Mar 032014

After our stop at the Post Office, we got back to the airport around 4:30 for our 6:45pm flight on Island Air to Honolulu. As the taxi was taking us back she asked us who we would be flying to Honolulu. “Oh, Island Air? I would never fly them. They are always late.” Grrrreat. Given the light rain and heavy clouds, this wasn’t boding well.

Then, my phone pinged. It was the FlightTrack app alerting me we were now delayed until 8pm. UGH. I went straight to the Island Air counter to try and figure out what was going on. Seemed the plan was in Honolulu still. It was like pulling teeth, but eventually the agents admitted it was weather in Molokai preventing them from arriving. When we’d been through Honolulu the week before waiting on our flight to Kona, we heard the Island Air flight to Molokai getting delayed over and over…seemed this was a semi-regular occurrence.

I wasn’t overly convinced the flight would ever leave, so asked if they would sign us over to Mokulele Airlines instead. No, they wouldn’t, and regardless, all the flights on Mokulele were full. By chance, I asked the folks at Makani Kai if they had a flight. Yes, they did at 5:45. It was one-stop via Kalaupapa, and there were plenty of seats. Ugh, I wish there had been better info about this when I was exploring prior to the trip, because instead of coming back up to Moloka’i topside we could have flown straight from Kalaupapa to Honolulu! The agent was also enough to hold two seats for us, while we tried to get our baggage back from Island Air.

Island Air was completely unhelpful, telling us we just had to wait, and if the flight canceled maybe they could put us on a flight the next day. “You have non-refundable tickets, so you don’t have a choice. It might be tomorrow, if not, hopefully the next day.” At this point, I wasn’t trusting I was even getting honest information from them, and at $65 per ticket I resigned myself to just eating the cost. Tickets on Makani Kai were $50 plus $10 tax per person, which seemed to be a small price to pay to ensure I got to Honolulu that day.

Makani Kai confirmed us, and told us that we could “just pay when you get to Honolulu.” Wait, what?! Just then, the Makani Kai plane showed up, and turns out our friend Britney would be taking us to Honolulu! On top of it, they had realized down in Kalaupapa there was just one passenger on the Kalaupapa to Honolulu flight, so they brought him up to topside. It would be the same two pilots, the two of us, one guy from Kalaupapa, and one lady who already had a reservation. This was starting to feel like the twilight zone!

Makani Kai Airlines
Moloka’i (Topside) Hawaii (MKK) to Honolulu, Hawaii (HNL)
Depart 17:45, Arrive 18:15, Flight Time 30 minutes
Piper PA-31 Chieftan, Registration N135PB, Manufactured ???, Seat: Row 1 Portside

Britney told us to go ahead and take row one, so I took the same familiar seat one more time. The clouds were looking seriously ominous by now, and I wasn’t feeling super confident flying this little plane through some serious clouds. Had it not been for two previous flights in this plane with this crew, I might have been a little nervous.

When I asked how they could fly (and Mokulele in their Cessna) when Island Air was delaying, it was because the ATR they fly into Moloka’i doesn’t have GPS, and thus has to land with a visual approach.  With low clouds, they were prohibited from operating.  Seems that nearly half the time they end up canceling due to weather.  Um, perhaps they should revisit the aircraft they fly?

Takeoff was smooth, but at about 2,200 feet (seeing the altimeter also comforted me) we started running into some serious cloud cover.  Even as we kept going up to 6,000 feet, the clouds were throwing us around  pretty good.  That combined with the fact that I couldn’t see anything out the windows was a little unnerving.  Several times it felt like we were dropping quite a bit, but the altimeter was telling the truth.

Eventually, we poked out of the clouds a slight bit:



After about 30 minutes in the air we were on approach to Honolulu:

We landed, and taxied not to the main terminal, not to the commuter terminal even, but to Makani Kai’s own private hanger:


We walked inside, and paying was a very casual affair.  We were invited back into the business office, it was all entered into the computer, and we paid with credit card and were done.  It was almost like flying a private jet…and much more pleasant than Island Air!

The office even had a fish!



I called Alamo, and yes, they were happy to send their bus to the Makani Kai terminal to pick us up.  The whole thing worked out very smoothly!


So, I should probably tell you how things with Island Air ended.

The flight was delayed until 9pm, and then it finally left Honolulu.  On approach to Moloka’i, they realized that conditions still weren’t permissible, so the plane returned to Honolulu and our original flight canceled.  When I called their 1-800 number I was basically told “too bad, non-refundable ticket, not our problem that you don’t want to go some other time.”  When I asked to speak to a manager, I was told there are no managers, and I can file a complaint online if I would like.

Upon returning home, I did just that, and basically got the same thing back…with a twist.  They would “as a one time exception” waive the $25 change fee and allow us to use the $65 each for another year.  Um, I have no plans to fly Island Air and you told me I would likely be stuck for 2-3 days.  I think you can make a customer service exception.  Nope, absolutely not.

The amusing thing about Island Air’s online complaints system, is it appeared to be some sort of remedy/helpdesk software.  Every time they replied to me, they’d close the case.  I’d go right back in, open it, and post another reply.  On top of that, as long as you have the link to the conversation you can fully edit it.  This went on for about a week back and forth until he informed me my appeal was final, I wasn’t getting a refund, and that was that.  I told him thank you very much, I look forward to resolving this with you in court.

Then, I got a bit nasty.

See, a few years back Larry Ellison of Oracle money bought an entire island in Hawaii.  Well, 97% of it at least.  He then realized he needed a way to get there…so he bought controlling interest in Island Air as well!    So, I had a two-pronged plan.  Since customer service had shut me down (and this was the manager of customer service) I would write directly to the CEO.  I figured it’s a small company, he would see the “big picture” of reputation, customer service, etc, and that $65 wasn’t worth fighting over.  Within 15 minutes, my e-mail had a response, and he was more than happy to make a full and immediate refund…and thanked me for my understanding.    In the end, this guy really turned around the impression of my experience with Island Air, and showed true aloha spirit.

…three days later I was contacted for details to process the refund…by the same customer service manager who had denied me, lolz.  Oops!  He was very pleasant and helpful, and I had a refund to my visa card just a few days later.  Squeaky wheel and all that jazz!  So, all’s well that end’s well.  My saga of trying small airlines in Hawaii can be summed up as positive overall.  Given the chance, I’d fly Makani Kai any time I can…they were absolutely awesome, and made flying fun!  Mokulele was great as well, no complaints at all!  Island Air started off as a bit of a negative experience, but I’d give them another shot I suppose.

Oh, and just announced, Island Air will cease flying to Moloka’i on April 1.  I would guess they finally realized their planes just can’t reliably operate there, but of course the official reason is “to allow better utilization of our fleet.”

  One Response to “MKK-HNL on Island Air…maybe!”

  1. In planning trips around Hawaii, I have often seen Island Air as one of the first options pop up on and I never ended up using them for inter-island traveling. I still have some islands to see in Hawaii, and now I know I will never use them… thanks for the heads up!

    Great trip to HI.

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