Airlines add flights to keep travelers away from Maui

Passengers attempt to rest and sleep after canceled and delayed flights while others wait to board flights off the island as thousands of passengers are stranded at Kahului Airport (OGG) following wildfires in West Maui in Kahului, Hawaii on August 9, 2023.

Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images

Airlines have added flights to keep travelers away from Maui after wildfires on the Hawaiian island killed at least 55 people and prompted evacuations.

American airlines, Southwest Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines said they were adding a service to help customers leave. More than 11,000 people have been evacuated from the island since the fires began, Ed Sniffen, the state’s transportation director, said at a news conference Wednesday evening local time, NBC News reported. Much of the beach town of Lahaina burned, after the fires were fanned by winds from Hurricane Dora.

Hawaiian Airlines said it added six additional flights to Maui on Thursday and is using larger planes between Honolulu and Maui to transport passengers as well as water, food and other essentials. The carrier has discouraged travelers without reservations from flying to Maui’s Kahului Airport due to crowds.

“While we are currently operating our full schedule and have seats available on flights departing from Maui today, we are focusing our resources on transporting essential personnel and first responders,” the carrier said. It also warned of possible disruptions to other routes “as we work to meet essential travel needs on Maui.”

An American Airlines spokeswoman said the carrier plans to operate all scheduled flights to and from Kahului Airport on Thursday. A spokeswoman said the carrier had “added an additional flight and upgraded an aircraft today to ensure customers evacuating OGG can do so.”

The airline replaced its narrow-body Airbus A321s, which seat about 190 passengers, on some of its flights with a Boeing 777-200, one of the largest planes in its fleet, which has 273 seats, according to the site American Internet.

Southwest Airlines also said it was adding service to Hawaii from the U.S. mainland and intra-island flights.

United Airlines said it canceled Thursday’s inbound flights to Kahului Airport but was flying planes empty to pick up travelers on Maui.

Alaska Airlines said it added a “rescue flight” Thursday, bringing the carrier’s total departures from Maui to nine.

“Our primary concern is the safety of our employees and guests,” the airline said in a statement. “We are considering adding more rescue flights to help people get off the island.”

All major airlines have waived fare differences and cancellation penalties for travelers whose trips were affected by the fires.

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