How airlines are helping people flee Maui wildfires

As residents and visitors rushed to escape the impact of deadly wildfires in Maui, some airlines said they are adding more flights, swapping in bigger planes or making other changes to help accommodate evacuees.

Airlines are also offering travel waivers and eliminating fees for travelers whose plans are changing, though details vary by carrier.

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According to an update from Maui County officials, 14,900 visitors left the area on flights Thursday. That followed the departure of more than 11,000 passengers from Maui on Wednesday, The Washington Post reported.

At a news conference Wednesday night, Hawaii Department of Transportation Director Ed Sniffen said airlines had brought in larger planes, lowered fares and kept service running.

Southwest

Southwest added service on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday to its more than 90 daily flights to and within Hawaii to help carry supplies, as well as people who need to respond to the fires or get away from them.

The airline’s website showed that some of the one-way flights leaving Kahului Airport on Maui Thursday afternoon for Honolulu and most departing throughout Friday start at $19. Others departing Thursday morning started at $49.

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines said in a blog post Thursday that it ran 9 additional flights Wednesday and Thursday to help the evacuation efforts. On Wednesday, the airline carried 5,786 people out of Maui. The carrier said every main cabin seat from Kahului to Honolulu has been made available for $19 through Aug. 14 “so costs would not be an obstacle to those needing to leave.”

The airline is also reserving space on planes for cargo such as blood, medical supplies, infrastructure equipment and food and water. And Hawaiian said it has donated water, sandwiches, amenity kits, mattress pads and other supplies for evacuees at the airport.

American Airlines

American Airlines said in a statement that it added an extra flight on Thursday and upgraded one Los Angeles-bound plane from a 190-seat aircraft to one with 273 seats “to ensure customers evacuating OGG [in Maui] are able to do so.”

The airline said it is upgrading another Los Angeles-bound flight to a larger plane on Friday, and adding a round-trip rescue flight each day on Saturday and Sunday between Maui and Los Angeles.

“We’ll continue to monitor the evacuation needs from Maui and adjust our operation in a way that supports our customers and our team,” a statement said.

United

United said in a statement that it canceled inbound flights to Maui on Thursday so planes can fly empty and be used to ferry passengers back to the mainland. “Our teams are monitoring the situation closely and adjusting our schedule so we can keep serving our customers under difficult conditions,” the statement said. “We’re emphasizing safety as always and checking on the welfare of our employees on Maui.”

Delta

Delta spokesman Drake Castañeda said in an email the airline has operated extra sections out of Maui and instituted fare caps along with offering travel waivers.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines said it is delaying some flights but planned to keep operating its eight scheduled departures from Maui daily, with one more added on Thursday.

A rescue flight left Seattle that morning filled with supplies including water, food, linens, baby formula and diapers; it was scheduled to bring passengers back to Seattle early Friday morning.

The carrier said it was also planning additional rescue flights to help people leave. While Alaska does not typically fly between islands in the state, a blog post said it was sending flights between Maui and Honolulu to get people out and bring supplies in.

“What we’re seeing in Hawaii is devastating and we’re monitoring the situation closely,” the Alaska Air statement said. “Our main concern is the safety of our employees and guests.”

Kelsey Ables contributed to this report.

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