Connecting Flight

Family Ties

By Mark Dunkerley, Chief Executive Officer, Hawaiian Airlines

At the end February, after fifteen years at the helm, I will retire from Hawaiian Airlines. This has been a difficult and emotional decision, driven by my responsibilities to family in Europe and the Mainland United States. As I sit down to write this column, I’ve found it hard to winnow from a decade and a half of rich memories those that best capture my time at Hawaiian. How do I choose from among the many wonderful moments shared with my colleagues, when it has been clear that we are bound together as an ‘ohana rather than as co-workers? Or from among the business successes we enjoyed? Or even the competitive defeats along the way? Should I instead focus on the instances when we went above and beyond for our guests and for the communities we serve?

For guidance I looked back over the years that I have been writing this column, and there I found a kaleidoscope of topics chronicling the experiences and emotions that have shaped my time at this airline. Predictably, I’ve used this column to introduce some of our new destinations. For me each introduction is not just a new line on our route map but a small discovery of sorts, opening a window onto the ways of communities with which I was previously unfamiliar. The urge to discover other cultures is an elemental part of human nature, making the opening of new routes an especially exciting and rewarding part of what we do at Hawaiian.

Travel and culture have come together in a number of columns, two of which were especially meaningful to me. In 2013 I wrote about the impending departure of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage—the Polynesian Voyaging Society’s audacious plan to circumnavigate the globe using celestial navigation techniques that had been developed centuries earlier by indigenous Pacific voyagers. That I would later join Hōkūle‘a’s crew for the final legs of this voyage was an extraordinary privilege and an experience that will stay with me forever.

The importance of community service also came through in a number of columns. Our company rallied to support survivors of the 2009 tsunami in American Sāmoa: Delivering the first relief supplies to Pago Pago and seeing the devastation firsthand taught me much about the fragility of our existence and our responsibility to one another. Two years later, in the days immediately after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the Tōhoku region of Japan, a number of us went to aid our Japanese colleagues and business partners. Seeing so many foreigners fleeing Japan in its hour of need was an appalling and dispiriting counter point.

But by far the most consistent theme of this column has been my admiration and affection for my fellow employees. I have delighted in introducing some of my colleagues: For instance, Greg Chaves, the customer service agent in Hilo who has been with the airline for forty-plus years and is on a first-name basis with many of our regular guests. Brian Sabog, the flight attendant who each year creates the floral design for our Aloha Festivals parade float. Or, most recently, the extraordinary flight last September, on which all eight flight attendants were members of one family.

This is as it should be. The topics I’ve covered speak to my interests and passions, and my colleagues best illustrate what has been so dear to me over the last fifteen years: Hawai‘i has become my home, and this company and its employees will forever be the extended family to which my heart belongs.

From our ‘ohana to yours, enjoy your flight and mahalo for choosing Hawaiian.