HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaiian Airlines executives had a problem: Their planes were burning more fuel than projected on their 2,600-mile route between Honolulu and American Samoa.
Various factors for increased fuel use, like winds, were ruled out. So the carrier asked passengers on the twice weekly flights if they wouldn’t mind being weighed before boarding.
The results of Hawaiian Airlines’ six-month voluntary survey found that on average the passengers and their carry-on bags were 30 pounds heavier than anticipated, and it prompted a new policy: Passengers are no longer allowed to select their own seats on flights between Hawaii and the U.S. territory.
Instead, they are assigned seats when they check in for their flights at the Honolulu and Pago Pago airports to ensure that weight is evenly distributed around the jets’ cabins.
But the new policy has prompted complaints to federal transportation officials and claims that people from American Samoa are being targeted because of their weight.
“What they’re saying is Samoans are obese,” said Atimua Migi, who was seeing off his father, Mua Migi, at Honolulu International Airport Monday for the nearly six-hour flight to Pago Pago, American Samoa’s territorial capital.
“That’s an entirely incorrect assumption,” responded Jon Snook, Hawaiian’s chief operating officer.
Snook said he was surprised to see headlines worldwide about the issue, and said many media reports were inaccurate in saying that the airline was assigning seats based on passenger weight.
The row design of the Boeing 767 jets used for the flight has two seats on each side of the plane, three seats in the middle and two aisles.
Using the results of the survey, airline officials found that if adults all sat in one row of the plane, the combined weight of those passengers might exceed load limitations in crash-landing situations, Snook said.
Officials are now trying to keep one seat per row open, or at least fill those seats with children who weigh less than adults.
San Francisco-based travel industry analyst Henry Harteveldt said the move by Hawaiian Airlines was unusual, saying he had “never heard of any other U.S. airline doing this on any other route that it operates.”
But Snook said other carriers have and that the Federal Aviation Administration establishes average weights of passengers with their carry-on luggage for carriers. The airline in an online Q&A about the seating policy said “airlines may choose to conduct their own survey in markets in which they believe weights differ materially from FAA averages.”
The airline chose to manage distribution of passengers instead of limiting how many seats could be sold, which would have driven up ticket prices, Snook added.
Daniel King, who filed one of six complaints sent to the U.S. Transportation Department between Sept. 29 and Oct. 10, called the new policy discriminatory because it only applies to the Pago Pago flight.
Most passengers on the flights “are of Samoan descent, which also begs the question of discrimination,” said King, an American Samoa businessman.
But the department decided that “Hawaiian Airlines’ policy of not offering pre-assigned seats on certain flights is not on its face discriminatory,” Transportation Department spokeswoman Caitlin Harvey in an email.
“What they’re doing is logistically the most sensible thing under unique circumstances,” said Gary Leff, who writes the viewfromthewing.com travel blog.
Snook said Hawaiian has conducted similar weight studies for its Asian markets, where the average weight calculated ended up being lower than previously projected, and no policy change was enacted as a result.
No complaints were lodged during the Honolulu-Pago Pago weight survey, which ended in August, said Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Alex Da Silva.
Other passengers on Monday’s flight had not heard about the new policy or were not bothered by it.
“I’m cool with it, I don’t mind,” said Jake Brown, headed to American Samoa for the first time, after receiving a seat assignment in the back of the plane, his preference.
Jennifer Sinco Kelleher wrote this report. Fili Sagapolutele in Pago Pago, American Samoa, contributed to it.
I'm a US Marine Corps veteran who wanted to take his 84 year old disabled mother to Maui for a vacation. I have heart condition and my mother is on oxygen, in addition to a series of other ailments which prevent her from taking most trips. We booked a flight with Hawaiian Airlines through a travel agent who informed the airlines of our need for wheelchair service in addition to a letter for an oxygen concentrator. Upon arrival at the San Francisco ticket counter for Hawaiian Airlines we had already paid for our baggage and checked in so they put our bags on a flight to Maui, then we were told that the letter which we had printed on United Airlines stationary was not acceptable to Hawaiian Airlines. We had arrived for our flight approximately two and a half hours prior to departure figuring that we would be able to take care of any situation which might arise.
In the early stages of the interaction, the person at the ticket counter required us to take apart the concentrator to get numbers off the battery of which we accommodated, in addition to providing them the numbers off of the backup battery which was at the bottom of a carry on. We were told that there is no way that they can accept that because it was on United Airlines stationary. The doctor's authorization on United Airlines stationary has been used with Delta Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines without any problems.
There was no mention of an additional requirement for the doctor's signature on the required documents letter or HA form to be within 10 days of travel. We were informed by the ticket agent that there's nothing they can do and that we need to get this letter from the doctor authorizing the use of the oxygen concentrator on his stationary or preferably the Hawaiian Airlines waiver which can be acquired on the Hawaiian Airlines website. Once this form is filled out by the doctor, to have him fax it to us and then they can reschedule our flight for the following day. Although there would be a $200 per ticket charge for changing our flight times. [ (+) $400]
We had already turned our car in at a park and fly hotel in the area so we were pretty much stuck at the airport. The hotel being customer service oriented was very understanding and provided us our vehicle and a ride back to the hotel in addition to a discount on the hotel for the next night. After speaking with the doctor we acquired the HA form (we were told this is the best option) which he filled out and faxed it to us at our hotel. Finally, we met ALL, the HA requirements (hoops), and we were thinking that we would be experiencing the Aloha Spirit within 24 hours. WRONG!!! Not with the customer service provided by Hawaiian Airlines in San Francisco. We arrived the following day at about the same time at the HA ticket counter with a Hawaiian Airlines waiver for an oxygen concentrator, having jumped through all the Hoops that HA had asked us to do.
At that point the ticket agent which was aware of our situation from the previous day, told us that they could not accept that because it was not the original. Huh, REALLY?? After explaining to the ticket agent how a fax machine works and that the original was in the doctor's office we were then told that they needed detailed O2 (oxygen) titration levels for the entire trip. We told them we have no idea except that it was at 3 L per minute. Fortunately a nurse standing at the next ticket counter explained it to the ticket agent, who responded, "Huh? OKAY."
The next hoop we were required to jump through was that at the bottom of the form next to the doctor's signature he failed to put the date. We reminded her that it was yesterday that they required us to get this form and, her response was once again, "I'm sorry there's nothing I can do" after pleading with her and explain to her how important this trip was for my elderly mother and that this was possibly the last opportunity that she would have to travel, she called her supervisor once again and the response from the supervisor, was seemingly that default response of, "I'm sorry there's nothing that we can do" we were told that we needed to contact our doctor, have him put the date on it and send us back a fax. We reminded the ticket agent that this was Saturday and that we were unable to contact the doctor until Monday which would put us on a flight for Tuesday but there would be a $200 charge for a changing of the reservation.
It seems that the Hawaiian Airlines personnel training is very non-customer service oriented but that they are willing to do many changes in your reservation at $200 a change. I can imagine that the reason that they need this money is because of the decline in travel by customers who have actually booked flights through Hawaiian Airlines and then become disgruntled because of the way in which that they were treated by the customer service people at the ticket counter in San Francisco.