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Monday, July 15, 2024 84° Today's Paper

EditorialIsland Voices

Column: We’re hopeful for future of Hawaii’s hometown airline

One of Hawaii’s most endearing traits is its small-town feel. We take care of each other, and we watch out for each other. We are protective of our home and local values.

For these reasons, as residents proudly born and raised in Hawaii, we reacted to Alaska Airlines’ plan to acquire Hawaiian Airlines with some skepticism. On one hand, we were encouraged by the potential benefit of Hawaiian Airlines being a part of a larger carrier with more resources, strengthening competition and options for our residents and businesses dependent on air travel. On the other hand, we instinctively felt concern about what it would mean for Hawaiian Airlines employees, many of them our friends and family, and what the acquisition would mean for Hawaii.

These questions are why we accepted when invited to join Alaska Airlines’ Hawaii Community Advisory Board. More than 40 years ago, Alaska Airlines established a similar board in the state of Alaska. Since then, members of the Alaska group have continuously stood as steadfast advocates for reliable service and increased benefits for Alaskans — a model we’re emulating here in Hawaii.

This board has afforded us a direct and open forum with Alaska’s leadership, in which we offer significant input into the ways the acquisition can strengthen Hawaiian Airlines and benefit the people of Hawaii. After five months of engagement, we feel confident about, and support, the proposed combination of the two airlines. We excitedly look forward to seeing what the two companies can achieve together.

Our Board includes leaders from all islands. The three of us, along with our fellow board members, actively advise Alaska Airlines on what is important to the people of our state. This includes advocating for kupuna who rely on air travel for medical care and the need for improved services to remote communities. We speak for families who need affordable prices and a robust schedule of flights to visit ohana, travel for school, culture or sports.

We see our roles as giving Hawaii residents a voice both during this transition period and beyond, as the board will continue after the acquisition to guide Alaska’s leadership and serve as a sounding board for the community.

The board also includes business owners who emphasize the importance of Hawaiian Airlines to the economic health of our local economy. Some of us have been part of meetings the two CEOs, Ben Minicucci of Alaska Airlines and Peter Ingram of Hawaiian Airlines, have convened on all the islands.

We posed tough questions directly to Alaska’s and Hawaiian’s leadership to hear how they will approach some of the challenges of combining the two companies.

Both airlines share values underpinned by their longstanding service to remote communities that are reliant on air travel. Alaska Airlines recognizes and respects the unique and critical role Hawaiian Airlines plays in Hawaii. For instance, the leaders of Alaska Airlines’ culture team are spending substantial time with their counterparts at Hawaiian Airlines learning about the unique Hawaiian values that have guided our local airline for decades.

If the combination is approved, Alaska Airlines will preserve and strengthen the Hawaiian Airlines brand. A goal of the acquisition is to improve the competitiveness of the combined airline without sacrificing the many things about Hawaiian Airlines that meaningfully contribute to our local community.

The combined airline will sustain and grow union-represented jobs in Hawaii and maintain a strong local leadership and regional headquarters presence.

Local consumers will have more options and choice through expanded air service. All HawaiianMiles members will keep their miles and loyalty status as part of a more robust loyalty program. And Alaska Airlines has committed to continuing both airlines’ support of local vendors and the many nonprofits with whom they collaborate.

A strong Hawaiian Airlines benefits all Hawaii residents. Alaska Airlines, with its shared commitment to our local community, is the ideal entity to acquire and strengthen Hawaiian Airlines.

By combining the best things about Hawaiian Airlines — such as its people, values, and commitment to community — with Alaska Airlines’ shared principles, operational strength and global network, we can help ensure a strong future for Hawaii’s hometown airline.

Na‘alehu Anthony, from left, Colbert Matsumoto and Trisha Kehaulani Watson-Sproat are among the members of Alaska Airlines’ Hawaii Community Advisory Board.

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