comscore Hawaiian flights will get squishier | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Hawaiian flights will get squishier

    Hawaiian Airlines said Wednesday it will add up to 10 more seats in its Boeing 717 jets, raising the total number of passengers to 128 from 118 or 123.

DALLAS » Hawaiian Airlines plans to add seats to planes that it uses to hop around the island chain, joining the flock of airlines seeking to squeeze more passengers on to flights.

And the airline’s CEO says that lower jet fuel prices won’t mean lower fares for passengers. Leaders of other airlines have made similar comments recently.

Hawaiian executives said Wednesday that they will put up to 10 more seats in its Boeing 717 jets by using seats that take up less space due to thinner padding. Capacity will increase to 128 seats from 118 or 123 on the 18 jets, said Peter Ingram, the airline’s chief commercial officer.

Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, JetBlue and others have added seats in economy class or announced plans to do so. Ingram said the thinner new seats will allow Hawaiian to keep current legroom. He spoke at an investor meeting in New York.

Those Boeing 717 flights — under an hour — in the island state are often full but account for a declining share of Hawaiian’s business.

The airline has been adding routes to bring more Asian vacationers to Hawaii. Hawaiian began flying to Tokyo in 2010 and to Beijing in April, and international flying now accounts for 25 percent of revenue, up from 9 percent in 2010.

CEO Mark Dunkerley said that the airline’s short-term growth will continue to focus on Asia although U.S. cities will also be on its short list of new markets.

The falling yen has hurt Hawaiian, which now has four destinations in Japan, but Japanese consumers continue to book vacations in the islands and the market is growing, Dunkerley said.

Like other U.S. airlines, Hawaiian has benefited this year from strong travel demand and a drop in fuel prices. The parent company earned $57.8 million in the first nine months of 2014, up 66 percent from the same period last year.

Dunkerley said cheaper fuel won’t necessarily lead to lower fares if travel demand remains strong.

"I don’t think there is any automatic reason why lower fuel prices translates into lower fares," Dunkerley said. He said that when fuel prices were rising, airlines didn’t pass the entire increase on to passengers. The recent drop in pump prices gives airlines a chance to become more financially stable, he said.

Shares of parent Hawaiian Holdings Inc. rose 32 cents to close at $21.42 Wednesday. The stock is up about 122 percent in 2014.

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