Fascinating: Mokulele’s 4x Daily Flights Between LAX & El Centro-Imperial

Last night I was on a redeye to Philadelphia, and when I got to Terminal 6 I checked the departures board to see what gate my flight would be leaving from. While looking at the departures board I noticed an airline code and airport name I had never heard of.

Flight MW807 was operating to El Centro-Imperial, CA.

Departure-Monitor

Sorry, say what now?

I thought my California geography was getting good, though I had never heard of El Centro-Imperial. I Googled the airport, and also the airline code. As it turns out, “MW” is the airline code for Mokulele Airlines.

Sorry, say what now?

Based on the name I figured they were an island hopper airline in Hawaii, but it’s not the airline you’d expect to fly between Los Angeles and El Centro-Imperial.

LAX-IPL

What is Mokulele Airlines?

Okay, so I wasn’t that far off. Mokulele Airlines does mostly operate flights between the Hawaiian islands, and it seems that they do so quite profitably and reliably.

But what’s really fascinating about the airline is their expansion goals, many of which have been based around government subsidies. Specifically, they’ve been seeking out routes with EAS (Essential Air Service) grants, where the government basically pays airlines to operate specific routes. If you want to have your mind blown, check out the airline’s history page on Wikipedia.

Los Angeles to El Centro-Imperial is the airline’s only mainland route, and they operate it 4x daily. What’s the motivation for operating the flight?

Mokulele

As you may have guessed, there’s an Essential Air Services grant in place for the route, so the airline is paid a $2.44 million per year subsidy from the Department of Transportation. To break down the numbers, that’s a subsidy of ~$6,700 per day, or ~$835 per flight in each direction, or ~$93 per seat per direction.

Their roundtrip fares between Los Angeles and El Centro-Imperial start at ~$63 roundtrip, though in reality the government is chipping in an additional ~$186 per roundtrip. And to think the big US carriers complain about the Gulf airlines being subsidized. 😉

Mokulele-Airlines

I was fascinated, so immediately started reading more about the airline. This airline’s business plan (or attempted business endeavors) might just be the most bizarre thing I’ve seen in the airline industry.

They’ve long flown small props with just nine seats around Hawaii, so I was a bit surprised when I read about their expansion plans back in 2011:

In December 2011, the airline unveiled plans to begin operating a charter service from Honolulu to Rockford, Illinois and London. When the service was approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation the following month, the schedule showed a Boeing 767-200ER leased from Air Transport International will operate the flights, with the Honolulu to Rockford segment beginning on April 13, 2012, and the Rockford to London segment starting May 4. On April 8, the airline delayed the start of service until at least October. In early 2012, Mesa Air Group announced it would rebrand its jets operations back to the go! name as the name go!Mokulele and Mokulele was causing some brand confusion among the two companies. The airline also abandoned its non-turboprop charter plans so it could focus on service in the isles.

Charter service between Honolulu and Rockford, and also between Rockford and London… what could possibly go wrong?! Perhaps what’s most amazing about this is that they had this idea when oil was $100+ per barrel. Never mind the fact that the 767-200 is a gas guzzler.

HNL-RFD-LHR

This airline almost sounds as crazy as Baltia…

I’ve written in the past about Baltia Air Lines, the airline that was planning on launching 747 flights between the US and Russia. The only problem was that they never actually planned on flying, and had a 747 for 27 years as a way of convincing investors to give them money. They were quite successful at that (at one point they had a market cap of ~$70 million), until the SEC investigated the airline’s vice president of finance.

Baltic-Air-Lines

After 27 years they decided to change up their business plan. Instead of flying a 747 between New York and Russia, their new plan was to fly regional jets between BALtimore, Trenton, Islip, and Albany. Get it?

No, seriously, folks, that was their plan.

Bottom line

I’m fascinated by Mokulele Airlines, and almost want to make a weekend trip to El Centro-Imperial on them, given how cheap their fares are. Heck, maybe we can make a OMAAT reader meetup out of one of these flights, as I’m sure they’ll charter it to us for a couple of hundred dollars, given that the government is footing most of the bill. Perhaps a day trip is best, as I don’t think I’ve seen a city with a less desirable selection of hotels

If you have the time, check out the airline’s Wikipedia page, as it’s fascinating. The above is just the tip of the iceberg of their ideas.

