Prognosis looks good for Hawaii's mainland arrivals

awaii's mainland market is working its way back to better health. One positive sign is United Airlines' plan to reinstate in February two daily flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles that it cut Oct. 31. The carrier also will add two weekend flights from Denver to Honolulu.

Another sign is improving arrival numbers from the mainland.

Honolulu travel agent Linda Schewe of Schewe Travel Associates said the reinstated United flights are indeed a sign of sunnier times ahead.

Hawaii's domestic market is showing signs of a rebound, with improving visitor numbers and a renewed commitment by United Airlines. Above, visitors view lava flowing into the ocean off the Big Island. A day before United announced the return of the flights, Schewe said, "I think if the airlines added a couple of more flights, they would fill up right away."

Schewe said the Oct. 31 United cut left the market on air seats very tight, especially during Christmas and New Year's.

"There are some holiday dates where there are zero coach seats available on any airline in the whole market," said Schewe.

"Roundtrip prices for the holidays are around $800 to $900 depending on where you're coming from, and people don't want to pay that. All the cheap fares that came out after Sept. 11 are gone."

Domestic visitor numbers to Hawaii were down about 20% in October compared with the same month last year, but down only about 10% in November, according to the state Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism.

Add that to the fact that United -- Hawaii's largest carrier -- has raised the number of seats to Hawaii slightly more than its pre-Sept. 11 levels and you have at least the building blocks of a turnaround.

"Does this point to a turnaround? I sincerely hope so," said Outrigger Hotels chief executive officer David Carey.

"Anecdotally, I continue to hear that planes are full, but if you look at the hotel numbers around here, it doesn't show. Maybe the advance bookings on the airlines haven't washed through to the hotels yet, but I hope they do.

"By February, I think it will be better, unless we have another [terrorist] event," Carey said.

"The United flights are a good sign, and we have been really fortunate that we have maintained most of our lift throughout this whole thing."

With the February flights added to the market, United will have 19 daily flights in

addition to the new weekend flights from Denver.

United managing director in Hawaii, Tom Renville, said the fact that the airline is reinstating the flights is important because every move the airline makes right now is made with the utmost priority of filling seats.

"Because Hawaii is so heavily dependent on leisure travel. it has historically been very difficult to make any sort of profit in the market," said Renville. "The people at United who schedule these flights look at these things very carefully. So, if they are adding these flights, that is significant."

What's more, Renville said, Hawaii is lucky to have the demand at this time.

"Growth in any location in today's environment is a strong statement, so these new flights show that United is committed to and has confidence in the Hawaii market," he said.

Renville said with newer, more efficient aircraft in the air, the decision to reinstate the flights cut after Sept. 11 was made easier.

The Saturday and Sunday flights from Denver to Honolulu start Feb. 2 on 777 aircraft.

Part of the decision to add the flight from Denver was fueled by demand from customers of Norwegian Cruise Line's new weekly Hawaiian island cruises that start Dec. 16, said Renville.

The San Francisco and Los Angeles flights will begin again Feb. 15.

The San Francisco flight will use 757 aircraft, and the Los Angeles flight will use 767 aircraft.

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