Hawaiian Airlines Cries Search Engine Foul Over Use Of "Hawaiian" On Competitor Web Site

Hawaiian Airlines is alleging that new rival Go because Go made use of the word "Hawaiian" too often and thus might be influencing search results.

Hawaiian Airlines says Go's web site goes too far from KHON TV and Local airline battle flares anew from the Honolulu Star Bulletin has more details on the dispute.

If Go is indeed trying to rank well for Hawaiian's name, so far, it hasn't worked. Checking Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask for [hawaiian airlines] shows that Go doesn't appear on any of them for the first two pages of results.

Hawaiian is a generic term, so it seems pretty absurd to be suggesting that an airline that flies within Hawaii is somehow using the word 'hawaiian" too often.

Clearly, Go hopes that it will be found for the phrase "hawaiian airline," given that it uses that exact phrase in its meta description tag, meta keywords tag, its title tag and five times in its body copy. But "hawaiian airline" is different from "hawaiian airlines," the latter being a trademark of Hawaiian Airlines while the former is a generic term that fairly describes what Go is. And the usage falls well short of what I'd consider keyword stuffing, something Hawaiian has accused Go of doing.

How about from a search perspective? Google's long had stemming, so that a search for the singular might also bring up the plural. But still, you get differences. A search for hawaiian airline is not the same as a search for hawaiian airlines (and Go doesn't show up in either case).

The same is true at other search engines, where you get different results for the different variations. But Go gets more visibility for the generic term.

At Yahoo, Go ranks number 10 for hawaiian airline but not in the top results for hawaiian airlines (and Hawaiian rival Aloha Airlines, not accused of any wrong-doing, ranks in the top results at both places).

At MSN, it ranked number three for hawaiian airline but not in the top results for hawaiian airlines. Aloha came up in neither.

At Ask, it was number six for hawaiian airline and not listed for hawaiian airlines. Aloha ranked in the top results in both versions.

No suit has been filed, so far -- only a cease-and-desist letter sent. From the Star Bulletin's article:

"(Mesa has) loaded up their Web site with our name, which is called keyword stuffing, unlike any of the other carriers we compete with," Hawaiian Airlines spokesman Keoni Wagner said. "Nobody else calls themselves a Hawaiian airline, for example, and we're simply asking them to stop.

"It's like identity theft. Mesa is using our name to gain business, and that's just not right."

Honolulu-based media attorney Jeffrey Portnoy, who represents Hawaiian Airlines, said in a letter to Mesa that the use of the terms "Hawaiian Flights," "Hawaiian," "Hawaiian Airline" and "The Hawaiian Airline" creates a likelihood of confusion, constitutes infringement of Hawaiian Airlines' trademark and represents deceptive trade practices.

Ornstein, reached yesterday at a board meeting in Santa Monica, Calif., said he was incredulous about Hawaiian Airlines' latest legal move.

"This is the most preposterous thing I've ever encountered in my business career, that we're not supposed to use 'Hawaiian' on our Web site for service in Hawaii," Ornstein said. "Are we supposed to use 'Chicago' because it rhymes with 'go!'? This is truly a desperate act that defies comprehension. They have not trademarked the word 'Hawaiian.'"

In the cease-and-desist letter, though, Portnoy pointed out that Hawaiian owns various federal trademark registrations for phrases containing "Hawaiian," such as "Hawaiian Airlines," "Hawaiian Miles" in connection with its frequent flyer program, and "Hawaiian Premier Club" for airline passenger services.