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Hawaiian Air says it conducted 6-mos. survey before arriving at new seating policy

Hawaiian Airlines’ decision to assign seats at the airport on its Pago Pago flights was the most efficient way to manage weight distribution for the Boeing 767 aircraft following a six-month survey this year that found that aircraft cabin weight was much heavier than projected, says airline spokesperson Ann Botticelli.

As a result, the airline implemented a new policy where passengers can no longer pre-select seats via the airline’s website or kiosk for its Pago Pago flights, instead that seat assignment is done at the airport.

However, the policy has been described by local businessmen Avamua David Haleck and Daniel King as discriminatory because it only applies to the airline’s Pago Pago flight and it’s only on the Pago Pago flights that passengers are weighed in at the airport. (See Samoa News edition Sept. 30 for details.)

Responding to Samoa News questions, Botticelli said the policy “resulted from the recognition that our fuel burn on Pago Pago flights was consistently much higher than projected, indicating that our weight assumptions were inaccurate.”

“We review weights on any flight that demonstrates such a discrepancy,” she said last Friday via email from Honolulu. “For example, we surveyed our Japan and Korea flights in 2015 and our new Narita flight this year.”

Since fuel consumption can change due to a multitude of factors like wind, fuel policy change, flight routing, etc., she said, “we perform a process of elimination to eliminate all other factors before we conclude that the assumed passenger weight is not representative of the actual passenger weight for a particular route. That triggers a passenger weight survey to establish a new ‘standard’ passenger weight for that route only.”

She explained that the airline conducted a survey — using Federal Aviation Administration protocols — during a six-month period beginning in February where every passenger and their carry-on luggage was weighed.

Among the passengers who were also weighed during their summer trip to Pago Pago were four Hawaiian top executives including Botticelli and the airline’s president and chief executive officer Mark Dunkerley.

“The survey confirmed that our aircraft cabin weight was heavier than projected,” Botticelli said. “This requires us to manage the distribution of weight across each row in our cabin and we have elected to do so by making sure that one seat in each row is either empty or occupied by a traveler under the age of 13.”

“The decision to assign seats at the airport was made because that is the most efficient way to manage weight distribution. I know it's a hassle, and we apologize for that,” she said. “We could let passengers continue to pre-select seats, but we would still have to move passengers around based on the need to keep one seat per row either empty or assigned to a child.”

She added, “This allows us to make sure that families with children are seated together, for example, and it minimizes the confusion created by changing pre-selected seats.”

Samoa News learned last Friday afternoon that at least five more local residents have either filed or will soon file complaints with the federal government over Hawaiian’s new policy.