The Daily Flight to Work

It’s cheaper and more convenient for some business people to fly every day instead of drive.

June, 2000

If you eavesdrop on a lunchtime downtown Honolulu conversation, you may hear laments over high mortgage payments, traffic tie-ups and a lack of yard space.  But if Susie Thieman is there, you’ll probably hear raves of Maui’s beauty, the peace and quiet of living 2,000 feet up a green and lush mountain and, oh, yeah, she has quite a yard.

Thieman, the Downtown Planet editor and publisher, hasn’t discovered nirvana, although one might think she’s awfully close. She is one of Honolulu’s daily commuters who rely on airplanes to get them to and from work.

Eleven years ago, Thieman, a co-founder of the publication, believed that she and her partners were going to sell the Planet. Then a Kailua resident, Thieman ventured to Maui and fell in love with inviting Kula.

“There just aren’t that many places over here (on Oahu) that someone like me can afford,” says Thieman, who jumped at the purchase of her own piece of paradise. Meanwhile, the Planet sale fell through and Thieman found herself with a beautiful piece of property on one island and a full-time job on another. For five years, she returned to Kula only on weekends and rented an Executive Centre apartment during the week. But due to constant rent increases, Thieman decided that it was actually cheaper to commute every day from Maui, even after adding up the costs of monthly airline passes and airport parking.

Thieman has a truck in Kula and a Cherokee Jeep in Honolulu, which means buying two—not just one—monthly airport parking passes. Monthly parking at Honolulu International Airport is $100 with an initial deposit fee of $25, and Maui’s parking fee is $70 a month. An Aloha Airlines monthly commuter pass runs between $999 and $1,299 while Hawaiian Airlines offers a monthly pass for $1,099. “I sometimes joke that it’s like having a kid in private school that will never graduate,” Thieman says.

You could say that Thieman gets her money’s worth with the much-needed commuter pass, since she’s been known to profit off of the commute. “I’ve sold some ads flying,” she says laughing. Not to mention the story ideas that fellow commuters have generated.

Thieman isn’t the only one saving money with the airlines’ commuter passes. “There are a lot of us,” she says. Although Hawaii Business asked both Aloha and Hawaiian for an estimated number of commuters as well as sales generated from commuter passes, neither would divulge information for competitive reasons.

In addition to individuals such as Thieman, companies also find it less expensive to purchase passes for employees who have business across the state.

Dan Kuni, a construction foreman with Site Engineering, says the commuter pass has saved his company extra expenses. Kuni has been using Hawaiian Airlines’ commuter pass for the last eight years. He lives in Mililani and flies to the neighbor islands everyday to company projects.

“Basically, it saves our company money, because I have to fly everyday,” he says. Site Engineering does civil engineering work, including roads and groundwork.

Don’t forget what the company saves on food expenses. “You can’t beat coming home to your own bed and a home-cooked meal,” Kuni says. “The commuter pass allows me to do that.”

The commuter pass is the right way to go for busy businesspeople such as Kuni and Thieman, but it isn’t necessarily for everyone. In fact, relative to the total resident interisland travelers, the number of individuals who use the commuter pass is relatively small, says Hawaiian Airlines Communications Director Keoni Wagner. Also, commuter passes are not transferable, so if you’re not taking at least one round trip a day, it may not be your best bet.

A schedule is important to the commuter whose time really is money. Thieman flies into Honolulu on the 8:10 a.m. plane and gets to work by 9 a.m. She then returns to Maui on the 6:05 p.m. flight, getting her home by 7 p.m.

Kuni usually finds himself flying to two islands in a single day before returning home. He typically works six or seven days a week. He takes the first flight of the day and boomerangs back to Honolulu between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m., in time for dinner. Unlike Thieman, Kuni saves on parking passes by using the Spouse Express. “My wife drops me off and picks me up, so I’ve got a chauffeur there and back.”

An Aloha Airlines Alii Club member, Thieman has utilized both Hawaiian and Aloha airlines’ commuter passes. “Last year, there was some price competition and Hawaiian announced their first-class program. I tried it for a few months,” she says. It pays to be comfortable when you’re flying so often, says Thieman, who has returned to Aloha Airlines and estimates that she uses the airline for 98 percent of her flights.

But price competition works out well for commuters.  Says Thieman: “It helped to keep things on an even keel.”

With six years under her belt, Thieman can be called a commuting pro. “I don’t know about that, but everyone knows me, that’s for sure,” she says.   In fact, some Big Island commuters have gotten to know each other so well that they throw one another birthday parties. Thieman says she and a few fellow Maui-to-Oahu frequent fliers call to check on each other when someone misses a flight.

Kuni’s camaraderie extends beyond other commuters to the airline staff.

“It’s like driving to work, except I’m flying,” Kuni says. “It’s real convenient for us. There’s a lot of regular commuters and we get to know each other. In fact, we know all the flight attendants, pilots and everybody else.

“It’s kind of like a family up there.”

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