When my much-beloved 15-year-old rescue pup died in late March, I decided to visit my son to ease the pain of her loss. I just needed to get out of Dodge.

Getting there was pretty much perfect. Ohana by Hawaiian Air from Lanai to Honolulu was (uncharacteristically) on time, and next-day flights to the mainland were smooth. United flights were again flawless coming back.

The nightmare started with the Ohana flight back to Lanai on April 5. After collecting my bag from United I first had to confront the horror show that is Hawaiian Airline’s self-tagging kiosk.

I’d heard about this monster, but never had to navigate it myself. Several Hawaiian-clad uniforms were milling about, but I couldn’t get anyone’s attention. This was no surprise, there seemed to be a gazillion people, all taller than me, all standing in lines trying to do the same thing; the noise and confusion were overwhelming. So I stood behind a friendly-looking woman, Piilani, and asked if I could observe how she got her paperwork. She was amenable, even offered to help me get mine.

Hawaiian Airlines Daniel Inouye Airport.

I watched her enter a confirmation number on the screen, select the number of bags she was checking, weigh and pay for them by sticking her credit card in a slot, and out popped her self-tag. I followed her moves, but passed on downloading a boarding pass since I already had one and didn’t want to waste paper.

Piilani said, “You’re all set, just get in line somewhere over there.”

I attached my very own self-tag and got in line. A hundred passengers and their bags later, I’m told I was in the Ag inspection line and had to go somewhere else.

I stand in a second line, get my little blue “verification” stamp for inter-island flights (I have no idea what they were verifying) and haul my bag to a bag handler. I think, ok! I’m on my way home! It’s now 1 p.m., and I’d been traveling for 12 hours.

Sally Kaye tagged her own bag for the very first time.

Courtesy: Sally Kaye

Well before my 3:20 p.m. departure I wandered to gate 49, found my friend, Marie, and asked if she was on my flight. She informed me that no flights had left for Lanai at all that day, and others, including her own, had been cancelled the day before. She’d spent the night with her daughter, arrived back early that morning, and was still waiting.

“What are they telling you?” I asked, to which she replied, “Nothing. They aren’t telling us anything.”

I watched passenger after passenger besiege the three gate 49 keepers for information on flights to Kapalua, Molokai and Lanai, punctuated by raucous outbursts from a nearby bar where several Oahu hunters heading for Lanai had taken refuge.

Despite Contract for Carriage’s Rule 35 that ensures “HA employees will update passengers at minimum every thirty minutes on the status of the flight” there was only one public announcement made to the hundred-plus souls waiting to get out of Honolulu: “The flight to Kapalua has been cancelled” and those holding tickets would now fly to Kahului. “Please see the gate attendants for taxi vouchers to your destination.”

Well. Those of us who live on Lanai are familiar with being “weather-warned” but there were only sporadic showers in Honolulu. How much longer could the delay be? I went to the gate to get more information. It’s now after 3 p.m.

“I understand you had people waiting all day yesterday to fly to Lanai, and you finally cancelled about 7:30 p.m. last night. Why can’t you tell us whether, and when, you will make this decision today?”

The gate attendants looked at each other, and finally one admitted, “We can’t. We have to wait for the dispatcher to make that call.”

Ok, that made sense. “So why can’t the dispatcher make that call now? I have to find some place to stay, what am I supposed to do?”

Shared glances again. “We can’t tell you anything. The dispatcher is in Idaho.”

Hawaiian’s Senior VP for Communications/Public Affairs, Ann Botticelli, would later explain that Hawaiian has an agreement with Empire Airlines in Hayden, Idaho, to operate, crew, and maintain Ohana aircraft, and another contract with Worldwide Flight Services to provide customer and ground services on Lanai — although Hawaiian handles this in Honolulu.

Idaho? Really?? While I was mulling this revelation over, an Ohana flight left for Molokai and managed to deplane its passengers. When it came back empty, a cheery pilot came up the ramp and shouted, “Who wants to go to Lanai?!”

Sally Kaye’s bag was soaked through. It got left out in the rain.

Courtesy: Sally Kaye

Enter the raucous hunters from the bar, who loudly argue they should be allowed on this flight. Voices were raised, curses were hurled at the gate 49 attendants.

The plane with the cheery pilot and rude hunters took off about a half hour later, and at last — a welcome, second public announcement: “Hawaiian Air, I mean Ohana by Hawaiian Air’s next flight will be to Lanai. Those passengers holding tickets for flight 616 will board shortly.”

“Shortly” turned into another hour, after which we were informed, “Flight 616 has been weather-delayed. We apologize for the inconvenience. And by the way, the previous flight to Lanai couldn’t land and is on its way back.”

