Hawaiian Airlines announced on Friday that it will temporarily suspend its ‘Ohana by Hawaiian passenger and cargo flights effective November 1st. The passenger flights connect Honolulu with the smaller islands of Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i, and also to the city of Kapalua on the island of Maui.
In its press release, Hawaiian stated that poor economic conditions and weakened travel demand “triggered a labor provision in Hawaiian’s pilot contract” that required the airline to suspend ‘Ohana service. The airline had this to say about the contract:
The provision, which is common in the U.S. airline industry, prevents Hawaiian from offering ‘Ohana by Hawaiian flights – which are operated with turboprop aircraft by Empire Airlines as a third-party feeder carrier – when interisland Boeing 717 and Airbus A321neo jet flights operated by Hawaiian’s pilots are severely reduced.
Due to the decline in passenger demand and reduction in frequency of flights on Hawaiian’s “mainline” aircraft, many of Hawaiian’s own pilots are grounded. Their Air Line Pilots Association union contract includes a provision that prevents Hawaiian from outsourcing jobs to other carriers and, while the reduction in available flight hours has nothing to do with outsourcing, the airline is obliged to adhere to the contract.
With Hawaiian Airlines out of the picture, the islands of Lanai and Molokai will only be served by Mokulele Airlines, a small carrier with a fleet of Cessna 208EX Grand Caravans. These aircraft are not suited for disabled travelers, as all passengers “will need to ascend and descend 3 steps independently” according to the airline. Hawaiian’s larger ATR42 aircraft can accommodate an aisle chair and have cargo holds big enough to store power wheelchairs.
State Rep. Lynn DeCoite, who represents residents of East Maui, Lanai and Molokai, told Maui News that ‘Ohana by Hawaiian is “the only option for our residents that are in wheelchairs or those needing physical assistance to be able to travel off island.” She added that most of their travel “is to Oahu for medical appointments.”
How long will the disabled citizens of Lanai and Molokai be stranded? It could be some time, as Hawaiian says it will only be able to comply with the contract provision “with a significant recovery in interisland travel,” but such a recovery “is unlikely to occur anytime soon.” The ALPA union has agreed, however, to “provide relief from the contractual provision if additional PSP funding is approved by the federal government and allows Hawaiian to bring furloughed employees back to its payroll.”
While we all sympathize with the pilots who have been furloughed, the airline has not acted in bad faith. Furloughs have been necessitated by the economic effects of a global pandemic, and no union jobs have been outsourced. The union’s refusal to waive the contract provision now could jeopardize the health and wellbeing of disabled people on the islands of Lanai and Molokai. So much for the Aloha spirit.
Featured image courtesy Hawaiian Airlines.