HONOLULU - More than 200 passengers of an Air Australia flight found out at the airport gate Thursday that they would need to find another way out of Honolulu.
The Brisbane-based international and domestic airline, formerly known as Strategic Airlines, said all flights had been canceled and the airline would not be accepting new bookings because it could no longer pay its bills.
"It currently appears that there are no funds available to meet operational expenses so flights will be suspended immediately," the airline said in a statement.
A flight carrying 153 passengers arrived in Honolulu from Melbourne at about 10 a.m. Thursday. A Brisbane-bound flight with 225 passengers, who were scheduled to depart Honolulu at 11:40 a.m., never took off.
"They were actually at the gate when they were told the flight was canceled," said state Department of Transportation spokesman Daniel Meisenzahl.
The passengers retrieved their baggage and then scrambled to make arrangements with other carriers. Hawaiian Airlines was offering affected passengers $300 one-way fares to Sydney.
About 500 to 600 passengers in Hawaii are expected to be affected by the Air Australia suspension over the next three days, the Hawaii Tourism Authority said.
Priya Sinh had to postpone her 18th birthday party Saturday at her home in Gold Coast because of the cancellation. She used her iPad to log onto Facebook to tell her 70 guests not to come because she wouldn't be back from Hawaii.
"We tried to laugh about it, but it wasn't funny," she said while her family called hotels looking for a room. Her mother managed to reserve the last four seats on a Jetstar flight to Sydney leaving Saturday.
Other Air Australia flights were scheduled to depart Honolulu today and Saturday. The airline's sole Airbus 330 that services Hawaii remained at Honolulu International Airport on Thursday, Meisenzahl said.
The airline began offering direct routes to Honolulu from Brisbane and Melbourne in December, an expansion the Hawaii Tourism Authority touted as a "significant opportunity for Hawaii to grow its presence in Australia" that would provide an estimated $92.9 million in visitor spending.
The four-times-a-week flights have been averaging 150 to 210 passengers, Meisenzahl said.
The airline said it was placed into voluntary administration, which is similar to bankruptcy protection in the U.S. It can buy a company time to get out of its financial problems.
Around 4,000 passengers were overseas with Air Australia round-trip tickets, voluntary administrator Mark Korda said. Some of those affected were stranded in Honolulu and Phuket, Thailand.
Passengers who bought tickets with credit cards or had travel insurance may be given a refund, the airline said.
The airline's fleet consists of five Airbus A330-200 and A320-200 aircraft that regularly fly to Bali, Phuket, Honolulu and cities within Australia.