HONOLULU -- Amid the flurry of bad news from the airlines, travel agents in Hawaii had something to cheer about -- the call-off of the merger of Hawaiian and Aloha airlines.

It was something they had been hoping for since the proposed deal was announced early this year.

"We're quite happy," said Danny Casey, ASTA chapter president for Hawaii and an agent with Quality Travel, Honolulu. "In the long run, consumers in Hawaii are better off in a competitive marketplace."

The Hawaii ASTA chapter, with 110 agents representing 60 agencies, had asked its members to contact city, state and federal officials to oppose the merger, calling it "anticompetitive and harmful to consumers."

The chapter met with Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano "to shed light on the real issues," Casey said, namely concerns that the merger would lead to higher prices and poor service.

In addition, a group calling itself Citizens for Competitive Air Travel presented a petition to Cayetano with 20,000 signatures opposing the merger.

The deal also attracted opposition from employees of both airlines and several shareholders who had filed suit to block it.

Nonetheless, the end of the deal came as a surprise to everyone in Hawaii, said Casey. And coming as it did two days after Delta's zero commission announcement, it was a welcome bit of good news.

"Having just one carrier in Hawaii would not be a good situation for consumers and for agents," he said.

The merger would have hurt the neighbor island agencies the most because Hawaiians who live outside of Oahu depend on the two carriers to travel to Oahu for flights that connect to the mainland.

Casey said agents were concerned that with one carrier offering interisland travel, there would have been less of a need for the airline to work with travel agents. The airline would have gone direct to clients, he said. Also, there was a fear that discounts on the interisland flights would disappear.

Hawaii residents depend on discounted flights, sold through books of coupons to agents and consumers, he said. Agents buy the coupons in bulk and mark them up for sale to clients.

The two carriers had said they sought the merger because they could not survive without it. But agents said they could see no reason that Hawaiian and Aloha would need to offer flights at the same time to the same places.

The result, agents said, would have been half-full planes and loss of revenue for both airlines.

Asked if he feared for the survival of the two carriers in the intensely competitive interisland environment, Casey said, "This marketplace can handle two carriers."

Bonnie Gutner, of Travel Inc., Kailua, Oahu, said the main beneficiaries of the call-off of the merger will be the "people of Hawaii, particularly Hawaiians who travel regularly to other islands to visit family."

She also said she believes both carriers can survive with healthy interisland sales if they manage their businesses efficiently.

The merger collapsed March 16 when the companies could not reach a deal to extend their merger agreement beyond the April 18 deadline.

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