Anyway, if you’re flying through LAX and see a prop that looks like it may be very lost, it’s probably the Mokulele Cessna 208…

Comments

  1. I flew into this airport when SeaPort Airlines flew in from both SAN and BUR

    Tiny little airport, but a fun ride. https://flic.kr/s/aHskENZ87L Lost my camera on the way back so only photos to IMP, not from.

    As for where to stay, I actually went up to Palm Springs for a couple days, and used the drive to and from to explore the ruins around the Salton Sea.

  2. Ben, This route was announced months ago when Seaport when bankrupted and stopped flying San Diego to El Centro. Mokulele Airlines also has applied for other routes deserted by Seaport, such as Visalia to LA Area/Bay Area as they expand beyond flying.

  3. Priority Pass shows a lounge at El Centro–no wait, that’s actually a dumpster behind a Waffle House.

  4. Damn. My husband had me almost talked into a flight on the old airline so we could avoid most of the trek down to Mexico (renting a car in El Centro, I guess). Flying at around 8,000 down the coast was pretty intriguing. I suppose we could still do it if we can rent a car there!

  5. Actually, the route SeaPort airlines flew that we wanted to take was Burbank – San Diego – San Felipe, which would have saved a lot of driving on our divey Mexico weekends.

  6. Had some great Mexican food in El Centro during a San Diego-El Centro-Burbank layover on Seaport years ago.

  7. I flew them from OGG-KOA a couple years back. The flight is operated with a crew of … one! One captain, no FO, no FA. No security was required; after getting off the rental shuttle we walked over to the tarmac next to the commuter terminal and right on to the plane. The captain served as baggage handler, gate agent as well. It was a great flight due to the low altitude, maybe 5,000 feet? Great sightseeing of the Hana coast and Big Island.

  8. I can’t say much nice about Imperial County, per se, but a quick border hop across to Mexicali is nice. Mexicali is interesting because, unlike other border towns, there’s virtually no tourism. It’s Chinatown is the largest in Mexico and harkins back to a time when the city’s population was majority Chinese.

    Worth a day trip, at least.

  9. So, what exactly drives the economy in El Centro Imperial, CA? Just curious to see who would fly there to offer 4 daily flights?

  10. Have a friend taking this flight later this week for the first time. She said it seems pretty popular because there was only one seat left on her flight when she went to book.

  11. I flew into IMP about seven or eight years ago on a business trip. I think one of United’s regional carriers flew there at the time.

  12. Lucky, I don’t think you really want to make a weekend trip to El Centro. Aside from seeing the slowly evaporating ruins of the Salton Sea, there really isn’t much there. San Diegans who drive past their on their way to Arizona mainly use it as a pit stop for food.

    That said, it isn’t too bad of a drive to places like Palm Springs or Anza Borrego and clearly a much cheaper alternative than airfare to SAN or PSP at times.

  13. Glad to see I’m not the only one curious about “odd-lines” on the flight monitor. At Oakland, I saw a OAK-MCE-LAX on Boutique Air. Turns out they have a decent sized EAS network stretching from California to Georgia and Minnesota all on a PC-12 with 8 leather seats.

    I saw yelp reviews. Anyone here use them?

  14. I’m still laughing about the Priority Pass dumpster behind the waffle house!
    Seriously… El Centro is the pit stop location between SAN and PHX. There are Boarder Agents who live there, so there is that “industry” but it’s mostly Agriculture.

  15. I have flown them a couple of times between islands while I was in HI. The flight is actually quite enjoyable and their employees were very nice to me. It was my birthday and the pilot even allowed me to mount my Go Pro in the cockpit. They might get subsidized, but I think they are still quite different from Baltia

  16. @Santastico Aside from ag business, I can think of 2 things:

    1) for undocumented workers to see family or travel to find seasonal AG jobs that don’t require going through a border patrol check point (the roads from El Centro and Calexico, at least on the 8, have border patrol check points on to SD or Yuma)

    2) I actually had a friend who works at a casting company that goes to El Centro occasionally so there could be an entertainment angle in terms of either cheaper casting or a place to film in the desert/small town that’s more cost effective than a set in LA.

  17. @Santastico.

    I’m just guessing but it sounds like there would maybe be some sort of military operations there.

    Anyhow….this would be a fun ONE MILE A TIME trip, maybe you could offer the trip to go with you as a competition or something, as it would be pretty cheap to fund.

