POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 1, 2012
After several days of superstorm Sandy flight disruptions, Hawaiian Airlines was able to get eastbound passengers off the ground Wednesday.
The airline resumed its 294-seat flight between New York and Honolulu.
United Airlines was also planning to restart its 256-seat flights between Honolulu and Newark and Honolulu and Dulles on Wednesday night.
Hawaii's visitor industry is still trying to count the number of passengers stranded in the islands or unable to fly here as planned. Since Saturday, travel disruptions to and from Hawaii to New York, Newark, N.J., and Dulles airport near Washington, D.C., affected thousands of travelers. The canceled Hawaiian and United flights could have carried up to 4,836 passengers.
"We are back on schedule today," said Hawaiian Airlines spokeswoman Ann Botticelli.
Hawaiian will also add an additional flight today to accommodate stranded passengers, Botticelli said.
"Between getting people on earlier West Coast flights and this special flight, we should be able to get everyone back," she said.
Hawaii was the exception rather than the rule Wednesday as other destinations continued to grapple with travel challenges in Sandy's wake. Since Saturday, Sandy has grounded 19,574 flights throughout North America, according to FlightStats.com.
With the limited reopening of John F. Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International Airport, travel is slowly resuming on the East Coast. However, La Guardia Airport remained closed Wednesday. Airports in Philadelphia, Boston and Baltimore also were among those with the highest flight cancellations, according to FlightStats.com.
"This is a really big deal. About a quarter of all flights are impacted by this in the Northeast," said Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays LLC, Hawaii's largest wholesale travel seller.
Since a lot of West Coast flights originate in the Northeast, West Coast travelers also are being delayed, Richards said.
"It's going to have at least a short-term impact on flights, hotels, spending and activities," he said.
Hawaii has had to find rooms for stranded travelers and accommodate visitors whose arrival plans were disrupted, Richards said.
Jessica Lani Rich, president and executive director of the Visitors Aloha Society of Hawaii, said she received a couple of calls from visitors looking for hotel referrals.
"Surprisingly, we didn't get an influx of calls," Rich said. "It wasn't like the shutdown of ATA and Aloha Airlines or Hurricane Katrina, when we had lots of people stranded and very concerned about how they were going to get home."
Keith Vieira, senior vice president and director of operations for Starwood Hotels & Resorts, said so far travel disruptions have not been significant in the tourism trade here.
However, if problems in the U.S. East continue, it could lessen demand for Hawaii, Vieira said.
"If the East Coast is without electricity for long periods of time, there's no question that it will impact us, he said.
The Associated Press was reporting Wednesday that as far west as Wisconsin and south to the Carolinas, more than 6 million homes and businesses still were without power.
"We've had some cancellations," Richards said. "But so far, the majority of visitors are continuing their plans. They are either arriving late or trying to rebook travel before the end of the year."
In the meantime, members of the state's visitor industry are working to ease travel burdens for visitors. Many hotels have offered special rates or waived rebooking fees and cancellation penalties.
"Our first priority is to share our aloha and make sure that everyone is OK," said Jay Talwar, senior vice president of marketing for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau.
Next, Talwar said HVCB would shore up markets needing additional support.
"Hawaii's visitor industry has been very accommodating," Richards said. "It's really helped."