Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

Many Hawaii tourism stakeholders were pleased last week to hear Virgin America officially announce plans to inaugurate flights from San Francisco to both Oahu and Maui later this year.

The California-based carrier said it would begin daily nonstop service between San Francisco and Honolulu on Nov. 2. The airline then plans to add daily nonstop service between the Kahului Airport on Maui and San Francisco Dec. 3.

Virgin America is still working with the FAA on its Extended Operations (ETOPS) Certification for longer-range flights over water, but the airline plans to operate new 149-passenger Airbus A320 aircraft on the Hawaii routes following their delivery later this year.

“This announcement is exciting news for Hawaii,” David Uchiyama, the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s (HTA) vice president of brand management, said in a statement. “We have been working together with Virgin America for more than five years to make these new flights and their entry into our market a reality.”

According to Uchiyama, the flights will generate more than $138.6 million in annual visitor spending for the state, and increase access to the Hawaiian Islands from “both our core U.S. West and U.S. East markets through Virgin America’s extensive nationwide flight network.”

Virgin America’s decision to enter the Hawaii market comes during a period of increasing domestic airlift to the Islands. The HTA was already projecting total airlift to Hawaii from the U.S. mainland will grow by 7.4% year over year in 2015 prior to Virgin’s April 7 announcement.  

David Hu, president of Classic Vacations, said his company is “excited to see a new airline enter into the Hawaii market.”

“Additional capacity from a carrier such as Virgin will benefit the travelers from this market in allowing for more choice,” he said. “Anytime we see more suppliers enter into a particular market, whether they be new hotels, new destination services or new airlines, it creates additional interest [and] helps grow the overall destination.”

Jack Richards, CEO and president of Pleasant Holidays, also welcomed Virgin America’s Hawaii announcement, noting that the new service will benefit more than just Oahu and Maui by allowing for “convenient connections to the Neighbor Islands of Kauai and Hawaii Island.”

“Overall, we see this as very positive for Hawaii tourism,” Richards said.

Virgin America will offer three service classes on its new Hawaii routes, including first class and a main cabin along with its Main Cabin Select option, which features free food and cocktails, an all-access pass to media content and dedicated overhead bins.

Main cabin seats will have TVs, but travelers will need to pay for access to programming as well as for alcoholic drinks. However, Virgin America’s satellite TV and WiFi services will not be available in any class on the airline’s flights to Hawaii over the Pacific.

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