A big ALOHA was bestowed upon all 160 passengers aboard United Airlines inaugural flight from LAX to Hilo. The 737 landed and was given a water filled welcome by two Hawaiian Fire Trucks who created a welcoming wall of water with their water cannons as the plane taxied to the gate.
This was a very special event for those of us who live in Hilo. The daily flights to Los Angeles and weekly flights to San Francisco not only make it easier for us and our friends/family to get to and from the mainland, but these flights bring visitors directly to our side of the big island of Hawaii. The Hawai‘i Tourism Authority estimates the new flights could bring 40,000 additional visitors to Hawai‘i Island and may generate about $50.6 million in visitor spending annually.
After landing, Hawaii Mayor Billy Kenoi boarded the plane and welcomed the passengers, then grabbed an armful of leis and started presenting leis to the passengers as they deplaned.
Captain Lance Lau piloted the first flight. He was born and raised in Hilo, so it was a homecoming of sorts to him. He is a flight instructor for United/Continental Airlines in Houston. Captain Lau was honored to take the captain’s seat for the inaugural flight to his home town and arrived looking like a movie star.
This family from Hilo booked tickets immediately when they went on sale for the grandmother and son living in Los Angeles.
Down in the arrival lounge, Mayor Kenoi, Miss Aloha Hawaii, Tatiana Boteilho, and Big Island Visitors Bureau Executive Director, George Applegate were among the dignitaries welcoming passengers. Members of the community were in the reception area along with musicians and hula dancers. Shiny red gift bags were awarded to each passenger arriving in our lovely city. Hilo Coffee Mill gave the passengers a taste of Hilo’s best coffee while they were at the luggage carousel.
Hilo was once the second most busy airport in Hawaii. The introduction of overseas service to General Lyman Field (now Hilo International Airport) in 1967 initially met with success. Joining United Airlines and Pan American Airways in providing nonstop service to Hilo from the west coast of the U.S. were Braniff, Continental, Northwest Orient, and Western Airlines. The number of overseas passengers flying through Hilo peaked at 313,428 in 1971 and remained between 250,000 and 300,000 for most of the decade. Beginning in 1979, however, overseas passenger traffic began to fall steadily, leading one carrier after another to suspend service to Hilo. By the mid-1980s (when the sugar industry left East Hawaii) overseas traffic had fallen by such an extent that United Airlines, the sole remaining overseas carrier, terminated scheduled service on December 1, 1986. The number of overseas passengers travelling to Hilo had declined in each of the previous eight years. During the first eleven months of 1986, United Airlines had served a mere 20,914 passengers in Hilo. Hilo would be left without a direct connection to North America for nearly two decades.
In 2006 ATA began direct flights to Hilo from Oakland and the flights were well filed accepted. ATA even had to use larger aircraft because demand for the flights was so high. However, in just 2 years ATA filed for bankruptcy and once again Hilo was left with no direct flights from the mainland.
When Continental merged with United there was at last an announcement of new service to Hilo. The flights were highly anticipated and there was a huge turnout at the airport to welcome the first flight.
ALOHA to all of those landing in our lush green beautiful town which is blessed with old Hawaii traditions, beautiful waterfalls, amazing flora and fauna, an active volcano and an abundance of culture and art.
If you are interested in visiting Hilo, drop me an email and I will forward you a packet of information about our area. There are some great deals on United from LA and San Francisco in September and October!