Hawaiian Airlines CEO: State should loosen interisland travel restrictions

A Hawaiian Airlines executive said Friday that people should be allowed to travel freely from island to island now that new COVID-19 cases are low.

Hawaiian Airlines CEO Peter Ingram said during a livestreamed interview Friday that the state should remove coronavirus testing requirements for interisland travelers regardless of whether a “vaccine passport” program is implemented. Currently, the state enforces a 10-day quarantine for travelers to any island that isn’t Oahu, unless the traveler tests negative for COVID within 72 hours of departure.

“If you think back to August, when those restrictions went in place again, it was a time when we were having over 300 cases a day in Oahu, (and) the positivity rate was far higher in Oahu than the rest of the state,” Ingram said. “If you look at the data now, it tells you that Oahu is almost entirely in line with the state average. A lot of the cases that are still existing are almost entirely community-spread. There’s not travel-related cases.”

Ingram said loosening interisland travel makes sense based on the science, but added that he expects a testing requirement will remain in place for out-of-state travel for the foreseeable future.

However, Ingram also believes a vaccine passport program — where travelers who can prove they have been fully inoculated against COVID-19 are exempt from travel restrictions — is the next logical step from the state, even if such a program comes with logistical issues.

“The biggest impediment to that is the logistics of verifying that you’ve had your vaccine,” Ingram said. “People who’ve had their vaccine, they’ve all got their little white piece of paper that shows that. There’s really not an easy way to validate that, I understand, by uploading it into the Safe Travels application. So we may have to look at pieces of paper for some period of time.”

As for international flights, Ingram said Hawaiian Airlines currently is offering limited flights to Tokyo, Osaka and Seoul, but added that the major sticking point for most travelers is the fact that traveling from Hawaii to Japan or South Korea and then back again will require at least three COVID tests at the traveler’s expense.

Until those countries lower their own travel restrictions, Ingram said, there isn’t much the airline can do to make those flights more practical.

While air travel is starting to recover since the worst days of the pandemic, airlines are still reeling. Ingram said Hawaiian Airlines is currently losing about $1.3 million a day, although it’s an improvement from last year, when the airline was losing more than $4 million a day.

Hawaiian Airlines also recently opened three new routes this year, with a fourth to launch next month. By the end of April, Hawaiian will run nonstop flights between Honolulu and Austin, Orlando and Ontario, and another nonstop flight between Kahului and Phoenix.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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