Operations at airlines serving Hawaii will return to normal Saturday after nearly 300 flight cancellations the past two days, countless delays and thousands of passengers being displaced because of Hurricane Iselle.
Neighbor island flights to and from Honolulu came to a near standstill Friday among the smaller Hawaii-based carriers as they either grounded aircraft or delayed flights rather than risk flying into Iselle as it bore down on Oahu.
Island Air canceled all its flights, while Mokulele Airlines suspended all its flights except for the Kahului-Kona route, which resumed service at noon.
"We’re pleased that Island Air is flying again," Island Air Chief Executive Officer Paul Casey said in a statement at 2 p.m. Friday. "The well-being and safety of our guests and employees is always a priority."
Other airlines that canceled some flights included Alaska Airlines, Fiji Airways, Jetstar Airways, ‘Ohana by Hawaiian and US Airways, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Overall, there were nearly 150 flights canceled Friday and about 140 canceled Thursday.
Island Air canceled 47 flights on Friday to Lanai, Maui, Kauai and Honolulu.
And Mokulele Airlines, which also flies between the neighbor islands, scrapped about 80 flights Friday. It did fly in the afternoon between Kona and Kahului.
Hawaiian Airlines didn’t need to cancel any of its 250 scheduled flights Friday due to weather, but did delay some, rerouted a Los Angeles-Kauai flight to Honolulu and canceled one Honolulu-Maui flight due to mechanical problems.
‘Ohana by Hawaiian, the company’s turboprop division operated by Idaho-based Empire Airlines, canceled 10 flights.
All passengers are urged to contact their airline carriers directly to confirm their flights and make any changes to existing reservations prior to leaving for the airport.
Airlines are attempting to place displaced passengers on other flights, but operations could be disrupted again Sunday if Hurricane Julio changes from its present course, which has it moving north of the islands. Most airlines are waiving re-booking fees, with some offering a free change for a limited period and others, including Island Air, leaving the change period open-ended.
"In our case what we do is track these storms pretty closely," Hawaiian Airlines spokeswoman Ann Botticelli said. "We look at not just projections, but what the storm is actually doing. It comes down to whether we can get our airplanes in and out of there safely."
Botticelli said for long-range flights coming into Honolulu that Hawaiian will delay taking off if the plane will be arriving in stormy weather. She said Hawaiian also has a diversion plan in place in case a storm lingers over Oahu.
Hawaiian actually implemented that diversion Friday when the captain of an incoming Boeing 767 from Los Angeles opted to divert to Honolulu due to weather rather than land on Kauai as scheduled. The passengers were later taken to Kauai on a Boeing 717.
Casey, the Island Air CEO, said in a phone interview that it was an easy decision to cancel all the airline’s flights Friday aboard its 64-seat ATR 72 aircraft.
"It’s basically weather-related," he said. "It’s the comfort of the passengers, safety of our employees and safety of the equipment. It’s not that complicated a decision. When there’s big storms, wind is the biggest problem at any point in time. Either it’s unsafe or uncomfortable to fly, so you don’t."
Mokulele Airlines CEO Ron Hansen, whose company flies nine-seat Cessna Grand Caravan turboprops, said it’s the air space around a hurricane or tropical storm that is a concern.
"Obviously, we’re not going to fly into a hurricane," he said. "It’s the peripheral areas around the hurricane that is the problem. We’ll never fly into the eye of the hurricane. Only the hurricane hunters do that, not us. It’s the thunderstorms that come out of the hurricane that are the problem because the winds are gusty and unpredictable."
Mokulele, which now serves nine airports statewide, launched the first commercial service ever out of Kalaeloa Airport on July 1 when it began flying three daily round trips between the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station and Kahului. Hansen said Friday that Mokulele will expand its service to Molokai on Sept. 1 with three round trips a day. That would give Mokulele passengers the option to fly between Oahu and Molokai from either Honolulu Airport or Kalaeloa Airport.