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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Flying to Hawaii one more reason visitors stay home

"I am so done with going to Hawai'i," the young man said to his wife as he stood sweating in the crowded jetway waiting to board the plane to California. "This hassle just ruins the whole thing."

Flying to Hawai'i is indeed a hassle. It was no picnic before 9/11, but at least then the trip through security was usually manageable and predictable. And once aboard, if you were heading to the Mainland, you had a pretty good chance of ending up aboard big DC-10s, Airbus A330s and even the venerable Boeing 747.

But now big planes are out, especially on West Coast routes, and the dreaded one-aisle Boeing 737 has made a comeback in the market. (Sorry to talk stink, Aloha Airlines). But even aboard the comparatively roomy Boeing 767 flown by Hawaiian Airlines (we said comparatively), it's still a tiring day on a plane to get to Hawai'i.

The length of the trip hasn't changed much in almost 50 years, but it sure feels longer.

While the Hawai'i Tourism Authority has worked diligently to regain air capacity over the past two years, its efforts have been focused on quantity, not quality.

In the name of economy, airlines do little to soothe the nerves of passengers who endured lavish baggage fees, those idiot self-service kiosks, long lines at security and indifferent service at the gate. Once aboard, the seats feel squeezier, the tempers shorter, the aloha vibe practically non-existent.

In its visitor surveys, the HTA has found that the longer the plane trip, the less likely a Hawai'i visitor is to return. Twenty-two percent of visitors from the Mainland Midwest and East say they aren't likely to return in the next five years, compared with only 6 percent of West Coast visitors, according to the most recent survey.

Thirty-five percent of those who aren't coming back say it's because the flight's too long. But is it that the flight's too long or is it that flying is just too much of an uncomfortable ordeal these days?

April visitor arrivals are running about 3 percent behind last year, which was 2 percent below the April 2008 level. As Hawai'i tries to restore visitor numbers to their 2007 glory, its marketing executives need to realize that airline fatigue is probably playing a part in the decisions by vacationers to skip Hawai'i.