HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaiian Airlines has stopped letting passengers pick their seats when booking flights between Honolulu and American Samoa, citing safety reasons.
The change boils down to weight distribution -- and it's generated lots of buzz since being implemented two weeks ago.
The new policy was implemented following a six-month voluntary survey, in which passengers to and from American Samoa were asked to step on a scale with their carry-on luggage.
Earlier in the year, Hawaiian had discovered its planes were burning more fuel than they should have been on the route between Honolulu and Pago Pago.
The survey found that the average weight of a passenger and a carry-on on American Samoa flights was about 30 pounds more than on other routes.
So now, the airline only allows seven adults per row instead of eight. And everyone is given assigned seating.
Passenger Tua Heede bristled at the changes.
"I think it's very discriminatory against people of a certain race," she said. "Why American Samoa?"
But aviation expert Peter Forman believes Hawaiian did the right thing.
"The passengers need to understand they're not being singled out," he said. "They're really being put in a situation where the airlines is willing to take important steps to ensure their safety. If you don't take the correct weight into account what happens is the plane burns more fuel and there's issues as far as the structure of the air plane in case of a hard landing."
Airline officials say since the news about the new policy broke, there's been a lot of misinformation.
And Hawaiian is also stressing that the change has nothing to do with the weight of the aircraft or individual passengers; it's about the distribution of weight in case of an emergency.
"We assign the seats to make sure families and couples sit together," a Hawaiian Airlines spokesperson added. "If everyone pre-selects seats and we have rows with eight adults, we would have to move people around."
Some passengers interviewed Monday said they're concerned that the change could make it harder to catch a flight to or from American Samoa. Right now, Hawaiian is the only airline that flies to Honolulu from American Samoa and it offers just two flights a week.
"It's already hard enough to get on a flight because it's the only flight," said passenger Makerita Vaa. "But then to cut off the seats makes it 10 times worse. Maybe add an additional flight if that is the case."
Hawaiian confirms this is the only flight with this policy.