Throwback Thursday: Aloha Airlines

Aloha Airlines Boeing 737-200 "Funbird"
Aloha Airlines Boeing 737-200 on approach to PHNL over Kaka’ako Waterfront Park, February 2008. Retro “Funbird” livery.

March 31 of this year marked the tenth year since the closure of Aloha Airlines after more than 60 years of business in Hawaii. It was a sad and painful time for its owners and employees, and a blow to Hawaii’s traveling public to see a long time kama’aina business go belly-up.

Surely Aloha Airlines demise was attributed to several factors including a bad economy, high fuel prices, outdated equipment and predatory pricing by Mesa’s GO! Airlines subsidiary which itself also closed down some years later.

Former employees of Aloha Airlines marked the date by having a reunion at the Hyatt Regency in Waikiki this past week.

My memories of Aloha Airlines go back to my youth when my parents used to take my sister and I to Hilo Airport just to see the airplanes come and go at the terminal. This was in the old days, long before security became a major issue and obstacle to access by non-passengers.

I used to marvel at both Aloha AirlinesFairchild F27 aircraft as well as those from Hawaiian Airlines (Convairs, DC-6s). This was back in the day before jets happened.

In the old days Aloha Airlines flew a variety of aircraft including the DC-3‘s that they started up with (long before I was born), the Fairchild / Fokker F27, Vickers Viscount and BAC-111 jet. In time they would standardize on the Boeing 737.

As a boy growing up on the Big Island, I rarely got a chance to fly. When we did, my parents always flew us on Hawaiian Airlines.

Aloha Airlines Boeing 737-200
Aloha Airlines at Lihue Airport, May 2005.

It was not until my college years that I finally got around to flying on Aloha. I usually flew to the Big Island of Hawaii’s airports in Kona and Hilo, as well as to Honolulu and once to Lihue, Kauai. Aloha Airlines also flew to Waimea-Kohala. I flew on Aloha’s Boeing 737-200 aircraft except maybe for one or two times on the newer 737-400 that Aloha had in passenger service for a short time.

One of my most memorable Aloha Airlines flight was one coming into Honolulu from the Big Island. While coming into Honolulu our flight had to abort its first landing attempt after another plane was spotted on the runway.

Aloha Airlines 737 at Kona
Aloha Airlines Boeing 737-400 at Kona International Airport, 1989

Flights on Aloha were pleasant experiences. They were on time, the personnel were courteous and helpful and the Boeing 737-200 aircraft were clean, even though by the start of the new century, they were considered “aging” and nearly obsolete.

Aloha was one of the last airlines in the Hawaii market that offered paper flight coupon packs (around 2004) in packets of six. These were very popular in the 1980s after being initially offered by upstart (and long gone) Mid-Pacific Airlines, a discount carrier. Soon after both Aloha and Hawaiian were forced to offer them. Flight certificate booklets were very popular with the public as they allowed people to take an inter-island flight on almost any day and time. They were convenient.

In the long run, the airlines hated the coupons since people stocked up on them and rarely ever flew at the published and more expensive per trip flights. The advent of online booking changed everything in favor of the airlines. Coupons were quickly discontinued.

The last time I flew on Aloha Airlines was back in November of 2006 during the height of the fare war instigated by Mesa/GO! Flights were being sold for as little as $2 each way. It was a definite money loser for the local airlines. The public loved them. I remember buying 4 different flights for a week of travel on three different airlines, flying at about $9 per trip. Once on GO!, once on Hawaiian and I think twice on Aloha.

Aloha Airlines 737-200 in flight on landing
Aloha Airlines Boeing 737-200 on approach to PHNL. Feb. 2008.

That was the last time. A trip to Hilo and back.

Less than two years later, Aloha declared bankruptcy after GO!’s predatory pricing, high fuel costs, aging aircraft and a downturn in the economy forced the airline to go out of business.

Today the carcass of Aloha Airlines lives on in Aloha Air Cargo, which was the firm’s cargo business that was bought out by another company after Aloha Airlines closed in 2008.

Aloha Airlines is now a memory that many people hold with fondness.

Aloha Airlines 737 jet freighter
Aloha Airlines Boeing 737 ETOPS jet freighter on display at John Rogers / Kalaeloa Airport, Sept. 2003. 100 Years of flight air show.
Aloha Air Cargo Boeing 737-300 jet freighter taxing to commuter terminal area, 2015.

Additional Links

cover photo: Aloha Airlines old route map used to be a mural that hung in the inter-island terminal at Honolulu International Airport.

#TBT

 

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