Hawaii can thank Alaska Airlines for at least part of the recent recovery in tourist arrivals.
The Seattle-based company is scheduled to fly 613,085 seats to Hawaii from the mainland this year, a dramatic increase from 2007 when it flew in a mere 26,533. This year alone Alaska is adding about 260,000 seats.
Yesterday the airline announced another new flight with nonstop daily service between Bellingham, Wash., and Honolulu beginning on Jan 7. That follows on the heels of its announcement in June when Alaska said it would be launching service to Kauai in March next year from the northern California cities of San Jose and Oakland. Hawaii now makes up 15 percent of Alaska’s operations.
Only United Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines are scheduled to bring in more passengers to Hawaii in 2010.
The increase in lift from Alaska, Continental, Hawaiian and Delta contributed to a gain in tourist arrivals, which were up 5.7 percent through the first half of this year at 3.4 million visitors.
Alaska has helped make up for a loss of more than 1.5 million Hawaii-mainland seats in the spring of 2008 when Aloha and ATA airlines shut down.
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"I think the first phase they went through, they saw the opportunity to pick up lift from the void left by ATA and Aloha airlines," said David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the Hawaii Tourism Authority. "That clearly has been the positioning of their flights against the old ATA and Aloha routes."
Now Alaska is going beyond the Aloha and ATA routes to add markets that haven’t been fully tapped before, Uchiyama said.
"The second phase we’re now seeing is they’re identifying the areas that have the potential of having the population base to support flights," he said. "Direct flights out of Bellingham, where they’re pulling out of the Washington area and Canada, make sense."
Bellingham is about a 20-minute drive from the Canadian border and a 2 1/2-hour drive from Sea-Tac Airport. In addition, parking at Bellingham International Airport is $9 a day, while it’s $15 to $20 a day in Seattle and Vancouver.
"Right now most of the people from Canada going to Hawaii are going to Sea-Tac," said Art Choat, director of aviation for Bellingham Airport. "This will make it a lot more convenient for them, no doubt about that. It’s an excellent opportunity for local folks because of the convenience of not having to drive all the way to Seattle, 100 miles on I-5."
Alaska, which initiated Hawaii service on Oct. 12, 2007, with nonstop daily flights between Seattle and Honolulu, now serves all four major islands. After its debut year in 2007, Alaska’s service to Hawaii has exploded with 189,185 seats in 2008 and 353,878 in 2009. The airline’s scheduled flights in 2010 are nearly double those of last year.
"Given the popularity of Hawaii among our customers, and the fact that we’ve also launched service out of Bellingham to Las Vegas (in June 2009) and seen it do so well, we believe this addition will fit into our overall route network," Alaska spokeswoman Bobbie Egan said. "It made a lot of sense to us."
Alaska also announced a Hawaii fare sale yesterday with tickets as low as $149 one way. Tickets must be purchased by Aug. 15 and travel completed by Nov. 10. Among the sample one-way fares: Portland-Maui and Portland-Honolulu, $149; Oakland-Maui, San Diego-Maui, San Jose-Kona, $159; Seattle-Honolulu, $169; and Anchorage-Honolulu, $199.
"I think Hawaii is a perfect fit for Alaska Airlines," said state Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert. "We’re pleased with the growth and confidence that Alaska Airlines has shown in Hawaii, even in the down economy we’ve experienced over the last couple of years. Their flights have grown dramatically since they first started operations in Hawaii."