Delta Air Lines, following the devastating wildfires in Maui, has dropped its planned winter nonstop flights from Minneapolis-St. Paul to the Hawaiian island — only three months after the new route was announced.
The cancellation comes even as Maui's tourism officials are asking travelers to return.
Atlanta-based Delta, the dominant carrier at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, still offers nonstop service to Maui from Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Seattle.
Customers who had already purchased the nonstop flight from MSP to Maui's Kahului Airport were automatically rebooked on connecting service and received an updated receipt by email over the weekend showing the new flights and refund options.
Delta sent out a full explanation to customers on Monday.
"As communities in Maui rebuild, Delta has made the decision to pause some of our planned growth to Maui Kahului Airport (OGG) for the upcoming fall and winter seasons, Delta spokesman Drake Castañeda said in a statement. "Delta will, however, maintain our presence consistent with what we've flown recently to reinforce the ongoing recovery efforts.
"Our hearts and thoughts are with everyone affected by the tragic wildfires. Delta remains in close contact with Hawaiian officials, and we intend to keep plans for future growth down the road."
To return or not?
While locals have mixed feelings about the return of travelers, the visitor industry remains the largest sector of Maui County's economy, accounting for about 40% of the island's economy.
Since the devastating fires killed at least 115 people in the historic town of Lahaina last month, nonessential travel to much of the island's western coastline had been strongly discouraged.
The number of visitors arriving on Maui fell to 2,000 a day, a decline of about 70%, with only half of its available hotel rooms occupied, the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association said. The wildfire disaster prompted Hawaii officials to lower the 2023 economic growth prediction for the entire state to 1.1%, down from 1.8%.
That's led tourism and government officials to encourage travel.
Most of West Maui will officially reopen to travelers Oct. 8 under a new wildfire emergency proclamation signed on Friday by Hawaii Gov. Josh Green.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii said in an Aug. 24 social media post: "South Maui resorts (Lahaina is West Maui) need visitors. Furloughs and layoffs starting because people think the whole island is closed. It is not. If you are planning a trip to Wailea or Kihei, don't cancel. If you want to come to Hawaii [please] consider South Maui."
Many travelers with fall trips planned changed destinations from Lahaina to other Maui locations, Linda Snyder, vice president of travel and retail services for AAA Minneapolis, said in an email.
"We are sending people to the Wailea area and even Kihei — but most of our folks tend to travel in the winter months, so are waiting for more direction as we hear from the officials in Maui," she said.
In June, when the route was first announced, a Star Tribune editor purchased three main cabin tickets on Delta from MSP to Maui for travel dates in January. On Saturday, Delta revised the nonstop itinerary to add a one-hour layover in Seattle on the departing flight and a two-hour stop in Salt Lake City on the return.
The flight change added more than two hours of travel time to Maui, and delayed the return time by nearly six hours.
Because the rebooked flights constitute a significant schedule change, a customer would be entitled to a full refund to the original form of payment, or the option of a Delta eCredit for future travel. Ticketholders can find both choices by clicking "Need to Cancel?" in the My Trips page of delta.com or in the Fly Delta app.
With Delta's nonstop flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Maui suspended, there remain several one-stop flights from MSP to OGG (and other Hawaiian islands) in January with comparable fares, including an economy class ticket with United Airlines for as little as $496. Delta is also maintaining its year-round nonstop service from Minneapolis to Honolulu, which is on Oahu.