New Hawaiian Airlines service to Utah officially takes off

A Hawaiian Airlines airplane departs a gate at Salt Lake City International Airport for Honolulu on Thursday. The airline now offers daily service between the two cities.

A Hawaiian Airlines airplane departs a gate at Salt Lake City International Airport for Honolulu on Thursday. The airline now offers daily service between the two cities. (Hawaiian Airlines)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Lokesh Amaranayaka says he knows that the Hawaiian Islands "have a special place" in many Utahns' hearts.

The Beehive State is home to about 50,000 Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islanders, which — according to the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute — is the fifth-highest total in the U.S. It's also a popular vacation destination.

"These communities are so closely linked together," said Amaranayaka, vice president of airport operations for Hawaiian Airlines.

The connection between Utah and Hawaii is now even closer.

Hawaiian Airlines' service to Salt Lake City officially took off on Thursday, as the airline began service to its 16th gateway city. The company gathered at Salt Lake City International Airport Thursday morning for a ceremony to launch its new service.

The celebration featured traditional Hawaiian music, dancing and a blessing ceremony before passengers boarded the first flight from Salt Lake City to Honolulu.

"We start with gratitude, taking this opportunity to pause and think about this really important day in the history of our airline and being able to be a part of a new community," said Debbie Nakanelua-Richards, director of community and cultural relations for Hawaiian Airlines.

The airline announced it would begin service to Utah for the first time in its 95-year history back in November. It plans to offer daily nonstop service between the two state capitals.

Shane Andreasen, director of real estate and commercial development for the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, said he was "looking forward to this day" since that announcement. While Thursday was officially months in the making, he points out that it took a brand new airport to welcome Hawaiian Airlines or any other airline operating out of the old terminal that closed in 2020.

The old airport reached full capacity, so it didn't have the gates, ticket counters or other infrastructure needed to bring in more airlines or services.

Airline officials pointed out that its official launch date seemed fitting because it landed in the middle of Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. To that end, Alyn Toalepai, president of the Utah Pacific Islander Chamber, said he believes the new airline service may serve as a "grand opportunity" for members of Utah's Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander community to revisit where their ancestors traveled from.

"It's an opportunity for our students, our families, to be able to voyage back and learn from the past," he said.

Meanwhile, Hawaiian Airlines' celebrations in Utah aren't over just yet. The airline will hold an event at City Creek Center from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday to celebrate its new Utah service and its 31 Days of Lei campaign. The free event will feature music, food, hula, an orchid hair-pinning station, as well as flower lei and item giveaways.

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Carter Williams is a reporter who covers general news, local government, outdoors, history and sports for


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