When Mesa Air Group’s Go! Airlines shut down on April 1, there was a collective exhale of relief in Hawaii.
The carrier was never well-liked despite its ridiculously low fares as the main inter-island airline in Hawaii. Forcing Aloha Airlines out of business didn’t help – the beloved airline lost the fare ware to Go! in 2008, two years after Go! launched, and was forced to lay off almost 2,000 employees. Neither did losing a $52 million settlement of a lawsuit to another beloved airline, Hawaiian, when a judge found that Mesa had used proprietary business information to start Go!
But Go’s departure has created an enigma among the state of Hawaii’s other airlines as they try to fill the void.
One has added another inter-island route, one has made improvements and enhancements to customer service, and a third is merely trying to get the word out that it still exists.
"This is not a good chapter in Hawaii history," Peter Forman, a Hawaii aviation industry historian, told Hawaii News Now.
Hawaiian Airlines, which has grown to become the leading inter-island brand in Hawaii, finally launched "Ohana by Hawaiian" last month. Ohana began flying to Molokai and Lanai, two islands it had all but ceded to the other carriers. In fact, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Hawaiian was in an inter-island war with Aloha as recently as 2007, claiming a 48 percent share of the market to Aloha’s 37 percent.
With Aloha gone, and, as of two weeks ago, Go! now gone, Hawaiian now controls more than 85 percent of the inter-island marketshare.
That leaves Island Air and Mokulele playing catch-up. Island has shifted focus to customer service and satisfaction with aesthetic changes – newly designed check-in counters, terminal enhancements, and a new customer service program it is pitching especially to travel agents with the tag that “your clients will receive extra comfort and personalized service.”
“I think agents’ clients will be pleased with the new improvements throughout the commuter terminal area. These investments by Island Air are a work in progress and we’re moving forward with better ways to improve our services,” said Island Air CEO Paul Casey.
Mokulele is in a different boat. Last week, the airline was forced to send out a press release just to keep people aware of its existence. In part, the release stated, “In an effort to clear up the confusion surrounding the recent shutdown of Go! Airlines, Mokulele Airlines is reassuring travelers that this shutdown will not affect Mokulele's flight operations.”
In fact, though they were once partners, Mokulele and Go! have operated as two separate airlines since 2011. Mokulele Airlines will continue to honor tickets purchased on Go! for travel to the eight destinations Mokulele serves: Honolulu, Kona, Waimea-Kohala, Kahului, Kapalua, Hana, Lana'i, and Moloka'i.
And, like Hawaiian, Mokulele is expanding – to meet the growing demand for low-cost interisland travel, Mokulele Airlines began offering nonstop flights between Kahului, Maui and Honolulu on April 1 as part of its expansion plans for 2014.
All this has taken place over the better part of a month, just before and just after Go!’s April 1 shutdown.
How it plays out from here remains to be seen.