United is pulling out of Hawaii city, cutting key link to the mainland

The route-map adjustments from United Airlines just keep coming.

The Chicago-based airline filed plans over the weekend to cut service to Hilo, Hawaii, effective on Jan. 7, as first seen in Cirium schedules and later confirmed by a carrier spokesperson.

United has historically flown to the Hilo International Airport (ITO) from its hub in Los Angeles. These flights commenced in June 2011 and have pretty much operated year-round since then (except for a nearly year-long suspension during the pandemic).

When the airline restarted mainland service to Los Angeles in 2011, it also added a route from its hub in San Francisco at the same time. That route was short-lived, however, as the airline scrapped it in August 2013, Cirium schedules show.


That left Los Angeles as the airport’s only nonstop connection to the mainland. The Hilo airport is connected to Honolulu and Kahului/Maui with inter-island routes operated by a mix of Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Mokulele Airlines, but it will no longer have nonstop service to the mainland.

In a statement confirming the move, United shared that “we regularly adjust our schedule and continue to be a leader in service to Hawaii from the continental U.S., including offering the most service to Kona of all U.S. carriers.”

Hilo, located on the northeastern side of the island of Hawaii (commonly referred to as the Big Island), has a small-town feel with a range of activities available for tourists and locals alike. The area is famous for offering a more authentic Hawaiian experience for travelers looking to avoid some of the most touristy spots.

For travelers headed to the Big Island, visiting the area near Kailua-Kona is usually a far more popular choice. Located on the west side of the island, there are plenty of hotels and resorts dotting the Kailua-Kona coastline.

That area’s Kona International Airport (KOA) is served by the four biggest U.S. airlines with plenty of nonstop connectivity to the mainland and beyond. In fact, United grabbed headlines during the pandemic for launching the longest domestic nonstop to Kona from its hub in Chicago.

The Kona airport is about a 90-minute drive from the airport in Hilo, so travelers headed to or from the eastern side of the island can rent a car or hire a car service to get around. That said, it’ll still be considerably less convenient for travelers who were used to the nonstop service from L.A. to Hilo.

United has a storied history in its Hilo outstation, having first commenced flights there back in 1967. It even operated the iconic Boeing 747 to the airport in the 1970s. But as passenger traffic fell in the subsequent years, United pulled out of the airport in the mid-1980s.


The airline didn’t return to Hilo until the pre-merger Continental Airlines began the aforementioned service from Los Angeles and San Francisco in June 2011.

Of all the U.S. airlines, United has been one of the most aggressive about pulling out of unprofitable cities amid both shifting economics and — more broadly — a nationwide pilot shortage, though the latter has affected regional carriers the most. Overall, United has dropped service to over 25 cities, as it looks to balance supply (airplanes and pilots) with demand (ticket sales). In this case, Hilo is the latest causality of United’s aggressive route-map adjustments.


Interestingly, the airline is also making some tweaks to its international long-haul schedule. Last week, the carrier unveiled its summer 2023 transatlantic expansion, which includes three new markets as well as six new flights to existing European destinations.

What the carrier didn’t mention is that it’s scrapping plans to connect its Newark hub with Bergen, Norway, and Prague, two flights that were supposed to restart next summer.