Sunday | June 25, 2017
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United Airlines increases number of flights to Kona

KAILUA-KONA — Starting in December, residents and tourists alike will have new options when it comes to flying in and out of West Hawaii, with increased flights to and from three mainland cities to the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole.

“We are listening to our customers and our customers have told us they want more ways to get to the Hawaiian Islands,” said Jonathan Guerin, spokesman for United Airlines, “so we are growing our footprint in response.”

While the airline’s recent announcement doesn’t add new destinations, it is increasing the frequency of flights between Kona and three existing destinations: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver.

Currently, United has one daily flight from Los Angeles to Kona and two flights daily from San Francisco to Kona. The airline currently only offers seasonal service between Kona and Denver.

Starting Dec. 20, United will double its flights from Los Angeles to Kona to two flights daily and increase the number of flights from San Francisco to three a day. Furthermore, the airline said its seasonal Denver-Kona routes will become year-round daily flights.

The announcement came as part of the airline’s plan to increase to 40 daily flights to Hawaii.

“Hawaii is a premier destination and its popularity continues to rise — we are excited to provide more convenient options for customers to get to Kona and to other islands year-round,” Guerin said. “Based on the demand for service to Kona, we made the business decision to increase service.”

The airline declined to say how many people have been flying on existing routes.

“Hawaii fits perfectly into United’s domestic route network — all of our hubs not only are in cities with significant Hawaii traffic but also are ideally geographically situated to connect customers from other points,” Guerin said.

He added that the airline’s hubs in San Francisco and Los Angeles are the largest connecting points to Hawaii in the industry and that Denver International Airport is “an optimal connecting point” for customers from the Midwest and Rocky Mountain regions in small and midsized cities that don’t have direct access to West Coast airports.

Wendy Laros, executive director of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, and Ross Birch, executive director of the Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau, welcomed the airline’s announcement.

“Wow, the momentum continues,” Laros said. “Our visitor industry members and partners are telling us that the addition of more direct flights from United Airlines is a game changer.”

Laros also referenced other airlines’ efforts to increase service to Kona, including Hawaiian Airlines’ three-times-a-week flights from Haneda Airport in Tokyo and Japan Airlines’ anticipated daily direct service between Narita Airport and Kona.

According to the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism statistics, 137,459 people visited Hawaii Island in April of this year, up from 117,430 in April 2016.

Birch similarly noted the announcement’s significance.

“We are thrilled by United Airlines’ announcement to expand flight routes between the Island of Hawaii and Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco,” Birch said in a statement. “Increased flight options into both Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport at Keahole and Hilo International Airport not only support the growing demand from visitors seeking to experience our inspiring destination, but also benefit our local tourism industry partners.”

Increased service isn’t the only change the airline announced.

Starting this summer, premium cabin customers on overnight flights from all Hawaii airports to Chicago, Denver, Houston, New York/Newark, N.J., and Washington, D.C., will have 180-degree flat-bed seats.

Guerin said the flights are now available for purchase.

Email Cameron Miculka at cmiculka@westhawaiitoday.com.

 

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