U.S. DOT Exempts Hawaiian Airlines From Mainland Service

Credit: Rob Finlayson

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Transportation Department (DOT) granted Hawaiian Airlines a waiver to temporarily cease flying to eight mainland markets, agreeing that travel restrictions imposed by Hawaii’s governor make most service to the mainland unfeasible.

The decision means Hawaiian will not have to reinstate service to the eight markets, all of which it stopped flying to amid 90% capacity cuts in March and April owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Under the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, carriers receiving federal aid must maintain service to all domestic points, unless granted a waiver by DOT to suspend service. 

The exemption covers Boston; Las Vegas; Portland, Oregon; New York; Phoenix; Sacramento and San Diego in California; and Seattle. In exempting the markets from the CARES Act mandate, DOT acknowledged the long distances Hawaiian would be forced to fly using widebody aircraft on routes with virtually no demand due to Hawaii’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for all incoming travelers.

Hawaiian will continue operating between Honolulu and the large hubs of Los Angeles and San Francisco. “We intend to resume services that have been suspended at other U.S. mainland cities in our network when it is reasonable and practical to do so,” a company spokeswoman said.

DOT will also allow Hawaiian to cease serving Lahaina on the island of Maui, in lieu of increasing its minimum service level at Kahului to 6X-weekly, reasoning that critical supplies and medical personnel can reach Maui more efficiently through the latter.

Approval of Hawaiian’s exemption request is a significant relief for the carrier, after DOT declined to do the same for requests from JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines, the latter of which will have to reinstate canceled service to 26 markets across the country. DOT has shown a greater willingness to exempt points in Hawaii, granting similar requests to Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines to curb most flying to the archipelago.

Ben Goldstein

Based in Boston, Ben covers advanced air mobility and is managing editor of Aviation Week Network’s AAM Report.