On final day, Island Air employees share hugs, tears — and disbelief

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Island Air filed for bankruptcy protection nearly a month ago, but news that it was shutting down still took employees by surprise.

"We love our passengers and each other," said employee Judy Flores, holding back tears. "We're here working because we loved Island Air."

Employee Austin Kaleikini said the shutdown "came out of nowhere."

He added, "It is what it is."

The second-largest carrier in the islands announced Thursday that it will end all service the following day, leaving passengers scrambling and employees stunned. Island Air has 432 employees, and the state has pledge to help personnel sign up for unemployment insurance and seek new jobs and training.

Between exchanging hugs Friday and shedding tears, Island Air employees say they're still baffled at how things went south so quickly.

At the start of the year, Island Air appeared to be doing well and was expanding its fleet. Tourism in Hawaii was booming.

"We actually thought that we were going to do good," said employee Shaun Kaleikini. "I guess we just assumed that everything was going to be alright."


Kaleikini was among the dozens of shocked Island Air employees who gathered at Island Air's terminal on Friday morning to meet with state Labor Department officials.

"This is just a heartbreaking story and a little bit shocking for us," said Linda Chu Takayama, state Labor Department director.

She said staffers in her agency met with Island Air workers to talk about how to apply for unemployment benefits and to provide resources for job training and employment with other companies.

The good news, she said, is that unemployment in Hawaii is low (at 2.5 percent) and there are many jobs to be had.

"If ever there was a good time to be looking for a job, this is the time," she said.

David Uchiyama, president and CEO of Island Air, said in a news release that he appreciated the "outpouring of support from so many local businesses that want to provide opportunities for our employees."

"Our 423 dedicated employees are among the best in the industry," he said. "I can't speak enough about the commitment, work ethic, professionalism and company loyalty our team members have displayed throughout their careers, and I am confident they will make positive contributions to other businesses and organizations that need talented, experienced and committed individuals."

Uchiyama also said that he hopes to be able to pay employees for their work through Nov. 10, but that determination will be up to a bankruptcy court trustee.

Meanwhile, Mokulele Airlines says it's already taking applications from Island Air employees. Hawaiian Airlines said it would hold a job fair for displaced workers on Nov. 18 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the airline's Honolulu headquarters.

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