Connecting Flight

Hawai‘i’s Lifeline

By Peter Ingram, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hawaiian Airlines

As Hawai‘i’s airline we embrace our kuleana to provide safe, reliable, efficient and affordable travel between the Islands we call home. We are proud that our frequent Neighbor Island flights create a robust intrastate transportation system from before dawn to late into the night, so grandparents can see a grandchild in a school play, so construction workers can get to jobs and so the state’s businesses can grow. We fly some 170 flights a day and 6 million people a year between the islands. The flights are, in many ways, a lifeline.

That point was made anew to me when I recently sat down with Kim-Anh Nguyen, the president and CEO of Blood Bank of Hawai‘i (BBH), and Todd Lewis, its chief operating officer, to talk about the long-standing partnership between our organizations. Hawai‘i is unique in so many ways, one of the more esoteric being how we go about collecting and distributing blood.

Without a good blood supply in hospitals, some surgeries would not be possible. Without platelets, some cancer treatments would be more difficult, if not impossible. Trauma patients would have to be stabilized and flown to O‘ahu for treatment. Hospitals are community engines. Reliable health care in a community makes it more livable. Without it, employers would have a harder time recruiting and maintaining talent. In short, a reliable blood supply is a pillar of a reliable health care infrastructure.

If you are sitting on one of our Boeing 717s, chances are excellent there is blood on board. Under Dr. Nguyen’s leadership, BBH made a commitment to Hawai‘i’s eighteen civilian hospitals to maintain an adequate blood supply to meet spikes in demand. On any given day, about one-half of the state’s blood supply is in those eighteen facilities, and the rest is at BBH in Honolulu. The entire on-hand supply lasts about one week, so it must be constantly replenished by our state’s heroic donors.

How blood gets from donor to patient is a complicated, just-in-time dance with many partners, including Hawaiian Airlines. Every other week, twenty-five times a year, BBH personnel and equipment—from high-tech machines to cots—are flown to the Neighbor Islands. In all, about one of every five units of blood in the state comes from the Neighbor Islands—so O‘ahu residents also benefit from our transportation partnership with BBH.

At every Neighbor Island drive, a donor’s blood is collected in test tubes and bags. Both are put in special containers and placed on our flights to Honolulu throughout the day. From O‘ahu the test tubes are transported onward to Arizona, where the blood is screened to ensure the absence of more than a dozen diseases. Meanwhile the bags of blood go to BBH to await the test results, which are obtained within two days.

Once cleared for use, the blood products are distributed. For the eight Neighbor Island facilities, they are flown in our airplanes using temperature-sensitive boxes. If the products in those facilities are nearing expiration, they are flown back to the state’s trauma centers in Honolulu, where demand for the precious commodity is highest. Platelets have a shelf life of five days, but, given the need to test each batch, in Hawai‘i they are viable for only three days.

My meeting with BBH left me filled with renewed wonder and pride over the powerful ways this airline helps our community. We can all participate in making our home better in so many ways. One way is to schedule an appointment to donate blood by calling BBH at (808) 848-4770. You can save a life.

To all our guests on our flights, I want to say, “Welcome aboard!”