for transcon. Some airlines (like former Continental) opt to ETOPs-equip all their airplanes, but some don’t. 2) There are no alternate airports en route to the islands. That means more fuel reserve is carried (prob ~30 mins worth of flying) vs transcon 3) LIH and OGG are… Read more »
David M
Guest

A’s complaints about flying the 757 transatlantic seemed to stem from the passenger experience. All those factors are true, but don’t factor much into the passenger experience. From that perspective (sitting in a 3×3 metal tube for 5 hours), there’s not much difference in flying a 757 from the northeast to California than flying one from California to Hawaii.

Paul Ferdinand
Member
Years ago I remember changing aircraft in ORD and looking at that huge United 747 destined for Honolulu complete with Mai Tai’s and special flight attendant uniforms. Now if you want a “nice” aircraft you’re limited to Hawaiian’s new A330, a couple UA flights on the former CO 767-400’s, or a couple UA 777’s from ORD or SFO. 767’s make the trip from some cities, but most have outdated interiors. And it is not like the fares have been a bargain this summer, though they are starting to fall. Virgin America would be the best thing that could happen to… Read more »
kozmaterry
Member

While your article is accurate—the item that remains the same is that United is the largest carrier to the islands and has beefed up outer island to mainland in the last 10 years

Joe Jones
Guest
As someone on the Japan end, I would add that there has been quite a bit of expansion in our direction too. Within the last couple of years, three daily Tokyo frequencies were added (daily flights to HND on NH, JL and HA — all widebodies of course). Delta added a flight to Fukuoka and Hawaiian is in the process of setting up a flight to Sapporo (which has almost no long-haul service at the moment). It helps that the yen has been really strong for the past few years, which makes Japanese people more interested in vacationing overseas. That… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member
Joe Jones – I was at Kona airport once waiting to board an Aloha flight when the JAL 747 came in. Since Kona is an open air airport the 747 was loud pulling up and was right there in your face due the open air ground level boarding at the airport. You looked up to see it making the 747 seem larger when viewing from an upper level lounge area. They used two large mobile stairs for unloading/loading. Shame they don’t fly there anymore for others to see that. You don’t have many small ground level open airports anymore with… Read more »
Ivan B Zhabin
Guest
I am not sure it’s possible to fly a widebody from Maui to Japan with a decent load. United tried 777s OGG-ORD on occasion but had to hold so many seats that when they do run the 777 to Maui from Chicago (which seems more and more rare these days), they do the triangle ORD-OGG-KOA-ORD. Having taken this a couple of times I absolutely hated the KOA layovers as you are confined in a small area of the airport and the coolness of open air does not make up for it. I would assume that the logistics of international flying… Read more »
Chris Miller
Guest

With service from ANC to OGG, HNL and KOA, us captive audiance Alaskans really appreciate the 737-800 service and a way to use our milage plan miles to get to the sun fast in winter. Funny how not many Hawaiian’s come to visit us…..

yo
Guest

Southwest flying can only be from California and Oregon and Washington. Too much competition, plus…can SW get the load factors to make it a success? USAirways is doing huge business this summer 3x to HNL 2x to OGG, 8 flights a week to LIH and KOA.

Richstacy
Guest

I realize this is an old thread, but as someone who travels from DEN to OGG, Maui every year — and has for 15 years, I an say that IMHO there is no excuse for 757s or any other narrow airplane on any long haul route. first it was triple 7s then 767s now 757s. What’s next DC-3s?

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