Post-war prejudice gave rise to Aloha 'The People's Airline'

HONOLULU -- When its first flight took off from Honolulu in 1946, the interisland carrier that would become Aloha Airlines was an underdog created by minorities determined to succeed in post-war Hawaii.

Founded by publisher Ruddy Tongg as Trans-Pacific Airlines, it was the answer to a class struggle.

Tongg and his friends had felt the sting of discrimination. They had been bumped off flights on the only interisland carrier, Hawaiian Airlines, which reportedly excluded Asian pilots, flight attendants and counter help in favor of Caucasians.

The solution from Tongg and his business partners was to create their own airline, said aviation historian Peter Forman.

"When Aloha first came in, they were responding to the prejudices of the time," Forman said. "They created an airlines that a person of any ethnicity could fly on and feel equally welcome. There are many old timers who still support Aloha for this reason."

The fledgling airline established itself as warm and friendly, which delighted those who wanted an alternative, said Tenney Tongg, one of Ruddy's sons.

"I think local people, the everyday workers, were excited about it and wanted another airlines that they felt they could support and use," he said.

Trans-Pacific Airlines, which launched service with three war-surplus DC-3s purchased for $25,000 each, struggled financially in the early days but was popular among Island residents who liked the company's first slogan: The People's Airline.

Sometimes appearing below the Trans-Pacific Airlines logo was another business slogan Tongg and his partners used: The Aloha Airline.

From flight attendants to the boardroom, the aloha slogan seemed to fit the carrier.

During the tough early days, employees nursed the company along by working without pay and often waited to cash their paychecks until the airline had enough money in the bank.

And being a passenger was like flying with a local-style party. Flight attendants served pineapple juice, sang Hawaiian songs, danced the hula and even played the 'ukulele.

At one time, when the airline still flew the unpressurized DC-3s, holes were put in the fuselage so that passengers could poke a camera through and take photographs.

One of Trans-Pacific's early investors was Hung Wo Ching, a savvy real estate developer who rescued it from near-bankruptcy in 1958 when he became its president and chief executive officer. One of the first things he did was change the company name to Aloha Airlines.

Ching was a no-nonsense, bow-tie wearing businessman but he endeared himself to the airline's employees. Every Christmas Day, Ching would tour the state on a company jet so he could shake hands with employees and wish them good luck in the future.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has been one of its staunchest supporters over the years, with his ties to the airline beginning in 1947 when he worked as a volunteer for the airline.

"This is a very sad day for the people of Hawaii," Inouye said yesterday. "I have watched and supported this carrier's service to the people of Hawaii dating back to the days of the territory. It saddens me greatly that this chapter in our history is coming to a close."

The Honolulu Advertiser is owned by Gannett, parent company of USA TODAY.

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