Decrease in flights is packing a punch for state exporters

Updated: Mar. 27, 2020 at 6:56 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - For the past 14 years, John Hernandez has sold high-grade ahi to some of the most famous restaurants and fish markets on the mainland.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, his sales have drop by 80 to 90 percent. But worse yet, he said he’s struggling to find an airline who will transport the goods that he can sell.

“It’s murder, it’s murder for us exporters ... We can’t get flights out," said Hernandez, co-founder of John’s Fresh Fish.

While most food suppliers and exporters rely on shipping companies to move their goods, companies that sell highly perishable food products to the mainland typically use the major airlines.

Eddie Flores, founder of L&L restaurants, says the lack of flights are making it harder and costlier to supply the company’s 150 mainland franchisees.

“Since Hawaiian Airlines cut down the flights to Las Vegas ... we actually have to ship to California, then truck it over. So you can imagine how much more it costs us to send our products to the mainland,” said Flores, who noted that L&L’s sales have dropped 50 percent since the city and state ordered restaurants to shutdown their dining-in services.

“This is one of the toughest times I’ve been through in business. I’ve never seen anything like this before -- 9/11 is nothing compared to what’s happening right now.”

Before the coronavirus pandemic, there were about 400 domestic and international flights a week at Hawaii’s airports. That’s now down to about 80.

But help may be one the way. Under the federal bailout, the airlines will increase the number of flights from current levels.

In exchange for financial support, they’ve agreed to fly the minimum number of flights spelled out in their collective bargaining agreements, said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, (D) Hawaii.

“So there will still be the capacity to ship both by sea and by air. Everybody is going to have access to what they need," he said.

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