Hawaiian Airlines staff go the extra mile to share their culture and heritage

You know something is starting to make its way into the mainstream when it starts being picked up by the corporate world.

In 1984, Naida Glavish was nearly fired from her job as a Post Office phone operator for greeting callers with "kia ora".

Now, Te Reo is well and truly embedded in many aspects of New Zealand life.

Seven thousand kilometres away, the Hawaiian language revival is traveling a similar path.

Hawaiian Airlines is one company that's embraced the concept of bringing the language into the workplace.

And there's no stronger advocate for it at the airline than Debbie Nakanelua-Richards.

The director of community relations has been with Hawaiian for nearly 40 years, and takes inspiration from the struggle and success of the revival of Te Reo in New Zealand.

"We aspire to be like Māori and get it to that level. It's our belief that language is the keeper of the culture - from generation to generation, it's how tradition is passed on, whether it's in the home, or the office or the classroom," says Ms Nakanelua-Richards.

"It is really where a culture really lives."

She says for years the company made some nods to the state's indigenous heritage, with planes and buildings getting Hawaiian names.

"It's only now that we're getting to a point where we feel more confident about the use of the language, incorporating it into daily conversation, even if it's just words or lyrics."

And it's more than just a quick "aloha" as passengers board the plane.

Using a new cultural programme called the Ke Kumu project (Hawaiian for "the source" or "the foundation"), the airline has been identifying employees with special cultural knowledge or skills that they can pass on to their colleagues.

For the past four years, Hawaiian Airlines has offered free Hawaiian language lessons - not only to staff, but retired staff as well.

It's got to the point where one recent flight and cabin crew briefing was done entirely in Hawaiian.

"We all know that we come from people who came before us. Culture is what binds all of us together as humankind," says Ms Nakanelua-Richards.


Newshub flew to Honolulu as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines.