U.S. airlines have jumped into action to aid with the response to Hawaii’s wildfires.

The fires broke out on Aug. 8 and spread rapidly, with dry conditions and strong winds, prompting Hawaii Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke, serving as acting Governor while Gov. Josh Greene was out of state, to declare a state of emergency.

“These fires have burned thousands of acres, cut off communications, forced closure of roads and schools, and evacuations in the Kohala Ranch, Kula and Lahaina areas,” an Aug. 9 proclamation states. “[They] have caused catastrophic damage in Maui County, have caused damage in Hawaii County, and have strained resources throughout the state.”

As firefighters continued to battle active fires in Lahaina on Maui’s western coast on Aug. 9, a total of 36 fatalities were discovered, Maui County officials said. By that evening, approximately 11,000 travelers and 400 airline personnel had been evacuated out of Maui, state Transportation Director Ed Sniffen told reporters at a press conference. A mass bus evacuation for residents and visitors in West Maui was set to resume on the morning of Aug. 10, transporting residents to a central Maui shelter and visitors directly to Maui’s Kahului Airport.

Hawaiian Airlines has continued to operate flights in support of essential travel to and from Kahului, while offering $19 main cabin fares outbound for urgent travel needs. On Aug. 10, it added more flights to Honolulu to help with evacuation efforts.

“Yesterday, Hawaiian added nine extra flights between Honolulu and Kahului to accommodate departures out of Maui, as well as support emergency response efforts,” the airline said in an Aug. 10 statement. “We are working closely with the state of Hawaii to support the transportation of first responders and supplies and help with the overall emergency response as best as we can.”

On Aug. 10, U.S. President Joe Biden declared the wildfires a major disaster, making federal funds available for recovery efforts.

Hawaii’s statewide emergency declaration strongly discourages all non-essential travel to Maui, and several U.S. carriers have waivers or flexible travel policies in place for the island, including Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines.

“What we’re seeing in Hawaii is devastating and we’re monitoring the situation closely,” Alaska Airlines said in a statement. “We are delaying some flights to ensure smooth operations, but plan on continuing to operate our eight scheduled departures from Maui every day. We also added a rescue flight today [Aug. 10], on top of the scheduled flights. We’re assessing the addition of more rescue flights to help get people off the island.”

Southwest has 90-plus flights per day that touch Hawaii, the airline said in a statement, 60 of which are operated on inter-island services. On top of those flights, the airline added service for Aug. 9, 10 and 11. Southwest also is allowing passengers scheduled to travel to Maui Aug. 9-14 to alter their plans and rebook to their original class of service or travel standby within 14 days of their original date of travel between the original city-pairs without paying additional charges. Customers also can change their departures/arrivals to other points that Southwest serves in Hawaii—Hilo, Honolulu, Kona, and Lihue—without paying additional fees. 

“As the second largest carrier of Hawaii air travelers, we’re adding capacity for needs, more space for supplies and additional seats to move away from challenges or to respond to them,” Southwest says. 

United says it is monitoring the situation closely and adjusting schedules as needed, while also canceling Aug. 10 inbound flights to Kahului so those aircraft can operate to Maui empty and be used as passenger flights back to the mainland. A Delta spokesperson explained the operator has been able to safely continue operations out of Maui to help get individuals out of the region. It has operated extra sections from Maui and instituted fare caps in addition to customer waivers, “to provide maximum flexibility [for customers] to make any necessary changes to their travels without charge,” the carrier said.

During his Aug. 9 remarks, Sniffen thanked the airlines for aiding the state’s efforts.

“We really appreciate what the airlines have done,” he said. “The transpacific carriers—Alaska, American, Delta, and United­— have increased capacity by bringing in larger planes … Southwest has dropped their fares and increased their service, and Hawaiian … will be operating until 2 a.m. today to make sure we can get as many people off Maui as possible.”

Approximately 600 people were expected to stay at Kahului overnight, Sniffen said, as they awaited morning flights on Aug. 10. He noted, “We’re going to have capacity of another 2,000 or so seats available, for the about 1,500 passengers that we expect to want to leave the island tomorrow.”

Article source: https://airlines.einnews.com/article/649418743/hlMo5KOAyAZmtnD7?ref=rss&ecode=vaZAu9rk30b8KC5H

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