  18. I’m down for a reader meetup. I heard there’s good Mexican food and shaved ice. And the Imperial Dunes are nearby.

  19. I had to fly there 1/2 a dozen times in the 2006-9. IPL is a boring place but was booming back then. Flew in on a UA filght operated by Skywest. they flew LAX-YUM-IPL and IPL-SAN if I recall.

    And yes good mexican food for sure…Also if you’re a Giants fan, Sergio Romo is from there.

  20. Would be cool if Mokulele served Hawaiian-Mexican fusion food on board their (short) flights. Something like hard shell burritos with shredded luau pork inside and pineapple glaze topping on the outside.

    Essential Air Services subsidies allow our gubment to build sky bridges to nowhere.

  21. For a self-proclaimed avgeek, I find your repeated lack of aviation geekness amusing. Nobody in their right mind would call a turboprop a prop plane. And being as iconic as Caravan is, nobody in their right mind would call it “Cessna 208″…

  22. A trip report on this would be pretty cool, but do yourself a favor and stay out of El Centro… Its a dump of a city. Mexicali (on the Mexican side) is a much nicer city! So if you do this trip, stay in Mexicali (in winter preferably) and use your global entry to cross back into the US as a pedestrian via the sentri lane which you can use if you have the globel entry card… Otherwise take the return flight right back to LAX. You will thank me later!

  23. I am kind of surprised that you are surprised by this. Any aviation geek who has been to Hawaii has seen Mokulele flights. They are all over the place there. And speaking of EAS routes, there are tons of them across the US mainland to small towns. They kind of fascinate me so I always look for them at the airport. Maybe it is time to take a break from flying all over the world and embrace your aviation geek side (like me) and start doing some trip reports on these EAS routes.

  24. Not being critical here, but I am also shocked that someone who lives in LA doesn’t know about El Centro/Imperial.

    Also surprising *shocked* that you had never heard of Mokulele. It’s impossible to visit HI and not see them in one form or another (airport, advertisements, etc.)

    Look forward to your trip report from El Ghetto. 😀

  25. I am so down to organize a reader adventure to El Centro! It’s cheap enough that it could be a fun day trip (I have, sadly, seen a city with a worse selection of hotels, but this is definitely a lousy crop).

  26. Well I’m from El Centro, CA. so I’m really glad that my local airport gets direct service to a major airport.

  27. We’re glad to be in El Centro as well!

    I’d like to point out we were actually the *LOW* bidder for air service to Imperial / El Centro – (one was for $2.65 million and the other at $3.8 million). We’ve got a nice history of servicing underserved markets – our one EAS market in Hawai’i reported only 25 passengers the last full year of an operator we replaced – we flew that many on our first day. We took the market from 25 to over 9,000 a year, not sure any other EAS carrier can report that growth. Another market, which we don’t get a government subsidy for, is boarding more passengers a year than in its entire history.

    Lower fares, easy rules, convenient flights, new planes, treat employees right – it does work.

    And in Imperial, we’re already flying double, if not triple, what the previous operator did, and in July flew 99% of our flights with an 87.5% on time rate. We’re also focusing heavily on marketing across the border as there is no easy way to get from Baja California, Mexico to the LA basin.

    We hope to see you on one of our flights to El Centro or even hopping across the border to Mexicali! And don’t worry, we won’t make you stand on the scales anymore.

  28. I flew IPL-SAN on the previous carrier SeaPort back in July 2014. It was honestly one of my favorite flights of all time, and the Cessna Caravan is an amazing aircraft! With any luck I might get to fly on another later this year with Southern out of PIT. I would certainly be up for a meetup centered around this flight as I’d love to fly on MW as well.

  29. So funny. Friday morning the 12th I was on sea-lax and saw a bag being loaded tagged to IPL. Had to look it up and learned about this airline.

  30. I have a place in San Felipe, Baja CA, Mexico. It is a 10 hour drive to visit sister in Fresno – no fun. It is a 6 hour drive to pick up visitors flying into SAN. So I am THRILLED Mokulele is serving El Centro. Welcome and thank you for being here!

    Food and lodging in El Centro is as described above – yuck. Except a lovely little cafe I found by accident: in downtown El Centro, across the street from the County Courthouse, it has wonderful food and service and even has clean tables. The Courtroom Restaurant 841 West Main St (760) 335-3660

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