Throwback Thursday: Aloha Airlines

Aloha Airlines Wall Map
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Surely Aloha Airlines demise was attributed to several factors including a bad economy, high fuel prices, outdated equipment and predatory pricing by Mesa’s GO!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.



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Remember the Dole Cannery Pineapple Tower?

Dole Pineapple Water Tank//

THROWBACK THURSDAY (#TBT): For many decades the Dole Cannery Pineapple water tower was a familiar sight to motorists traveling along Nimitz Highway. The pineapple tower was located on the premises of the old Dole Pineapple Cannery factory, which today is now a theater, shopping and office center complex.

The Pineapple was built in the late 1920s and stood 200 feet high at the cannery location for more than 60 years. It was torn down in the early 1990s due to rust and safety concerns. An article published in Honolulu Magazine have details regarding the pineapple tower’s construction, tenure, preservation and destruction.

After posting photos to Facebook, some of the comments I got included the following:

“Truly a beautifully crafted metal sculpture with perfect proportion. A landmark that we passed a lot because Nimitz was the only highway to the west. Stink, butt we liked the smell.” — Danny Daniels

“Memories come hither of my father driving pass this awesome landmark and we knew how close we were to home in Damon tract, another place of the past! Laying down in the car, the pineapple was a great sight!” — Johanna Amorin

“Wish they had thought to save it!!!!” — Beverly Sermersheim

The original intention was to store, save it and perhaps reconstruct it. However when it was checked, the insides were so far gone that the whole thing was mostly scrapped.

The photos were taken in the late 1980s or possibly 1990s.

Dole Pineapple Water Tank

The pineapple water tower was a major landmark in the Iwilei area. The pineapple smell was something to behold. Many people miss it today.

Dole Pineapple Water Tank//

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Throwback Thursday:Honokaa Buildings on Historic Register


Honokaa Hawaii USA

Three buildings in downtown Honokaa on the Big Island of Hawaii were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a division of the National Park Service.

The Honokaa People’s Theatre, Hotel Honokaa Club and the Ferreira Building which at one time was the home for the original T. Kaneshiro Store and Hamakua Fountain are the properties that were placed on the register in the past month. The old Hasegawa Store Building is pending inclusion to the registry.

Honokaa Hawaii USA

As a kid I used to go shopping with my Mom and Dad at T. Kaneshiro Store. That old store was filled with grocery items, meats, fish, produce, soda, candy, dry goods, clothing and records. Back in the day Kaneshiro’s customers could open charge accounts at the store where items could be bought on credit and a monthly bill would be mailed out. This was the place to get 5¢ candy, see string being pulled out from the bottom of the wooden checkout desk to wrap meat and boxes with, and just talk stories with various members of the Kaneshiro family who ran the store for many years.

The store closed at that location in 1977 and moved across the street to a bigger, modern facility where its name was changed to TKS and remained in operation until August 2010 after which it was sold and is now Malama Market.

Another place that many old time residents of Honokaa remember is Hamakua Fountain which served up great hamburgers,  french fries, soda, “ice shave”, and “guri guri” in a classic fountain setting. It closed a long time ago after the owners retired. Hamakua Fountain along with a barber and tailor were located in the Ferreira Building through most of the 1960s and 1970s.

My most recent trip to the Ferreira Building was to have lunch at Grandma’s Kitchen and visit the Hamakua Plantation Museum, both of which are owned and operated by businessman Larry Ignacio.

Honokaa People's Theater

The Honokaa People’s Theatre built in 1930 has been in operation as the community movie house from day one. The theatre was bought from the Tanimoto family in 1991 by the Dr. Tawn Keeney. From that time onward,  the theatre was slowly renovated, upgraded, expanded and modernized while still maintaining its unique charm as one of the few standalone facilities in Hawaii that still show movies today. In addition to films, the theatre has also become a concert venue, dance hall and community meeting place. Dr. Keeney’s daughter Phaethon runs the People’s Theatre which now includes a café with in-house, public WiFi.

Growing up in Honokaa I spent good amounts of time watching all kinds of movies at the theatre including favorites such as “The Sound of Music,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Patton” and the original “Star Wars”. After not attending a film there for decades, I finally went to see another movie in 2014 called “Honokaa Boy“. It is a Japanese movie filmed in Honokaa where the theatre itself was one of the key locations used in the film’s story. My Dad had a small part in the movie.

Hotel Honokaa Club

As for the Hotel Honokaa Club, I never stayed there. However back in the day it was the place to go for a party or a fancy sit down dinner that usually consisted of steak and lobster. Today the restaurant operation is no more, but the hotel still functions as such and is a popular stay for tourists wanting to get off the beaten path.

Along Mamane Street// old Hasegawa Store Building is going through the process to be included on the registry. My Mom used to take us shopping there for clothes. She also bought sewing supplies and patterns from them. There used to be a candy rack up in front, a few grocery items in the back and a tiny shelf of odd toys. The aisles inside the store were narrow and surrounding them were shelves filled mostly with clothes… men, women, and children’s clothes. Today the building is the home for two businesses that sell holistic items and exotic souvenirs.

Of course Honokaa is much more than all of the historic buildings. It is a great place to browse and “walk the town” from one end to another. Businesses have come and gone over the years, especially since the sugar plantation ended in 1994. People who live in Honokaa commute to various work locations with some lucky enough to work in town. The community remains vibrant, filled with all kinds of activities. Tourism, agriculture and government services drives the town’s economy. The significance of being included in the National Register of Historic Places will likely be a great benefit to this special place.



Text and photos by Melvin Ah Ching.

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