Hawaiian Faces Setback as United Plans To Make Headway

Hawaiian Faces Setback as United Forges Ahead

An example of just how competitive all flights to Hawaii are just surfaced. And, while there remains no clear indication of what will happen for the Hawaii bellwether in the next year, it is virtually, without doubt, going to be something big, either one way or the other.

Hawaiian is intent on being acquired by Alaska Airlines, as was proposed in December. We will continue to learn more about that as it gets closer. As we mentioned, next up is shareholder approval from Hawaiian for the deal, among other things. That follows the recent shareholder lawsuit brought on to stop the planned deal. The big unknown is whether the “airline merger-adverse” US Justice Department will or won’t approve the deal. If that doesn’t happen, all bets are off, and there is more and more discussion about the real possibility of a third Hawaiian Airlines bankruptcy.

What is happening here with Hawaiian and United, is that Hawaiian’s international business isn’t returning to the degree it had hoped and needed. As a result, Hawaiian Airlines announced last week that it would surrender its nighttime authority to operate flights between Tokyo (Haneda) and Honolulu (four times weekly) and Kona (three times weekly) starting April 2. That gave United a place to move forward.

It was just a few months ago that Hawaiian announced it was restarting service between Tokyo Haneda Airport (HND) and Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA). The airline had planned to return to its prior schedule gradually; however, that did not work out exactly as they had planned. Hawaiian hoped to restore its “Japan network to meet increasing demand.” Hawaii vacations, however, are not returning for Japanese visitors, as Hawaii Governor Green was advised on his recent marketing visit to Tokyo.

Hawaiian notified the DOT last week, stating the relinquishment of slots was something they undertook following careful consideration as the result of adverse market conditions. It said that it was not financially viable to continue these flights.

Hawaiian Airlines’ Japan-Hawaii market faces multiple challenges, including 1) the weakness of the Japanese yen in relation to the U.S. dollar, 2) the very high costs of Hawaii accommodations, and 3) the encouragement of their in-country vs. international travel. It is expected to take years before Japan/Hawaii travel resumes fully.

Hawaiian Airlines reported that these factors make trips to Hawaii unaffordable for Japanese visitors and doesn’t see any real possibility of a turnaround for its nighttime Japan flights in the foreseeable future.

Given the lack of ability for Hawaiian to use these slots, United Airlines is seeking approval for them to operate a new 7-days per week Tokyo to Guam service instead. US DOT is considering United’s request following Hawaiian Airlines’ decision. Previously, the DOT has ruled in favor of Hawaiian keeping its slots, although United disagreed, saying that they weren’t being properly used.

Please share your thoughts on the competitive scenario unfolding in Hawaii’s skies.

Leave a Comment

Comment policy:
* No profanity, rudeness, personal attacks, or bullying.
* Hawaii focused only. General comments won't be published.
* No links or UPPER CASE text. English please.
* No duplicate posts or using multiple names.
* Use a real first name, last initial.
* Comments edited/published/responded to at our discretion.
* Beat of Hawaii has no relationship with our commentors.
* 1,000 character limit.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

17 thoughts on “Hawaiian Faces Setback as United Forges Ahead”

  1. I recently flew business class on both JAL & Hawaiian from Hawaii HNL & KOA to/from Tokyo, on two separate trips. JAL was hands down the better product. Better seats, layout, service, food, condition …..everything…..the overall quality was incredible on JAL.

    1. I flew HND-HNL-HND at Christmas outbound JAL return Hawaiian as JAL flight was sold out in Business. Totally agree with you. Hawaiian Flight attendants were friendly and that is about it.

      1. Yes. Hard to compare HA with JAL/ANA in C class. The business product of Japanese carriers are in a class of their own.

        On the other hand, JAL economy to KOA is really poor. Mostly due to 767 aircraft, but not only.

  2. Well I would like it if JAL bought a share, Alaska bought a share and American bought a share leaving Hawaiian as still the owner. Hawaiian then moves into One World per se and the risk is spread across multiple concerns. Additionally by providing a strong presence at the Hawaiian Airports particularly HNL, it could reduce the operating costs of the investing airlines in serving Hawaii flights and full scale JBA’s could be drawn up as BA and AA, JL and AA and QF and AA already have. No loss of sovereignty but perhaps some tighter financial control and more clout when negotiating with Boeing. They could learn a lot from JAL who keep their culture in Oe World and have not been westernized by AA and BA strength

  3. Only partly related, but we were delighted with our HNL-Auckland flight a few months ago on Hawaiian. We were sad to see HA announce that they would take that service to ‘seasonal’ only. I mention this because a reason similar to the Japan service cut was mentioned: visiting Hawaii has become relatively unaffordable for Kiwis, so HA has to cut back and plan to mostly serve American travellers seeking N.Z. vacations, and that has strong seasonality.

