Former Aloha Airlines workers reflect on anniversary of shutdown

Kalena Awa
Kalena Awa
Na'i McCarthy
Na'i McCarthy

By Zahid Arab - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - It was the day the state stood still, the largest mass layoff in Hawaii history.

March 31st, 2009 marks the year anniversary of Aloha Airline's shutdown after more than 60 years of service in the islands.

Without much notice, news spread fast that the shutdown would cost the 19-hundred airline workers their jobs. It's still fresh in their minds on this eve of that day.

"I feel like it was a bad dream," said former Aloha Airlines flight attendant Kalena Awa.

"You're sort of numb," said former Aloha Airlines flight attendant Na'i McCarthy.

"It was surreal," said Awa.

"This is for real, this is for real, this is the end. It was like hey, hold onto each other as long as we can because we don't know where we're going to be tomorrow," said McCarthy.

"It's hard it's very hard for me," said Awa.

Kalena Awa can't keep the emotion away.

"I told myself, come to work, you're not going to cry," said Awa.

She was an Aloha Airlines flight attendant for 41 years. A year later, the gut-wrenching feeling of that day resurfaces.

"You have a job, all of a sudden you don't have a job," said Awa.

Like Awa, Na'i McCarthy was hired by Mokulele Airlines five months ago. She was lucky, but says Aloha's shutdown sent her struggling for answers.

"Where do you start, what do you do, do you go back into the airline industry," said McCarthy.

Finding a new career path wasn't what workers worried about, what really hurt was losing family.

"We all grew up together, we were in our 20's, in our 30's, in our 40's, in our 50's together," said McCarthy.

Pilots packed up their lives to find employment around the world away from their families while others still search for employment.

"Persevere, hang in there because you had this wonderful career at Aloha and now it's time to bring it out to everyone," said McCarthy.

While many former Aloha workers have found new employment, a year later, hundreds still remain unemployed.

According to the state, almost 400 have used up unemployment aid, which lasts 46 weeks. That equals about 20% of the former airline's staff.