If you flew go! airlines from Kona to Honolulu in May at 7 p.m., you had an 85 percent chance of your flight being late, and you would have waited on average more than two hours.

Go! earned the dubious honor of being listed by the U.S. Department of Transportation as the only carrier this year with a flight — Kona to Honolulu — that was chronically late for four consecutive months. The airline had 32 flights that were chronically late for two or more months through midyear.

The situation has become so bad that a top Hawaii tourism official brought it up with the CEO of go!’s parent company during a visit to corporate headquarters in Arizona in April. The official, David Uchiyama, HTA’s vice president of brand management, said he is concerned go!’s flight delays are leaving tourists with a bad impression of the islands.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation,” Uchiyama said. “We do have concern for the experience that some of our visitors are encountering with go! Any time our visitors’ experience is subpar, we’re concerned.”

Federal data show that Mesa Air Group Inc., which operates go!, was chronically late from two to four consecutive months on 32 interisland flights between January and June, according to the most recent figures in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report. The report considers a flight chronically delayed during a month if more than 50 percent of the scheduled arrivals are more than 30 minutes late.

Go! says that part of the problem was two of the five planes go! has in Hawaii were sent to the mainland for maintenance, which left go! without a spare aircraft.

Chris Pappaioanou, who last week was promoted to president of go! from general counsel of Mesa, acknowledged that the past few months have been tough for go!

“For summer we made a conscious decision to fully schedule planes as much as possible to keep fares low,” Pappaioanou said. “The more flights we can put into the market, the more seats we can offer at low fares. We knew when we fully utilized aircraft, if unscheduled maintenance occurred (with the three remaining aircraft), it could result in delays.”

Pappaioanou said the situation has been exacerbated by competitor Hawaiian Airlines‘ unwillingness to enter into an agreement with go! to accept displaced passengers directly from go!

“Every other airport that we operate in, carriers have protection agreements that allow passengers and bags to essentially transfer seamlessly when there’s an irregular operation, and Hawaiian has refused to enter into this type of agreement with go!,” he said. “We think that’s negatively impacted passengers.”

Hawaiian confirmed Friday it does not have a protection agreement with go!, but senior Hawaiian officials were not available to explain why.

Uchiyama said the HTA has received “a handful” of complaints about recent delays on go!, and the website Yelp is inundated with negative reviews. Yelp gave the airline an average 1 1/2-star rating based on 143 reviews from Honolulu and an average 1-star rating for 23 reviews from Maui. The maximum rating possible is five stars.

Among some of the Yelp comments:

–“On the day I was flying, almost every single go! flight was delayed. There were numerous customers who were angry and frustrated.” — Vivian C. of San Francisco

–“I flew go! for the first and last time RT (round-trip) from Maui to Honolulu this past weekend. It was the worst experience with an airline I’ve ever had. My flight to HNL was delayed 2.5 hours and I lost half a day of my vacation.” — Rachel K. of Kahului

–“The worst service ever. If have a choice do not fly go! Cause it (is) more like a NOGO!” — Julia G. of Sunnyvale, Calif.

All the reviews, though, aren’t negative.

Said Carol V. of Kihei: “We love go! airlines. Over the Pro Bowl weekend we arrived early to the airport. I decided to ask if we could just get on the next flight. We were tired and just wanted to get back home to Maui. We were able to jump on the next flight that was leaving in 15 minutes … our luggage made it, too.”

But things weren’t so convenient for Dale and Debbie Kleier of Hillsboro, Ore., who flew to Hawaii in June to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.

Looking forward to a six-day scuba diving adventure on a boat out of Kona, the Kleiers said they were strung along all day with delays from go! before being bumped off their flight due to overbooking three hours after the flight’s scheduled departure time, according to an email they sent to the Star-Advertiser. The Kleiers said they attempted without success to have go! rebook them on another one of its flights or with another carrier.

Exhausted and frustrated that they missed not only their flight, but that their scuba boat had left port in Kona without them, the Kleiers spent $220 to take a late flight on Hawaiian Airlines and another $192.60 for a hotel in Kona since their ship set sail without them.

“Locals there in Hawaii should put pressure on go! to clean up their act. Because of them we will not return to Hawaii … worst experience we have ever had traveling,” Debbie Kleier said in the email.

Pappaioanou, the new go! president, said go! has a good long-term performance record in Hawaii. He added that its parent company, Mesa, was the No. 1 regional carrier for on-time performance for 29 of 35 months from Aug. 1, 2010, through June 1, 2013. That ranking includes the results of go! and Mesa’s other regional carriers, such as United Express and US Airways Express. Mesa reports its flight-delay data voluntarily to the DOT.

Hawaiian Airlines, the state’s largest carrier, has been the No. 1-ranked airline for on-time performance in the U.S. for each of the past nine years.

Go! began flying in the islands in June 2006. It began a fare war that expedited the demise of an already weak Aloha Airlines, which shut down on March 31, 2008.

Although go! gained some public favor early on when it routinely offered one-way fares ranging from $19 to $39, competitors Hawaiian, Aloha and Island Air all said those low fares were unsustainable because they said no one could make a profit at those levels.

Former Aloha Airlines CEO David Banmiller, now an airline consultant based in Dallas, said last week that Phoenix-based Mesa took a gamble by trying to operate an airline thousands of miles from its home base.

“Go! is sitting out there on an island, and Mesa is in Phoenix,” Banmiller said. “It has a whole different agenda. They don’t pay much attention to what’s happening in Hawaii, they don’t have the right airplanes and it’s an afterthought. It’s a misguided direction for Mesa, and for some reason they haven’t wanted to admit it no matter what they say in print.”

Pappaioanou said his relocating to Hawaii will provide on-site leadership to the 75 go! employees based here.

Banmiller, who brought Aloha through two bankruptcies before shutting it down, said Aloha had the customer service portion right even though it couldn’t make it financially.

“The most important thing that an airline can do is to make sure the airplanes leave and arrive in time, you get your bag and you’re safe,” Banmiller said. “Aloha’s record put us No. 1 in the last two years I was there for on-time performance, fewest passenger complaints and fewest mishandled bags with the Department of Transportation. We were ahead of Hawaiian even though no one thought we could do it.”

Banmiller said he believes there always will be a proper place for two carriers competing within the islands but that the entry of Mesa’s go! disrupted that environment under “the guise of dropping fares.”

“It didn’t stay (low) as none of us expected it to,” Banmiller said. “The citizens of Hawaii are frustrated and disenfranchised to easily travel between the islands for commerce, friends and family. We used to have fares at $49, $59 and $69, and it worked (compared with the $69 to more than $100 that they are at today). And the airlines could make money even where fuel is today.

“I don’t know what the result is going to be, but it’s evolving because we can’t still have a go!, Island Air and Hawaiian. There needs to be some sort of movement to a two-carrier system that works for everybody, and we’re not there. At some point it’s in the best interest of the people in Hawaii to get to that point however it happens.”

(c)2013 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Visit The Honolulu Star-Advertiser at www.staradvertiser.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services. 

Tags: faa, hawaii, mesa
Photo Credit: A go! aircraft on the tarmac in Honolulu. Bill Abbott / Flickr