OAKLAND (CBS SF) — After months of cancelled flights because of the COVID-19 outbreak, Hawaiian Airlines has resumed travel to the islands from Oakland International Airport.
On Sunday, the airline relaunched its service with the first of five flights this week to Oahu. Flights to Kahului, Maui were slated to return on Nov. 19 and flights to Lihue, Kauai on Dec. 16.
In April, airlines officials halted nearly all flights after Hawaii placed severe restrictions on travel to the state.
Southwest also was set to resume flights from Oakland to Kauai and Maui on Nov. 4. The airline had maintained twice daily service from the East Bay to Honolulu through the COVID-19 crisis for essential shipment of goods and transport of medical personnel.
On Wednesday, normal passenger traffic will resume. On all flights to the islands on any airline, a passenger is required to undergo pre-testing before boarding a flight.
The resumption of travel comes after United flights were restarted in mid-October from San Francisco International.
Angela Margos was among the first passengers in San Francisco to get on a plane headed for Hawaii, where travelers who test negative for the coronavirus will no longer be required to self-quarantine for two weeks.
“Vacation, peace of mind,” said Margos, a nurse from San Carlos, on why she’s flying to Hawaii. “I need time to relax, unwind.”
The pre-travel testing program allows visitors who test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their arrival in the islands to avoid quarantine — a measure that’s been in place for all arriving passengers for most of the year.
Officials had touted the mandatory quarantine rule as an integral part of Hawaii’s early success in keeping the coronavirus at bay. The new testing program is an effort to stem the devastating downturn the pandemic has had on Hawaii’s tourism-based economy.
But gaps in the pre-travel testing program coupled with increasing cases of COVID-19 across the U.S. have raised questions about whether Hawaii is ready to safely welcome back vacationers.
And when local restrictions were eased before summertime holidays, community spread of the disease spiked to alarming levels, forcing a second round of stay-at-home orders for residents and closures for non-essential businesses.
Opponents of the testing program have said a single test 72 hours before arrival — especially when coupled with the option to fly without a test and still quarantine — is not enough to keep island residents safe.
Hawaii’s economy is almost entirely built around tourism and local families who rely on the sector to survive need to return to work.
More than 100 of Hawaii’s approximately 4,000 restaurants, bakeries and caterers have closed permanently and more than 50% predict they will not survive the coming months, officials have said.
Monica Toguchi Ryan, whose family has owned and operated The Highway Inn restaurant on Oahu for over 70 years, said the lack of tourism has been crippling.
“The restaurant and service industry has suffered so much during this pandemic,” Toguchi Ryan said. “Restaurants have not received any federal relief since the spring and are struggling to pay their expenses. Some restaurants have closed entirely, unable to pay for their rent, food supplies and staff wages.”
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.