Flight attendants debate Hawai‘i’s reopening

Hawaiian Airlines has implemented many protocols to help keep
passengers and crew safe during the pandemic.
– Dylam Ashe via Creative Commons

by Kealani Lui-Kwan

Special to Ka ‘Ohana

With Hawai‘i reopening for travel, many wonder if it is safe and worth risking the health of Hawai‘i residents in order to keep the economy afloat. That’s true even for those whose jobs depend on tourism.

AJ Quinn has been a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines for 35 years.

“I work for the airline industry, and we rely on tourists coming to Hawai‘i,” she said. “And I have to think about the safety of my family and friends and my community regarding COVID.”

Quinn said it is difficult to have a pay decrease yet relieved in the sense that by not working, she can focus on staying healthy.

“COVID-19 has affected my company, and it boiled down to me and my salary. But it has also given me the opportunity to take the voluntary furlough and not put my health and my family’s health in jeopardy by working,” she said.

She said that the state is taking the right steps to protect residents and travelers by encouraging testing before flying, having testing sites around the community and reminding residents to wear masks.

However, Alex Lui-Kwan, another flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines who has flown for 35 years, disagreed and expressed disappointment in the options that the state has given to keep passengers safe.

 “The state is implementing programs to keep them safe by doing the pre-flight test,” he said. “But if you don’t have a test, all you do is quarantine. But if you are infected, you are opening up (the virus) to everybody on this aircraft, which I feel isn’t right.”

According to a May 2020 study published in the BMJ, a peer-reviewed medical trade journal by the British Medical Association, the rate of false negatives of COVID-19 molecular tests (also called PCR tests, viral RNA tests or nucleic acid tests) is as low as 2 percent and as high as 37 percent, which creates a large margin for error.

Hawaiian Airlines said it is taking extra precautions to make keep travel safe for passengers and crew, including installing new air filters, cleaning the aircraft with electrostatic machines and implementing social distancing protocols that minimize the risk of infection.

But the pandemic has driven some to pursue new paths, like Dennis Yoneoka who was a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant for 42 years. Yoneoka decided to take early retirement due to the fact that he had pre-existing health conditions that could make him more susceptible to COVID-19.

“I also have to deal with regret and the sadness of leaving a company that I was not ready to leave after 42 years,” he said. “So with the emotional aspect and having to look for something that is not quite as financially stable is really something that I have to deal with.”

Yoneoka said that the hardest part about not working during the pandemic is the “uncertainty of the future.”