Hugs shared, tears shed as Island Air employees say goodbye


There were tears and plenty of hugs at Daniel K. Inouye International Airport Friday as Island Air workers wrapped their last day on the job.

The company is shutting down after 37 years in business.

Island Air’s last flight was #449, which was scheduled to depart Kahului (OGG) at 10:14 p.m. and arrive in Honolulu (HNL) at 10:49 p.m.

Many of the passengers on that flight are employees.

“Just one last time together flying as a family,” said Kali Piccoli-Wong. “Just because the airline is ending doesn’t mean we’re ending.”

An announcement was made just the day before, catching both passengers and employees off-guard.

Island Air filed for bankruptcy last month, and the company was unable to find new investors.

Many workers found themselves putting up a brave front, while wondering what they’ll do next. But the hardest part, they tell KHON2, is saying goodbye.

Customer service agent Debbie Maluina tried to hold back the tears as much as she could, but there were times when it was just impossible.

“I was trying to hold it together,” she said. “You know, it’s your livelihood. Some people, they do it for the flight benefits, but I do it for my family to pay the bills. Who doesn’t?”

It’s been even more emotional for those who have spent so much time working for the company. Glenda Aki worked for 17 years as a flight attendant and then as a customer service agent.

“What’s been the most difficult part?” KHON2 asked her.

“Not working with my coworkers,” Aki replied. “It’s been the best part is working with my coworkers, a very good family to work for.”

Family is a recurring theme. Workers talked about missing each as well as the customers.

“*I’m just going to miss that interaction and being able to spread the aloha spirit within our community and within our islands,” said flight attendant Kawika Kahana.

As hard as it’s been for the workers, they tell me they still have one more mission: get the passengers to where they need to go on this final day.

“It really shows the spirit of Hawaii and the spirit of aloha, and just having them, seeing them come from other airlines, showing their support, knowing that it doesn’t matter what airline we work for, it’s still Hawaii and we’re still one big family,” Kahana said.

Workers tell us they want to stay in the airline business. That includes Brian Kaae, who also lost his job when Aloha Airlines shut down nine years ago.

“Today is deja vu again. It’s something that I never expected again, but always expect the unexpected,” he said.

There are opportunities out there. Hawaiian Airlines is holding a recruitment fair for Island Air employees on Saturday, Nov. 18.

The job fair will be open to Island Air employees only from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hawaiian’s Honolulu headquarters at 3375 Koapaka Street.

Hawaiian Airlines managers will be available to meet with former Island Air employees to discuss career opportunities on a first-come, first-served basis, and guide them through the application process. Hawaiian will be posting additional job openings on its recruitment website in coming days.

Job seekers attending the fair will also be able to meet with representatives with Ohana by Hawaiian, which is operated by Empire Airlines and offers passenger and cargo service to Oahu, Lanai, Molokai, and Kapalua in West Maui.

Free parking will be available on the sixth floor of the Airport Industrial Building. Check-in begins at 9 a.m., followed by three, 30-minute informational sessions starting at 9:30 a.m.

Hawaiian Airlines plans to announce similar job fairs for former Island Air employees on the neighbor islands.

Current Hawaiian Airlines job openings can be viewed online here.

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