Lori and Rick Bienkowski sat side-by-side in the Santa Maria Public Airport terminal Saturday afternoon, necks adorned with colorful leis and eyes fixed on an animated group of local Hawaiian hula dancers.
The Santa Maria couple, who wore leis from their trip to Hawaii three years ago, were excited to be among the 200 plus passengers to board the inaugural nonstop Allegiant Air flight to Hawaii from Santa Maria.
“We’re celebrating our sixth anniversary,” said a smiling Lori Bienkowski. “Gotta get in the spirit ahead of time. How nice is this?”
Nearby, singing and smiling hula dancers of Hoapili Pomaika’I Aloha — translation means “Friends blessed with love” — danced for hours while passengers waited to board the flight.
Lori Bienkowski said they were grateful to board the Santa Maria flight instead of driving south to LAX.
“Saving the six hours and parking is a lot,” she said. “This is wonderful. We love Hawaii.”
Outside, beneath a gray sky and light rain, crews prepared a Boeing 757 jetliner that will fly weekly from Santa Maria to Honolulu — making the city one of four in the West to boast the Allegiant flight.
Santa Maria Airport general manager Chris Hastert said everything was running smoothly and according to plan Saturday, which wasn’t a surprise considering crews had already done three dry runs to familiarize themselves with the airport and the new equipment required for the larger aircraft.
At last count, 207 passengers and a few standbys were set to board the plane that seats 223 instead of the usual 150.
Hastert said the airport is excited that Allegiant, which already flies regularly to Las Vegas from Santa Maria, is the first airline to announce more service since the airport’s runway expansion.
“Couldn’t be happier,” said Hastert, adding that the airport is in talks to add more eastbound flights. “We would definitely like to expand our service.”
“What better day could you send people off to Hawaii?” he said, looking out at the rain-covered runway.
Allegiant spokeswoman Jessica Wheeler said she was glad to see the smiling faces of so many passengers, many of whom showed up more than two hours before the 4:35 p.m. flight time.
“I think they’re just so excited to go to Hawaii,” Wheeler said. “Anytime we have a new flight, we try to make a big deal out of it. We think it’s a good match.”
She said anyone who books a one-way, nonstop flight to Honolulu before next Saturday will pay just $135.
The Hawaiian community in Santa Maria is also grateful for the added flight, said Trini Martinez of Santa Maria.
He was at the airport Saturday taking pictures of his wife, Elizabeth, and her hula group.
Martinez and his wife, who is half-Hawaiian, travel back to the state at least twice a year. He said they’ll be taking advantage of the Santa Maria flight in January.
“I just think it’s great,” Martinez said. “A lot of the Hawaiian people in Santa Maria are excited about it.”