Soaring airfares stranding residents of Hawaii’s remotest towns - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Soaring airfares stranding residents of Hawaii’s remotest towns

Stephen Prokop Stephen Prokop
Boogie Kahilihiwa Boogie Kahilihiwa
Meli Watanuki Meli Watanuki

By Paul Drewes - bio | email

KALAUPAPA (KHNL) - Sky high prices for flights keep some from Kalaupapa - on the ground.

If you're on Oahu, a $500 round trip flight will get you to Vegas and back. But for residents of Kalaupapa, it only means a round trip flight to Maui or Oahu.

The steep cliffs of northern Molokai have isolated the people of Kalaupapa for centuries. But now those who live and work here feel isolated for a different reason.

"Unless you're making a 6 figure salary, you're stuck!" said Stephen Prokop, the Superintendent with the Kalaupapa National Historical Park.

Pacific Wings is the only airline that flies in and out on a daily basis. But in the past year and a half, the price of these flights have really taken off.

"The airfares went from 100 to 200 dollars roundtrip and more recently all the way up to 500 dollars," added Prokop.

As the price has gone up, so has the frustration for those who live here.

"I'm angry! Pacific Wings is our lifeline to Oahu and Molokai. Think about it, a 5 minute flight for 485 dollars...that's ridiculous!" said resident Boogie Kahilihiwa.

Meli Watanuki has lived here since 1969. She spends a lot of time taking care of her plants and yard. But monthly trips to Oahu for medical reasons take her away from quiet Kalaupapa.

She reluctantly pays for flights when she needs to because she is a Hanson's disease patient living here.

"My health is more important. As it is for many of us patients. But we stay here and pay the price," said Watanuki.

Not only is the price of the flight a problem, but so is reliability of service. Some residents and patients on Molokai have ended up stranded during trips to other islands.

"They said 'no more flight'. I went to Honolulu to the doctor and when we got to the airport - they told us 'they cancelled the flight'" said Watanuki.

A year and a half ago, Pacific Wings received a federal subsidy to fly to rural areas like Kalaupapa and Hana.

But now that they are no longer getting that money - airfares have been soaring. Along with a $500 flight in and out of Kalaupapa, Hana residents can pay up to $1000 for a round trip flight to Oahu.

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