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PR Showdown: Airlines Court Hawaii Ahead of Merger Decision

As anticipation mounts over the Department of Justice’s impending decision on the proposed merger between Hawaiian and Alaska Airlines, key players in the Hawaii airline sector are not just passively waiting. Instead, they’re actively courting the Hawaii community and visitors through various do-good initiatives, each aiming to bolster their public relations standing and demonstrate their commitment to the islands. Let’s delve into what these airlines are doing to position themselves in this unique battle and what it could mean for travelers and residents alike. And we’d like your take on these efforts.

United Airlines: strengthening local ties through community and environmental efforts.

First up, United Airlines wants to leverage its deep roots in Hawaii, which span nearly eight decades, by solidifying its presence within the local community. United is the airline partner of the Aloha Swim 2024 event, which calls itself “the hottest party of the season.”

We’ve never heard of this and, at first glance, thought it was a swimming competition. However, after checking the event website, we found that tickets are $50 a person for the three-hour event on June 1. The agenda includes a fashion show, gourmet bites, music, and cocktails to support the Outrigger Cares Foundation.

United also collaborates with local non-profits and supports environmental initiatives to preserve Hawaii’s natural beauty. The airline also believes a notable gesture towards local entrepreneurship is the introduction of its Hawaii-themed amenity kits, featuring products and artwork from local creators we’ve written about before.

United has announced that the upcoming summer travel season is poised to surpass all previous records. While not specifically related to Hawaii travel, that signals a robust recovery for the airline.

Alaska Airlines: Offering hope and respite through the Maui CARE flights program.

Alaska Airlines has launched the Maui CARE Flights program, a collaborative effort with local government and organizations. The airline will offer over 3,000 free flights to Maui fire-affected individuals, providing them a much-needed respite.

Starting in July, the program includes a special charter flight to Disneyland for affected families, complete with airline tickets, accommodations, and park passes. Through 2025, Alaska Airlines will provide 180 roundtrip tickets each month, first targeting families and seniors.

This contribution by Alaska underscores its dedication to supporting the Hawaiian community in times of need and building lasting relationships beyond mere business interactions. We give Alaska high marks for supporting this distressed Maui community.

Hawaiian Airlines: supporting employees and the community.

Hawaiian Airlines, deeply entrenched in the local fabric of the islands, does not have any new initiatives we are aware of. We don’t know whether this could be foreshadowing what’s ahead for the carrier.

Instead, the airline recently said that it was recognized for its exceptional support of employees in the National Guard and Reserves. The airline received the highest honor for empowering these individuals to fulfill their duties, including deployments for relief efforts such as those following the Maui wildfires.

This accolade highlights Hawaiian’s commitment to its team and its long-standing role in an array of broader community support initiatives.

Southwest Airlines: engaging with Hawaii through cultural celebrations.

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines is making its mark in another way by sponsoring culturally significant events aimed at Hawaii visitors and residents alike.

This includes the regular Kilohana Hula Show which BOH editors enjoyed and wrote about recently (Sunday through Wednesday at 9:30 am at Waikiki Shell), and the upcoming monthly Sunset On The Beach Events at Queen’s Beach Waikiki.

Movie nights feature live music, games, food, and free movie screenings under the stars. It is part of Southwest’s celebration of its five-year anniversary in Hawaii. Such initiatives reflect Southwest’s strategy to foster its connection with Hawaii through cultural events. We give high marks to Southwest for its support of ongoing free and cultural events that benefit both residents and Hawaii visitors alike.

The race for airline community engagement and PR supremacy.

As these airlines that fly to Hawaii deploy their unique strategies to win over the hearts and minds of Hawaii, it becomes clear that the implications of the DOJ’s decision on the Hawaiian/Alaskan merger extend far beyond regulatory and business considerations.

The winner of this PR battle will not only earn favor in public perception but also gain a potential strategic advantage in our highly competitive airline market. For Hawaii’s residents and frequent visitors, these initiatives signify growing attention to local needs and desires, hopefully translating into more meaningful and sustained engagements from these major airlines.

Who do you think is winning this PR race?

Image courtesy Waikiki Improvement Assn.

Anna Harden

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