  4. Thinking on this, the best airline suited to support Hawaiian is “delta*. Airbus a220 aircraft to replace aging b717 interisland.
    Gives delta more access to hienda, and can absorb some of the lower fares needed

  5. The vultures are circling.
    Thank goodness Southwest provides an inter-island alternative. Inter-island will top $150 each way by summer.

  6. It’s just a matter of time even with a merger with Alaska Airlines Hawaiian just doesn’t have a viable network tickets in and out of Hawaii are at all time lows Giant Airlines like United are increasing service in and out of Hawaii if you look at Hawaiian market cap it’s worth virtually nothing. Alaska was overpaying dramatically I think the writings on the wall I think everyone seen this movie before many times honestly Hawaiian has struggled most of his existence to just stay in existence it’s never made any money really. But unfortunately a company has to make money to stay in business and I think their time is up…

    1. “Doesn’t have a viable network” is an interesting take.

      Jeff and Rob, between the both of you… you have a lot of experience in this area. What do you think? How viable is the Hawaiian network as a whole, including interisland and Japan/Korea, in the longer term timeframe, not just talking rigt now, but 3 or even 5 years out or more?


      1. Hi Alex.

        We too found that to be an interesting comment from new commenter Mark D. We have an article with more information about Hawaiian’s network coming right up.


  7. Hawaiian Air could have merged with Aloha 20 years ago and they probably wouldnt be in this fix. The much stronger merged airline was to be run by a top industry executive from Continental. Hawaiian Air Pilots sabotaged that merger because they didn’t want to share seniority with Aloha Pilots. The HAL pilots gloated when Aloha failed. Now it’s HAL desperate for a merger. If the merger fails and HAL is liquidated like Aloha, a lot of ex Aloha employees who lost everything will not be sorry to see it happen

  8. I understand the decision, but this is not good. Long time Tokyo resident here: Tokyo Haneda is the best placed airport in the country. It is where things are happening. For two reasons: Japan’s highest local incomes are in Tokyo, not Osaka or anywhere else. And Haneda is closest to the center of it, Narita is too far off. In other words, Haneda is strategic. Hence, United is all over it

    Some other creative stop gap solutions could have been considered. Combination service Haneda/ Kansai or even Haneda/Seoul?

    Japan travelers will come back. In a sign of encouragement, the business class section on my Haneda flight yesterday was almost full.

  9. Well, when the Japanese tourists think it too expensive to travel to Hawaii you might think you have created a problem. The Japanese tourist were the cash cow for Oahu. Believe me if they find an enjoyable more affordable place to vacation they will and you will never see them again. And I would not be looking for the West Coast visitors to bail you out. They have been insulted by the locals, over taxed, endless fees (like the upcoming visitor fee) and like our Japanese friends feel accommodations and other expenses in Hawaii have gotten too expensive.

    1. It costs more to “entertain” mainland tourist than they spend, considering most of the money ends up in the pockets of big mainland owned corporations, like Hawaiian Airlines, for example. But the incompetent corrupt politicians, Gov Green, chief among them who tun this state will never all an alternative to tourism as long as their pockets are lined by visitor industry lobbyists.

  10. From speaking with friends in Asia, it would appear (anecdotally speaking) that it is a combination of overpriced and COVID. COVID being that people found other places to go that are just as good while getting more for their money. Shutting off the islands forced people in Asia to look other places, and it would appear that they did, and liked it. Again, nothing scientific just what I have observed.

  11. The news of United’s surge in flights to the islands is another reason to hope the Alaska-Hawaiian merger goes through. Presumably, with the fall-off of Hawaiian’s profitable international business, their main source of (profitable) revenue will be the west coast to the islands flights. The problems with the Pratt & Whitney engines on the A321neo and the Boeing Max 9 will be overcome, likely in 2024 (provided no new issues, of course). Among United, American and Delta (and Alaska), they have the sheer number of planes that can overwhelm Hawaiian’s business and the financial ability to win any fare wars. Inter-Island? We’ve seen the results of fare wars with Southwest. Not a good outlook for Hawaiian flying alone.

Scroll to Top