Interview: How Hawaiian Airlines Is Coping With COVID-19

The state of Hawaii’s aviation industry was rocked amid travel restrictions following the impact of the global health crisis. Subsequently, Hawaiian Airlines faced several challenges over the year as it responded to the conditions. Simple Flying had the opportunity to speak with the carrier’s head of marketing, Avi Mannis, about how the operator is adapting to the current climate.

Hawaiian Airlines
Hawaiian is introducing several initiatives across its operations. Photo: Hawaiian Airlines

Taking on the challenge

Mannis broke down the pandemic into three phases. The first stage is the shutting down of the majority of Hawaiian’s network as COVID-19 swept the globe and travel restrictions were imposed. Then, there was a period of low activity during which the airline’s priorities were preserving the cash that it had and sourcing additional liquidity. And finally, there was a process of reopening the islands and ramping operations back up.

Mannis explained that there has been various difficulties at each of the stages of the crisis. Each period brought on a different challenge.

“At the outset, as we had to figure out how to shut down our network, which is harder than it sounds, and care of our guests whose travel plans had been disrupted. We had to stand up a call center in our corporate office with volunteers from all over the company to help out our overwhelmed reservations center,” Mannis told Simple Flying.

“After that, as our primary focus became cash preservation and liquidity, we had to make heart-wrenching decisions about our levels of staffing. We had to say farewell to so many fantastic employees who made this airline what it is today. And now, as we look at relaunching, we face the challenge of scaling our operation back up and innovating to ensure we’re competitive in the market – that’s a much more fun set of challenges to look forward to.”

Restrictions in Hawaii created a tough environment of the airline. Photo: Getty Images

Faith in testing

Nonetheless, there is some positivity heading into the end of the year. Hawaiian is building partnerships with testing companies and even opening its own proprietary PCR testing labs in major US gateways. These measures are helping passengers bypass quarantine as they can get a COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure.

Hawaiian has taken a multipronged approach to this process. For instance, there are national partners, such as some pharmacy and drug store chains, who can provide testing. The airline has also put together its own exclusive partnership with providers of mail-order tests, so travelers with broad geographical distribution have access to testing.

Notably, Hawaiian is working with a partner who builds PCR testing labs in shipping containers. It is placing these labs adjacent to its major airports on the West Coast for its customers to use.

Passenger response from the recently opened San Francisco facility has been positive so far. There is an additional facility in Los Angeles that is also in the final stages of opening. The carrier expects to expand three labs to at least two or three other cities in the Western US before the end of this month.

Hawaiian and American
Hawaiian has been working well with hubs on US mainland. Photo: Getty Images

Opening up the skies

Altogether, this approach is helping to open up doors for the airline and the state of Hawaii. There has been recent progress in resuming routes across the United States. Undoubtedly, the testing measures have helped achieve this.

By the end of December, we will be back to all of our US mainland gateway airports. That doesn’t mean that we’ll be operating our full US mainland schedule. We’ll still have less frequency in some cases. In some cases, we’ll use smaller aircraft. And we won’t necessarily be flying from a given city to all of the islandsthat we used to fly in the state of Hawaii,” Mannis added.

“Because we have a really strong interisland network, we can then help those people. So it’s still a slow rollout. I think we’ve said, by December, we’ll be operating just a little bit over 50% of our capacity at the same time the prior year. So, still, a much smaller network than we used to operate, but we will be back connecting all of our major US cities to Hawaii.”

Hawaiian Airlines Jet
The carrier is covering ground across the US. Photo: Vincenzo Pace |

Across the Pacific

There is also international progress happening ahead of 2021. It was recently announced that Hawaii is set to welcome its first international tourists back from the end of this week. Passengers from Japan will be able to bypass quarantine if they can provide a negative COVID-test result no older than 72 hours.

Mannis emphasizes that the pre-travel testing program for Japan is a welcome first step. However, he doesn’t expect demand between the country and Hawaii to pick up materially until the Japanese government further relaxes its quarantine requirements for returning travelers.

Hawaiian has offered a once-weekly service between Honolulu and Narita since October 1st to support essential travel. Moreover, it will gradually increase frequency on the route to twice weekly on November 17th and four times weekly on December 19th when it also begins three weekly nonstop flights between Honolulu and Haneda and Osaka.

Regardless, cargo demand has been strong. The airline operates a helpful cargo-only service to Japan, and it will continue to monitor demand for Hawaii travel from key Japanese markets and adjust its schedule if necessary.

Hawaiian will be looking to deploy its Airbus A330 aircraft more frequently. Photo: Getty Images

Tech initiatives

Altogether, the carrier has taken all of the necessary measures in order to keep passengers safe. Technology has given a massive helping hand and will continue to do so into the new year.

Processes such as electrostatic spraying help to keep cabin environments safe for those on board the aircraft. The carrier is also using existing technology in new ways in several customer channels. For instance, instant messaging and email were crucial when call centers became overwhelmed in the early days of the pandemic.

Additionally, Hawaiian just completed a refresh of its check-in hardware and software. Therefore, it is easier to develop and launch touchless bag tag printing at the airports.

Mannis concluded that the airline has come to appreciate the technology that has always been there. For instance, the HEPA filters on the carrier’s fleet have proven to be critical in ensuring the cabin is a safe place for passengers.

The airline expressed its gratitude to its people working hard through this pandemic under unprecedented conditions. It acknowledges the commitment across the company even through the uncertain situation.

What are your thoughts about how Hawaiian Airlines is adapting amid the pandemic? How do you see the conditions evolving into next year? Let us know what you think of the situation in the comment section.