Random disconnected thoughts about the death of an airline

N823AL, a Boeing 737-200 belonging to Aloha Airlines, at Keahole Airport (PHKO)
30 January, 2008

News of Aloha’s suspension of passenger service has spread throughout the air travel world, and we’re now 24 hours into a post-Aloha passenger universe. Aloha is one of the first airlines that I remember clearly, and one that played a pivotal role in forming some of my most treasured memories as a kid. Going to Hawaii was always a great thing; going through Honolulu, over to the inter-island terminal, with the bus station atmosphere, the dark floors, the generalized mayhem, to end up on one of these psychedelically painted planes and whisked off to the Big Island — it was heady stuff for me. So much so that, when I went back to Hawaii for the first time in way too long last year, and climbed aboard the Aloha flight to Hilo in Honolulu, settled into my seat and got a small plastic container of guava juice once we hit cruise… it was a lot like nothing had changed, and I was 8 again.

Seeing N823AL on the ramp in January I thought I was looking backwards into my past. No other plane looked so ridiculous and yet so sublime. I’m a lot older now and way more jaded, and yet I felt a little weak taking this picture from the departure area while I waited to leave.

We didn’t fly on AAH earlier this year and it had more to do with availability, timing, and fares than anything else — we were leaving PHKO and heading back home and trying to find an available seat on an AAH flight was difficult. So instead we few Hawaiian, and I had one of the most pleasant short-haul flight experiences I’ve had in a very long time. Now I feel bad, because I thought I’d come back to AAH the next time around, and there won’t be a next time, now.

It’s strange how we invest emotional energy in things like airlines. I remember watching CP turn into Canadian, loving every minute I spent in the air with Canadian, smirking at anyone dumb enough to fly Air Canada by choice. And then it all fell apart; my last flight on Canadian, to Boston in May of 2000, was bittersweet because the return was on Air Canada metal, and the contrast was stark, obvious; I didn’t like it at all. Now I put up with Air Canada and I tolerate WestJet, and am shocked when I have an ACA flight that doesn’t come with a side order of extreme annoyance, or a WJA flight that doesn’t make me grit my teeth over some issue or another. Air travel doesn’t seem like much fun anymore, and yet it continues to hold some kind of silly appeal for me.

The world changes, you heard it here first. There are all kinds of things you can no longer do on airplanes; some, like the decline and fall of catering standards and service, are a function of the business climate. Some, like riding in the pointiest part of a 767-200 all the way to Toronto, are a function of our time. (This remains the coolest thing I have ever done in an airplane I wasn’t being paid to ride in to date.) That’s lost and gone forever. You’d think, though, that the joy of travel, the experience of getting somewhere, would still hold some fun; now, it’s drudgery at the airport, ritualistic humiliation at the screening point, cattle-class service on board, and baggage roulette at the final destination. No wonder people are down on the airlines — it’s not fun anymore.

Aloha had its share of problems. I didn’t really enjoy flying with them last year, but that experience hasn’t changed my memories or my love of the airline any. I have decades of warm, happy thoughts for AAH, and I’m really going to miss them. They, more than any airline I spent time on as a kid, were the providers of the last of the “fun” trips, from start to finish.