Lee Cataluna: It's Not Just Cocktail Service And In-Flight Movies Anymore - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org


A common lament of Hawaii public schools is that the faculty, staff and facilities have to be everything to everybody.

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A school is not only where children are educated, but it is where they are fed, sometimes the only meals they get in a day. Students are also counseled, screened for illness and abuse, taught ethics, self-care, socialization skills, learn about consequences of bad decisions and the rewards of diligence.

Schools provide meeting spaces for neighborhood groups, polling places for elections, dog parks for neighbors and hurricane shelters when a storm is heading Hawaii’s way. In other words, they’re often centers for communal support.

Airlines that fly into Hawaii are kind of being asked to do the same thing.

A commercial airline’s basic mission is to fly passengers to their destination safely and to make money doing it. Everything else is extra. Right now, the airlines are expected to provide a lot of extra, as well they should. The impact of their business on these islands is huge.

Right now, the State of Hawaii’s Safe Travels program falls mostly to the airlines to carry out – and it falls hard. Many airlines have designated personnel to serve almost as Safe Travel “counselors” or navigators at the ticket counters at out-of-state airports.

I just came back from my first trip since the pandemic started. It is amazing how hard it is for people to figure out how to upload their vaccine records to the Safe Travel website, then access the QR code in their email to qualify for a coveted wrist band, issued by the airline, so that they can bypass the impossibly long Covid screening line after landing in Honolulu.

Some don’t even have a clue about the Covid requirements before they get to the airport to check into their flights.

It feels so high-stakes as the minutes count down to the final boarding call. Airline staffers squint at people’s phones trying to figure out what went wrong. They help passengers locate and type in their vaccine lot number. They do a separate entry for each member of a family traveling together.

It’s a wonder flights aren’t delayed for hours by the multi-step bureaucracy and glitchy website. (Want to know how to do it?  Here’s a link. Want to share what your experience with Safe Travels was? Feel free to leave a comment below.)

It is far from a smooth process, but in order to bring people to Hawaii, it is the airlines’ kuleana to walk each passenger through each maddening step, or to explain why they will have to queue up for quarantine screening in Honolulu before they can leave the airport.

Airlines flying passengers to Hawaii are being asked to do more than profile a safe flight. They also are expected to provide a lot of extra, including Covid-19 screening. Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2021

That’s a lot of extra kuleana, but that’s not all.

A month ago, Hawaiian Airlines debuted a five-minute educational video entitled “Travel Pono” that addresses topics such as beach safety and respect for the culture in an attempt to get tourists to think more deeply about Hawaii than umbrella drinks, danger-seeking illegal hikes and challenging waves too big for their abilities.

The video plays as the aircraft nears the islands, showing on each seat-back screen and on the larger screens in the cabin, making it almost impossible to tune-out.

The educational video gracefully veers into activism with some pointed messages, including reminders that residents’ rights outrank visitors’ fun:

“Part of what we love about Hawaii is that there’s great trails and beaches right in our back yard, but we ask that you please be conscious … these are OUR yards.”

“If you’re not sure if it’s OK to be somewhere, just ask.”

(Of course, that line could have been more strongly worded, like, “If you’re not sure if it’s OK to be somewhere, get out,” but the tone of the piece is more gentle than that.)

It’s remarkable to see a key player in the visitor industry step forward to mitigate visitors’ bad behavior.

In addition to the Covid bureaucracy and don’t-act-stupid advocacy, airline employees have long been on the front lines in screening for illegal plants and animals being imported to the islands.

Those State Department of Agriculture forms that get passed through the cabin are more than a signal that the long flight is finally getting close to touching down in Hawaii. They are one (albeit very passive) way the state has managed the introduction of invasive species for decades, though the idea that someone would actually check a box admitting, “Yes, I do happen to be traveling with a ball python in my carry-on” is laughable.

Taking on more responsibility for the larger impact on the community seems a sign of the times, and a hopeful sign at that. The pandemic underlined how interdependent we all are, residents and visitors, businesses and people. If Hawaii isn’t healthy, businesses suffer, and vice versa.

This kind of holistic thinking and commitment to take on new responsibilities is a positive change that can come out of all we’ve been through. It’s too easy, for example, for illegal vacation rental owners to shrug off responsibility for the impacts their businesses have on neighborhoods or for tour companies to dump a busload of people in a neighborhood or small beach park and not acknowledge what that does to the people who live there.

Doing business in Hawaii should require being responsible for and accountable to Hawaii.


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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org


Latest Comments (0)

I've traveled numerous times, both inter-island and to the mainland and have found the Safe Travels sight quite easy.  I've uploaded all the required docs for myself and my husband and have had no trouble pulling up both of our QR codes on my phone either at the airport on the mainland or here.  I'm very glad the state is having the airlines handle the pre-clearance at many mainland airports - that's been super helpful and indeed, the airlines should be stepping up and supporting the state in this manner.

LKJohn827 · 3 weeks ago

More and more, it sounds like the state has an IT problem. Perhaps they should pay more for those professionals and get some software programs that really work.

Scotty_Poppins · 4 weeks ago

I returned to Hawaii from Canada via San Francisco  on Sept 18.  I ended up in tears at the check in counter at my departure airport in Canada because neither the agent, nor myself could figure our how to access my QR code off the Safe Travels App.  After 40 min, the patient agent figured out that I had to complete the health questionnaire and then the QR code would pop up.  These types of glitches really made my trip very difficult and frustrating.  Also, sometimes I feel the negative covid test required before coming back to Hawaii is kind of a money grabber for the labs who do these tests.   They must be making a killing.   I was fully vaccinated in Hawaii.    Is a neg test really necessary?  It cost me $200 for the test.  I certainly hope that Gov Ige eventually plans to phase out the Safe Travels App  once the virus is sufficiently under control.  My fear is he will find a reason to keep this Safe Travels App forever, saying it’s to keep the state safe, when it’s really a way for the govt to keep tabs on people.  I hope we eventually get all our pre-pandemic freedoms back.  

MauiAloha · 4 weeks ago

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