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Airlines make ready for no-quarantine flights

New boarding and deplaning procedures among changes for interisland travel

Kahului Airport’s arrivals area is empty Friday afternoon. Come Tuesday when the quarantine on interisland travel is lifted, there could be a lot more flyers at the airport. The flying experience will be different in the COVID-19 era. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Hawaiian Airlines, Mokulele-Makani Kai Air and Southwest are ready for take-off as interisland travel without quarantine begins Tuesday.

The airlines have modified their boarding gates, in-flight services and TSA checkpoints with the lifting of the 14-day quarantine on flights between the islands next week.

“Our guests arriving at Kahului and our other airport stations will notice new and enhanced health and safety procedures throughout their travel,” Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva said Thursday.

All passengers are required to wear face masks or coverings through the airport and while boarding, through the flight and while deplaning at their destination. TSA is allowing passengers to bring liquid hand sanitizer up to 12 ounces in carry-on bags until further notice, according to Hawaiian Airlines’ “Keeping You Safe” website.

For the month of June, Hawaiian has offered a base schedule of five daily round trips between Kahului Airport and Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Da Silva said.

“Once the state’s 14-day interisland quarantine ends June 16, we will be increasing our frequency to up to nine daily round trips to welcome more guests while continuing to provide them more personal space in our cabins,” he said.

For the service between OGG-HNL, Hawaiian is primarily using mid-sized Airbus A321neo aircraft, in addition to the Boeing 717 aircraft traditionally flown on Neighbor Island routes.

“At the same time, we will increase our Ohana by Hawaiian flights from two to three daily round trips between Honolulu and Molokai and Lanai,” he said. “We will keep a close watch on demand and adjust as needed.”

Hawaiian also has modified its boarding and deplaning process to promote safe distancing between guests. Passengers are asked to remain seated at the gate area until their row is called to board. Six-foot markers have been placed on the ground at gates, ticket counters and baggage claim areas to ensure social distancing.

Main cabin flyers will board from the rear of the aircraft in groups of three to five rows at a time. Passengers who need special assistance and those seated in first class will be able to preboard.

Hawaiian will be deplaning by rows, starting from the front of the aircraft, while asking guests to remain seated until their rows are called. Agents may pause boarding and deplaning as needed to prevent congestion.

Da Silva recommends Neighbor Island travelers arrive about 90 minutes prior to departure.

Hawaiian Airlines’ Plumeria Lounge and all Premier Club locations at all airports are temporarily closed.

For more information about what safety modifications have been incorporated to combat COVID-19, visit hawaiianairlines.com/Keeping YouSafe.

For Southwest Airlines, passengers can expect similar procedures.

“We’re operating in accordance with all local protocols, and our Mainland service will return only as restrictions are lifted to once again invite visitors,” said Brad Hawkins, Southwest spokesman.

Hawkins said that middle seats on flights will remain open through at least July 31 to provide passengers more personal space onboard. Those traveling together can sit together.

Southwest boards in groups of 10 and only on one side of the boarding column at the gate to help maintain social distancing. Planes are deep cleaned and sanitized between each flight.

Since May 22, water with straws and a snack mix on flights over 250 miles have been served when available. For all other flights, snack and beverage services are temporarily suspended to limit personal contact.

“The lifting of the mandatory quarantine for interisland travelers is encouraging, but we continue to offer a service pattern designed for essential travel for locals and the movement of supplies,” he said. “Southwest remains supported to island communities and to island residents with limited essential service.”

The airline has four departures and arrivals a day from Kahului — three flights to Honolulu and one to Kona. Four departures and four arrivals are about half of the airline’s normal interisland service, Hawkins said.

Nearly all flights between Hawaii and the Mainland are suspended right now, except for the nonstop route that links Honolulu and Oakland daily, he said.

Downloading a mobile boarding pass is recommended to limit the amount of physical contact with airport agents. Hand sanitizer is available at check-in kiosks, ticket counters and gates. Wipes will be available for passengers onboard.

Commuter airlines are preparing for interisland travel without quarantine as well.

Keith Sisson, Mokulele Airlines spokesman, said that “we are still waiting final guidance from the state on the process that will begin next Tuesday, but from what we have been told thus far the process for flying from the commuter terminals on Mokulele will be very easy.”

Mokulele, a Southern Airways company, and Makani Kai Air, the main competitors in the Maui County commuter air market, announced the merger earlier this month with bookings for the combined airline beginning Monday. The new airline will carry the Mokulele Airlines brand.

“From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, both Makani Kai Air and Mokulele have worked towards ensuring that their passengers are the best-served in the industry. To that end, going forward we are joining forces with Mokulele Airlines on a permanent basis,” Makani Kai said on its website.

The combined airline will continue to have direct flights between Honolulu and Kahului, Kapalua and Molokai airports as well as flights between the islands of Maui County and Hawaii island. The new airline also will be offering twice-daily round trips between Honolulu and Lanai City at the end of the month, a news release said.

Mokulele also has a flight between Kahului and Hana airports.

Flight credit and bookings on hold on Makani Kai Air will be honored by the new combined airline, Makani Kai said. Mokulele will begin taking over Makani Kai facilities as well.

Both airlines fly single-engine, nine-passenger Cessna aircraft.

Although having to reduce its schedule, Mokulele has not missed a day of flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The airline has provided flights for essential workers, medical appointments, free delivery of about 70,000 pounds of groceries and even catered a hot meal for the residents of Kalaupapa, according to a news release.

Like other airlines, the mask requirement is in effect during check-in, boarding, in-flight and deplaning. Some young children and other individuals with qualifying health conditions or disabilities are exempt from this policy.

Even with the additional mandatory travel form and thermal temperature checks, Sisson said that “we do not believe any of this will be a major inconvenience for the passenger.” Commuter airlines, which fly out of their own terminal at Kahului Airport, have touted the easier check-in and security procedures.

The recommended passenger check-in time has been 30 minutes prior to the flight for Mokulele, but Sisson recommended arriving a little earlier to avoid feeling rushed.

Booking trends are monitored daily, and flights and staff will be added as the demand returns.

“It is our goal that there will always be Mokulele seats available to our customers,” he said. “We are seeing great demand for travel next week. We are hopeful those trends will continue.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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