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Amata meets with airline officials for briefing on status of AA- HAL merger

amata meeting with Alaka and Hawaiian Airlines officials
No interruptions to service for American Samoa assured by HAL COO

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The news that Alaska Air will acquire Hawaiian Airlines for approximately $1.9 billion, subject to federal regulatory approval has local residents wondering what this means to their wallets.

Currently, many American Samoa residents claim that the cost of Hawaiian Air fares to Hawaii from Pago are astronomical — especially when compared with Hawaii to the Mainland fares, and that the fares are high because HAL is the only airline flying to and from Hawaii on scheduled flights. There is no competition is the common refrain from local residents.

Tuesday in Washington D.C., American Samoa’s Congresswoman Uifa’atali Amata met with senior officials from both Alaska and Hawaiian Airlines for a briefing and to discuss issues of concerns that could arise related to the proposed merger between the two airlines, as recently announced.

In a media release from her Washington office, it was noted that Congresswoman Amata met with Alaska Air Group’s Senior Vice President for Fleet, Finance, and Alliances and Treasurer Nathaniel Pieper; Diane Rakow, Alaska Air Senior Vice President for Public Affairs; Hawaiian Airlines representative Margaret L. Cummisky, Managing Director, Federal Government Affairs; and Kate Geldaker, Director of Government Affairs and Public Policy for Alaska Air.

Additionally, prior to the meeting, Hawaiian Airlines COO Jon Snook reached out to Congresswoman Amata in a conference call and assured her that there would be no interruptions to service for American Samoa.

“I appreciate Hawaiian Air COO Snook pro-actively reaching out to me directly to inform me and our people of the potential acquisition, if federal regulators approve this merger,” said Congresswoman Amata.

“I greatly appreciate some of the new leadership from Alaska Air including their Treasurer Mr. Pieper coming to the American Samoa congressional office to explain their commitment to American Samoa flight operations along with their continued Hawaii operations.”

According to the media release, in the meeting, first and foremost, the Congresswoman’s priority was to reiterate the absolute need for both airlines and federal regulators to look at how to reduce the cost of travel between Pago Pago and Honolulu.

“This is important air service for our community, including our Veterans who need their VA care in Hawaii on a regular basis,” Congresswoman Amata continued. “Every customer from American Samoa needs relief from the current exorbitant fares, and I will be asking regulators to condition approval of the agreement based on a concrete plan to do so.”

Amata stated, “I would be opposed to a merger if it would raise prices further, and I want to see a meaningful plan to reduce airfares between Pago and Honolulu, so they are more reasonably  aligned with the fare price per mile that other jurisdictions pay for similar distances.

“The average cost to fly to Los Angeles from Honolulu is less than half the cost to go the same distance from Honolulu to Pago Pago International Airport.

“I look forward to working with the airlines in addressing the cost issue.”

Amata concluded, “I also appreciate Alaska Air’s outreach to explore job training opportunities for both local Samoans and Hawaiians in the industry, as Alaska’s planned expansion in the region with Honolulu as a hub for both freight and passenger traffic could be beneficial to the people of American Samoa in the long run.”

“No doubt Hawaiian Airlines has been working hard in recent years to recover from the pandemic, and I want American Samoa to be part of the solution for Alaska Air’s expansion into the broader Asia-Pacific market with the goals of increased job training and lower cost fares.”

The merger deal would keep both airlines’ brands, according to press releases from both AA and HA about the merger.

A press release from Gov Lemanu P.S. Mauga’s office also issued on Tuesday says the governor has been monitoring the information available surrounding the acquisition of Hawaiian Airlines by Alaska Airlines. As this deal continues to develop, the Governor plans to reach out to both Hawaiian CEO Peter Ingram and Alaska CEO Ben Minicucci to discuss what such an acquisition would mean for American Samoa passengers.  He hopes discussions can be had about adding additional options for those flying to and from American Samoa.

While current reports suggest that both companies expect the deal to take 12 to 18 months to complete, questions are also being raised about regulatory scrutiny of the deal and whether or not the current federal administration will allow the purchase. So, no immediate changes are expected but the Governor remains committed to working toward improved air transportation services for the entire territory.

A report from the AP said that the deal has been approved by the boards of both companies, but it still needs an OK from the shareholders of Hawaiian Holdings. It will also need the blessing of U.S. regulators, which have resisted more airline consolidation out of fear it could lead to higher fares.