That was it for me. It was now after 6 p.m., and I’d been waiting for my 30-minute flight home for over five hours.

Up to the gate I go, to learn all flights to Lanai next day were filled (Botticelli told me they added an extra flight on April 6 to accommodate the stranded, but no one told me), so I ask to be put on the first plane to Maui. This turned out to be at 5:35 a.m., which involved finding a hotel, coming back in the morning, and then finding a ride from Kahului to Lahaina to catch the Expeditions ferry home.

There was just one catch: I had to retrieve my checked bag. I informed the gate attendants I hadn’t received any claim check when I maneuvered the dreaded self-tagging kiosk and was told: no problem. My credit card receipt has a bag number on it.

So. Boarding pass in hand to Kahului the next day (on Hawaiian, not Ohana), I’m the first to arrive at baggage claim to pick up my bag. But not so fast: I spend the next two hours watching the strident hunters pick up their guns and listening to the baggage claim people grumble that they had to search for bags by hand. When I repeatedly inquired about the delay, they repeatedly asked, “Where is your claim check?”

A baggage handler finally finds my bag a little before 9 p.m.: it was soaked through, apparently having been left on a cart in the rain while some dispatcher up in Idaho was figuring out what to do with all of us.

On the bright side, HA flight 286 to Kahului and Expeditions’ ferry were not only on time, the rides were gorgeous. Kudos to both crews.

At around 9:30 p.m. I find myself checking into the Airport Honolulu Hotel (their restaurant closed at 9) next to a couple who had also been unsuccessful in getting to Lanai; they produced a hotel voucher, I did not have one.

Hawaiian’s Botticelli said this was because the airline gives “vouchers to passengers who were still at the airport” after they decide to cancel a flight, but “passengers who had rebooked and left the airport” don’t get one. Trust me: I was still at the airport when they cancelled the flight since I was still waiting for them to find my wet bag.

The hotel wakes me the next day at 3:30 a.m. I dress, check out and head back to the miserable prospect of Hawaiian’s self-tagging kiosk around 4. This time I counted seven Hawaiian Air uniforms, and snagged one to help me transition my bag to the Kahului flight: “Oh. You’re Lanai. We aren’t charging for bags, but you have to go stand in that line over there, I can’t override the system.”

So I stand in yet another line, worrying I will not make this flight either.

A different attendant wanders over and asks, is there anyone in line who could use the kiosk? I tell this guy I just want to check my bag to Kahului, and somehow he does manage to override the system. I get a new tag and a claim check (no little blue verification stamp this time) so I haul my bag to the conveyor and get in the TSA line to move through security. Except it isn’t moving. It isn’t moving because there are no TSA screeners.

TSA shows up around 4:30 a.m., and I race through the terminal to make my 4:55 boarding time with a few minutes to spare. I decide to tackle my remaining problem: how to get from Kahului to Lahaina to catch the ferry to Lanai.

“Can you please tell me how I can get a shuttle to Lahaina?” I ask the gate attendant.

“No,” she says. She doesn’t even look up.

On the bright side, HA flight 286 to Kahului and Expeditions’ ferry were not only on time, the rides were gorgeous. Kudos to both crews.

I’m sure there are more horrendous tales from passengers flying Ohana, and apparently there are some disgruntled campers who have flown on Hawaiian. Back in January 2016, HA passenger Place Bets Dallas had this to say:

“I hated that terminal as I have said before. I think a 3 year old could design a process that is much easier to follow and less confusing. I spent the last 25 years of my working life in and out of airports all over the world and never saw anything as confusing as that terminal. Including lots of them that I could not even read or speak the language. What a disaster. Hawaiian Airlines should be ashamed.”

Clearly not much has changed.

Kiosk aside, the most consistent lament has been the lack of communication. In fact, more than 80 Lanaians recently met with airline personnel to voice frustrations with Ohana’s services. They specifically called out the virtually non-existent communications with passengers.

Four Seasons has apparently found an answer exclusively for its guests: private flights on Lanai Air — at $500 for two, one way.

The rest of us, though, are stuck; there is only one way to fly, and for now that’s Ohana. Given the price tag for my little misadventure was $343 ($127 for the Honolulu to Lanai flight; $156 for a hotel; $50 for a taxi to Lahaina — I bargained down from $75 — and $10 for a senior citizen ferry ticket), this option starts to look reasonable! I wouldn’t have to go through security and I bet they wouldn’t misplace my bag or leave it out in the rain.

No one can control the weather, of course. But with so many cooks in the kitchen, whose responsibility is it to control the messaging (or lack thereof) and address such dismal customer service?

Note to Hawaiian: Regardless of the answer, they’re probably wearing your uniforms.

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