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What to Know About Hawai‘i Travel Amid Maui Wildfires

Officials encourage tourists to redirect travel plans to other parts of the state after wildfires across Maui destroy historic Lahaina

spinner image passengers wait to board flights at the kahului airport on maui hawaii
Passengers wait to board flights at Kahului Airport on Maui, Hawai‘i, on Aug. 9, 2023, in the wake of the wildfires that spread through western Maui.
Getty Images

Wildfires raged across the islands of Maui and Hawai‘i last week, killing at least 96 people and destroying large parts of the beloved tourist destination and historic town of Lahaina on Maui. It’s the deadliest wildfire in more than a century, and the death toll is expected to rise as search teams continue to look for human remains through the smoke and destruction. Thousands of residents and visitors were evacuated, and the U.S. Coast Guard said crews rescued more than a dozen people who jumped into the Lahaina harbor to escape the fire.

​“Lahaina, with a few rare exceptions, has been burned down,” Hawai‘i Gov. Josh Green said during a Thursday news conference. “Many, many hundreds of families have been displaced. We’ll rebuild.”

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Major airlines, including Delta, United, Southwest and Hawaiian Airlines, have been providing additional flights to help Maui visitors leave the island as soon as possible, said Ed Sniffen, the Hawai‘i Department of Transportation’s deputy director for highways, during a news conference. The County of Maui announced a mass bus evacuation to get hundreds of people to Kahului Airport or a central shelter. 

The fires on Hawai‘i Island are in the Mauna Kea Resort area.

As the damage assessments continued, state officials last week strongly discouraged nonessential travel to Maui in the days and weeks ahead.

Those with imminent travel plans to West Maui are urged to reschedule, the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority stated in an alert on its website. The tourism board advised travelers to contact their specific airlines for any flight changes, cancellations and assistance with rebooking.

Green said that the historic Front Street in Lahaina is “tragically gone” and that at least 1,000 buildings have burned down. One of the tourist attractions in Lahaina, a 60-foot-plus banyan tree planted in 1873, the largest banyan tree in the U.S., was burned by the wildfires. Reports from Honolulu Civil Beat and NPR indicate the tree is still standing. The 122-year-old Pioneer Inn burned down, according to Hawaii News Now. ​​“It’s a very sad day in Hawai‘i. It’s devastating,” said James Tokioka, state director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, in a news conference. “On the visitor industry hat, what happened at West Maui is devastating. ... West Maui is not open right now, but the rest of the state is open. If you have an opportunity to change your reservation, please consider doing so.”

Along with the airlines assisting in evacuation efforts, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Southwest and United have travel waivers for Maui that allow passengers to change plans without penalty. Travelers on Southwest can change their departure or arrival to Hilo, Honolulu, Kona or Lihue without additional charge through Aug. 14. 

Hawaiian Airlines noted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, “Guests with non-urgent travel inquiries are encouraged to call back later so that we can assist those with immediate needs. Please check your flight status on our website or app before coming to the airport.”

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Some hotels also issued waivers. On its website, Outrigger Resorts noted that guests booked at properties on Maui should consider rebooking on another island where the hotel has properties. The resort said those with reservations through Aug. 31 can rebook to a property on a different island at the same rate for a similar room type.

Is your flight to Hawai‘i canceled?

As an airline passenger, you are entitled to a full refund of the airfare you paid if:

  • The airline cancels your flight for any reason (weather, mechanical or staffing issues) and you decide not to travel.
  • The airline has made a schedule change or significantly delays your flight and you decide not to travel.

If you’re at the airport and need to reschedule your flight, be polite to airline consumer service representatives. Being polite, either in person or on the phone, is not only the nice thing to do — given the amount of stress airport and airline employees face — it may inspire them to take that extra step to help you.

How to help Maui

“People from Hawai‘i come together in disasters like this,” Tokioka said. “For people who have vacant homes or vacation rentals ... the governor is asking if people have the ability on Maui to share their homes with others who are in dire straits right now, that would be greatly appreciated.” 

Hawai‘i’s office of the governor alerted residents and those wanting to help Maui residents to use caution when choosing where to send donations. Here are some safe outlets to help those affected by the wildfires.

  • The Hawai‘i Community Foundation has a fund being used to support communities affected by the wildfires in Maui.
  • The Red Cross is taking donations for disaster relief. Visit redcross.org, call 1-800-Help-Now or text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a donation.
  • United Way has a donation fund to support the victims of the wildfire.
  • The Maui Food Bank is taking donations to provide meals for those affected.
  • The Hawai‘i Restaurant Association is taking donations that will provide food, water, medical supplies and shelter for those affected by the wildfires.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on August 11. It has been updated to reflect new information.

Contributing: Bill Fink, Peter Urban, Susan B. Barnes and Nicole Gill Council, AARP

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