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Hawaiian Airlines to cut one-third of workforce

  • STAR-ADVERTISER
                                Peter Ingram

    STAR-ADVERTISER

    Peter Ingram

  • CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / APRIL 21
                                Hawaiian Airlines logo detail on the tail of a A330 airbus photographed at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

    CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / APRIL 21

    Hawaiian Airlines logo detail on the tail of a A330 airbus photographed at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

Hawaiian Airlines’ pre-pandemic payroll will be cut by one-third, or 2,501 jobs, as of the start of next month.

By Oct. 1 the projected workforce at the state’s largest carrier will be 4,946, down from 7,447 employees, the company said Thursday.

The reduction includes 1,850 union employees who volunteered to leave the company and 466 involuntary union cuts. These include flight attendants, pilots, machinists, reservation agents, dispatchers and other office workers.

In addition, Hawaiian cut 185 nonunion administrative positions, mostly by not filling vacancies and through voluntary separations.

Prior to COVID-19, Hawaiian was one of the state’s largest employers and was enjoying a long growth period. From 2005 to March it had gone from about 3,500 to 7,500 employees, about 90% of whom were working in Hawaii.

Hawaiian spokesman Alex Da Silva said in an email to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the layoffs effective Oct. 1 were based on Hawaii’s tourism reopening in August or September.

With tourism not set to reopen until Oct. 15, the situation for Hawaiian has changed.

Though the carrier has not made further plans for reductions, Da Silva said it views “the outlook for Hawaii tourism as having worsened with the further delay of the pre-travel testing program.”

The pre-travel testing program allows travelers who have tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of traveling to Hawaii to bypass a mandatory 14-day self-­quarantine for out-of-state passengers that’s been in place since March 26.

“We are encouraged that the state has announced a program launch date of Oct. 15,” Da Silva said. “We believe that people want to travel to Hawaii, and we are confident that as a visitor industry we have the right protocols to protect our community and safely welcome travelers. We are hopeful that the rollout of pre-travel testing will allow us to avoid further reductions in the size of our team.”

Peter Ingram, Hawaiian Airlines president and CEO, had said from the beginning of Hawaiian’s COVID-19 struggles that he had hoped involuntary separations would be reduced through voluntary reductions and early retirements. He also had hoped another round of the federal payroll support program, or returning travel demand, would make a difference.

“The number of employees who elected to accept voluntary leaves and early retirement is a testament to their spirit of ‘ohana and sacrifice,” Da Silva said.

“We offered a range of packages for employees in each major work group, as part of our commitment to seek voluntary options before resorting to furloughs, and we appreciate employees who were in a position to be able to accept these offers and as a result reduce the number of colleagues who are leaving us involuntarily,” he said.

The carrier had participated in the federal payroll support program, which helped protect jobs through the end of September. There’s been a proposal brought forward by the major national unions, including the unions representing Hawaiian’s union employees, to extend the program from October to March.

In the meantime, Da Silva said, Hawaiian is still reviewing its schedules for the second half of October and beyond.

Other airlines also are making changes based on an anticipated Oct. 15 trans-Pacific tourism restart.

Alaska Airlines said it’s currently flying from Seattle to Honolulu and Kahului, with a total of three daily flights, and this will continue through Oct. 14.

“Given Governor Ige’s announcement yesterday, we plan to take a phased approach to reinstating our service to the Islands, including the reopening of our operations in Lihue and Kona in mid-October,” said Alaska spokesman Daniel Chun. “Our aim is to provide increasing connectivity for residents and visitors, while supporting the safe recovery of Hawaii’s economy. We’re working with state and tourism leaders to ensure that our guests understand the shared responsibility we all have as out-of-state travel to Hawaii resumes.”

Chun said Alaska Airlines only has a small team in Hawaii, so there haven’t been any layoffs or furloughs of any local airline employees.

“The majority of our workforce here are business partners (contractors), so any impacts would affect employees of those companies,” he said.

Southwest Airlines spokesman Brad Hawkins said the carrier has been revising its Hawaii flight schedule monthly throughout the pandemic to align with the restrictions on visitation.

Hawkins said “substantive” flying to and in Hawaii returns Nov. 4, which is the same day that the new San Diego-Honolulu nonstop service joins the carrier’s previously offered Hawaii service.

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