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Air Australia passengers start to head back home from Hawaii

    Daryl Maudsley, left, and his wife Cathy, center top, pose for a photograph with their children, from second left, Joshua, Daniel and Elise, all from Coolum Beach, Queensland, Australia, as they wait for a taxi at the airport in Honolulu after discovering their Air Australia flight to Brisbane wasn't taking off on Thursday.

Some stranded Air Australia passengers began to make their way home from Hawaii today on other carriers but hundreds still remained following the abrupt shutdown Thursday of the startup airline.

A conference room was set up with supplies in the interisland terminal and about 15 passengers were expected to spend tonight there before departing Saturday, according to David Uchiyama, vice president of brand management for the Hawaii Tourism Authority. He said about 20 people spent Thursday night there, with many of those departing today.

HTA said today that almost all of the 500 to 600 stranded passengers have been able to make alternative flight arrangements, including getting a seat on Hawaiian Airlines, Qantas or Jetstar; redirecting through the West Coast, including Vancouver, Canada; and some redirecting through Japan. HTA could not provide any numbers about how many people had departed today but Hawaiian Airlines said that it took 55 Air Australia passengers today to Sydney.

The YMCA offered its available rooms at three locations for free to stranded passengers and as of 5 p.m. today there were 19 people who had taken up the YMCA on its offer. Mike Doss, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the YMCA of Honolulu, said the stranded passengers were expected to stay one to three days. He said rooms still are available at the Nuuanu, central and Atherton locations, but they are either men- or women-only rooms depending on the site. He can be reached at 541-5496.

Uchiyama said there is “very little space” available for lodging due to the combination of Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day weekend following closely together, as well as the Kaiser Permanente Great Aloha Run scheduled Monday.

However, the HTA said it has been talking with the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association and that the hotels are working with the visitors to try and extend stays for the Australian visitors that could not depart  on their planned dates. In addition, the cancellation of the incoming Air Australia flights have opened up some space in the hotels.

Systemwide, Air Australia stranded about 4,000 people, including those in Thailand and Bali, and the Brisbane Times said it likely will take until early next week before everyone can make it back home. The newspaper said that Air Australia also has sold about 100,000 tickets for future flights that are unlikely to take off.

Administrators say they will work through the weekend to try to find a “white knight” to save the airline and the jobs of its 300 workers, according to the Melbourne-based Herald Sun.

Airport personnel opened the conference room Thursday for the stranded passengers and provided bottled water and air mattresses, while the Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaii, or VASH, gave out blankets and pillows and Host International offered chips, juice and fruit cups.

About 40 Air Australia passengers showed up this morning of the 140 scheduled to depart on Air Australia’s now-canceled flight to Melbourne, the HTA said. Another 168 were scheduled to leave Saturday on Air Australia to Brisbane.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said with only 40 people showing up today for their flight on Air Australia it’s likely the word of the shutdown had gotten out to them despite being on vacation.

“In today’s world with smart phones, I bet the word got to them somehow,” he said. “But there still may be people who show up next week who don’t know about it, including those who arrived Thursday morning.”

He said in many cases that family and friends of those stranded are booking return flights for those stranded.

The American Red Cross also is working with the state DOT and tourism officials to determine if and when additional shelter assistance will be made available.

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