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Wave of flight cancellations poses little threat to industry

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    Flight information screens display canceled flights at Honolulu International Airport due to tropical storm Flossie.

Strong wind and heavy rain from Tropical Depression Flossie resulted in more than 80 flight cancellations to and from the islands Monday, preventing some visitors from starting their Hawaii vacations and keeping others from going home.

United Airlines canceled 14 flights out of Hono­lulu while American Airlines canceled 10 flights to or from Hawaii. Hawaiian Airlines was forced to delay two flights and return a Hono­lulu-Maui flight back to Hono­lulu. Seattle-based Alaska Airlines canceled 26 flights early Monday due to safety concerns but added 10 flights Monday night. Alaska Air spokes­woman Bobbie Egan said nearly all the 3,800 Alaska passengers affected by the storm had been reaccommodated.

In all cases the airlines have waived change fees so passengers can make other accommodations. Still, Hono­lulu Airport passengers, looking at partly cloudy skies and light winds, were frustrated that their flights had been canceled.

“I’m from New Orleans, and we have hurricanes all the time,” said Judson Van Meter, who along with his wife missed his United Airlines flight to Chicago with a connection to New Orleans. “I’ve been through Katrina, Isaac, all these different hurricanes. They could still be sending planes in the air right now.”

Van Meter said he called the carrier, his travel agent and the airport in the morning and was told that everything was fine.

“I’m not a pilot,” Van Meter said, “but I’m pretty sure at 35,000 feet you’re above the storm. People do it all the time. This wind right here — they shouldn’t be shutting down airports.”

A United customer service agent said passengers would not be given complimentary hotel accommodations because the delay was weather-related.

Daniel Moore and Sabrina Ward, who had been vacationing in Maui, were also frustrated by the storm.

“They (United) canceled our flights, they lost our bags, no one’s at the information kiosk and no one’s in this half of the wing in the terminal,” Moore said. “They’re trying to leave here without trying to help us (with) where we can go. We’re kind of stuck.”

Kahului Airport was forced to switch to a backup generator for a short time after lightning knocked out power to the airport Monday evening.

Hawaiian spokeswoman Ann Botticelli said Hawaiian didn’t need to cancel any mainland or international flights because of how it monitored the intensity, direction of the wind and the size of the weather mass.

“We were able to develop a comprehensive diversion strategy,” she said.

Not all tourists were upset by the flight delays. Eight students on summer break from Seattle saw it as an opportunity to spend 10 more hours in the islands.

“It’s better that they delayed it because then it’s safer so the storm doesn’t go while we’re taking off,” said Michael Lovrien, whose flight was rescheduled to leave at 11 p.m. “We went to play video games at Dave & Buster’s.”

Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays LLC, Hawaii’s largest travel wholesaler, commended the airlines for helping the company accommodate most of its 2,500 customers who were scheduled to travel to Hawaii in the next two days.

“A lot of carriers operate multiple flights out of the same city, and we’ve been able to move customers,” Richards said. “(Monday) was the toughest day. We should have everything under control in the next 48 hours.”

The nearly 50 percent discount that Outrigger Waikiki gave Angelia Hogan and her family after they were stranded helped ease the inconvenience.

“If you have to be stuck somewhere for two days, there’s no better place to be stuck than paradise,” Hogan said.

While some hotels lost revenue by offering discounted rates to stranded travelers, few hotels experienced a significant drop in occupancy. Guests at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort extended reservations for about 100 rooms on Monday, offsetting cancellations, said Lora Gallagher, regional director of marketing for Hilton Hawaii.

“It’s been kind of a wash,” she said.

Keith Vieira, senior vice president of operations for Starwood Hotels and Resorts in Hawaii and French Polynesia, said the chain has fielded calls about conditions; however, at this point the only cancellations have been due to flights.

“At this point our business is pretty balanced between the people who couldn’t get here and those that have had to stay longer,” Vieira said. “It’s mostly business as usual.”

The Polynesian Cultural Center in Laie and state Department of Land and Natural Resources trails, parks and campground areas were closed Monday. Alfred Grace, PCC’s president and CEO, apologized for any inconvenience but said the decision was made in consideration of the “health and safety of our guests and employees.”

Police shut down Likelike Highway, one of the routes to PCC, twice Monday due to a rash of crashes.

The storm is not expected to have a lasting impact on Hawaii’s tourism numbers. The Hawaii Tourism Authority still expects to finish 2013 with a record 8.5 million visitors, who will spend a nominal $15.8 billion.

“Overall, it’s not a huge impact to the visitor industry, but there will be some adjustments that have to be made,” said David Uchi­yama, the authority’s vice president of brand management. “My son is stuck in Seattle for an extra three hours, and I’ve heard stories of other visitors who may be stuck with us for a few days. This is a very busy time for us, but our hotels and airlines are working hard to accommodate everyone.”

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