The deadly wildfires on the island of Maui are likely to affect visitor — and airline — demand to the island for the “foreseeable future,” analysts at T.D. Cowen said Friday.
“Resort destinations in Maui are likely to disappear from plans for the foreseeable future, but we believe Hawaii overall will remain an aspirational vacation destination for travelers,” they wrote in a report. The analysts expect the recovery to “take years,” citing as an example the two-year recovery in air travel demand to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma hit the island in 2017.
The wildfires, believed to have been fueled by high winds from a hurricane that passed near the Hawaiian islands, leveled the historic town of Lahaina, killing at least 55 people and displacing thousands on Wednesday. The region of West Maui affected is isolated with just one road in and out.
The outlook is tough news for Hawaiian Airlines, which is the largest airline on the island and operates a secondary hub at Maui’s main airport of Kahului. T.D. Cowen expects the impact the be “meaningful” for the carrier. Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Alaska Airlines — the second, third, and fourth largest airlines to the island — are also likely to feel the affect of less demand to Maui.
“We expect capacity to shift away from Maui as a destination and to Oahu, [and] the Big Island,” the T.D. Cowen analysts wrote. “Kauai may also benefit.”
Most airlines have stopped carrying non-essential travelers — or all passengers in some cases — to Maui. Instead, they have been transporting supplies to the island from the mainland U.S., and filling departing flights with those eager to leave the island after the fires. Hawaiian and Southwest are offering seats for just $19 between Kahului and Honolulu.
Airlines have all waived change fees for certain previously booked tickets to Maui, and some are offering rebooking flexibility, including allowing travelers to change their destination in Hawaii free of charge. As of Friday morning, American Airlines‘ waiver applied to trips scheduled by August 13; Alaska and Delta Air Lines by August 15; Hawaiian and United by August 31; and Southwest by September 4.
Non-essential travel to Maui is strongly discouraged for the time being.