About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.

We love the friendly aloha vibe of Hawaiian Airlines but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

When news broke last week that Alaska Airlines was buying Hawaiian Airlines for $1.9 billion, I panicked: “What does that mean for my upcoming trip to California?”

Nothing, actually. The deal will take between 12 and 18 months to close, pending regulatory and shareholder approvals. And, from what both airlines have said publicly, customers don’t need to worry right now. My flight is still booked on Hawaiian Airlines, and I’ll still get the same local-style in-flight service many of us love about the state’s largest carrier.

What will happen in a year, though, is the question.

I didn’t see this merger coming — and neither did a few friends who work for Hawaiian Airlines I called after getting the press release. News came fast and furious, with more questions than answers. But one concern is clear: We need a reliable carrier that offers affordable fares.

Because the only way out of the state is by air.

When Southwest Airlines entered the market in 2019, it was the first real threat to Hawaiian Airlines since Aloha Airlines shuttered in 2008. The Dallas-based budget airline offered introductory fares starting at $49 one way from West Coast cities to Honolulu. Price for a one-way interisland ticket at the time was $29. (Right now one-way tickets start at $65.)

Southwest Airlines aircraft as one aircraft taxis to takeoff at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
Southwest was the first real threat to Hawaiian Airlines since Aloha Airlines stopped flying in 2008. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

It would be to Alaska Airlines’ advantage to keep the branding and vibe of the beloved local carrier — much in the same way CVS kept the Longs Drugs brand in the islands when it acquired the drugstore chain in 2008. (That deal was worth $2.9 billion, by the way, more than Alaska is paying for Hawaiian, including its debt.) Local people — myself included — like what we know. The dark-green uniforms of Longs employees, the friendly aloha vibe of Hawaiian Airlines. You can change it, but we won’t like it.

My advice for Alaska Airlines: Keep your promises. Maintain the brand and reputation of the 94-year-old airline. Retain and grow the workforce, which boasts 7,300 employees. Make Honolulu a key hub for the combined airline. Expand service to the mainland, Asia and the Pacific. And let us keep our miles, please.

But what I’m really hoping for is improvement — because there has been room for it.

A quick visit to the Better Business Bureau’s website showed numerous public complaints, ranging from last-minute canceled flights to lost luggage to awful customer service. Even I’ve been the victim of delayed flights and wasted hours on hold with customer service.

While these are common complaints about any airlines, it’s particularly distressing when we have limited choices of carriers, especially between islands.

And then there’s the cost.

There was a time when it was cheaper to book a vacation to Vegas from Honolulu than Maui. Right now, as of yesterday, you could book a last-minute roundtrip flight to Hilo, Kahului or Lihue for as low as $124.

I doubt much will change, to be honest. It wouldn’t be to Alaska’s advantage to mess with the strong brand of Hawaiian. But I’m hoping this merger brings together the best of both airlines — and that we end up the winners for once.


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About the Author

Catherine Toth Fox

Born and raised on Oahu, Catherine Toth Fox is an editor, writer, children’s book author, blogger and former journalism instructor. She is currently the editor at large for Hawaii Magazine and lives in Honolulu with her husband, son and two dogs. You can follow her on Instagram @catherinetothfox. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.


Latest Comments (0)

I was a long time loyal Hawaiian Flyer. Back in 2015-ish my life changed and traveling by air became more of a frequent occurrence. It was that calendar year that I first tried Alaska Airlines. Having flown Alaska, JetBlue, Hawaiian, Spirit, Delta, and American all in the same year I had the chance to compare and contrast. What won me over (besides consistent lower prices) was the Alaska Call Center. Hawaiian had become atrocious. The Hard product was still good (actual flights) but policies and a foreign call center had me seeking other options. The final straw was comparing the Frequent flyer programs and change policies. Hawaiian was simply behind the curve. I, for one, will welcome the changes that Alaska will bring but I do want Hawaiian to exist, especially from gate to gate, as we have already known and loved. I will go back to Hawaiian (operated by AS) once the sale is complete.

islandjake · 2 months ago

I'm looking forward to Hawaiian's technology - namely, website capabilities - changing over to Alaska's. Currently, you can't change or cancel a flight online with Hawaiian - you have to call in! That is outrageously outdated compared to other airlines. And then, Hawaiian's customer service seems to be a call center based in the Phillipines(? but definitely overseas), whereas Alaska's customer service reps are US-based. I will use Hawaiian more after the merger.

avocadorat · 2 months ago

Always appreciated HA staff, but even the nicest people can only do so much with little: uncomfortable, poorly scheduled, or pricey flights, or the hated "nickel & diming".Partly it's the wider market (last minute r/t deals this week incl. Sydney @ $305 or Madrid @ $500); partly gov't agreements (see pricing changes at Koror when there's competition for UA); partly the negotiating skill of the carrier (see Aloha v. HA in PagoPago).Nice to see travel improve for local residents, but we're such a small market that our wants narely register. Best hope is prob. integrated travel strategies that target larger markets (ie. visitors to Hawai`i and elsewhere along HA/AK routes), or the carrier's self-interest. Example of the former: try to market travel to Hawai`i plus 2nd destination with shared interests (eg. the better-heeled mainland tourists might flock to a streamlined chance to see Nat'l parks here and Alaska, or golfing here and the CNMI). Example of the latter: used to go airport to catch "next available inter-island seat" for dirt cheap, usually within 2 hrs, on flights 3/4 full of tourists. Got to see Hawai`i & spend $$ in-state; Aloha & HA kept their flights more full.

Kamanulai · 2 months ago

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