Amateur Hour at Hawaiian Airlines (Tales From the Field)

Hawaiian has been expanding like crazy lately with flights all over the Pacific, and we’ve had several clients fly on them. While Hawaiian has a great reputation, our clients have had a lot of problems in dealing with them. Even though the airline is growing quickly, it seems like its policies and systems might not be up to the same level of sophistication.

Issue #1 – Anti-Travel Agent Policy
The first issue is with flight bookings themselves. Hawaiian charges travel agents who book through their own reservation systems more than those who book on the website. That in itself isn’t a problem, but it means when we book people, we do it on HawaiianAir.com. We put our names in as travel arranger (there’s a spotFrom the Field with Hawaiian for that), and that should let us do what we need to manage a booking.

Unfortunately, that’s not true. Even though we are the travel arranger and have all the credit card information, Hawaiian refuses to allow anyone but the credit card holder to make a change that requires payment. This leave us in the delightful spot of making our clients talk to Hawaiian for something we shouldn’t have to bother them with or paying more for the privilege of having us book in our system. Neither is a customer-friendly option.

Issue #2 – No Special Meals
Last October, a client was flying Hawaiian from Phoenix to Honolulu, spending a night there (since it wasn’t possible to connect the same day), and then going on to Sydney. These clients had paid for First Class the whole way. One of the travelers was vegan and we had entered the request in our system for a vegan meal.

On the flight to Honolulu, the flight attendants told her that Hawaiian didn’t offer special meals at all. She had a piece of fruit. Once she called from Hawai’i, I called Hawaiian to investigate. The call center agent politely informed me that Hawaiian does not offer special meals but my client was welcome to bring her own food onboard. Yes, this is what she told a paying First Class passenger. The next flight to Sydney didn’t even have fruit. With more long distance flights in Hawaiian’s network, it needs to step up.

Issue #3 – Various Tech Problems
I’m not quite sure how Hawaiian’s website works, but it doesn’t generally work very well when it comes to managing travel. On one occasion, a client had different seats showing in the manage reservation area than it showed when they checked in online. The two different systems apparently don’t talk to each other.

On another occasion, seat changes couldn’t be processed and we were told to just try again later. Instead, we called the call center to get it done. After going through several prompts asking and misunderstanding the confirmation number, we were transferred to an agent who asked for the confirmation again. She finally changed the seats for us, so we hoped. The website still showed the old seats.

Issue #4 – Seat Switcheroo
We had two different clients over the holidays who had seats reserved and then came to find that they had been replaced. In both cases, these were families traveling together with their kids put in single seats in random places. The airline refused to help them switch seats to sit with their kids even at the airport. I understand that airlines have the right to switch seats, but there didn’t seem to be any good reason for it here. (There was no aircraft type change and it wasn’t a 767 which has different configurations.) There was no notification either. They just found themselves in trouble when they tried to check in.

Issue #5 – Last Minute Schedule Changes
You would think that holiday travel schedules would be locked in fairly early. People book their Hawai’i holiday flights very early on. But Hawaiian made some schedule changes within a couple months of travel during this time. Even worse, they made the change and didn’t send an email out about it for long after we found out. How do I know? Our client had already had so many problems that they kept checking the reservations on the website religiously.

The schedule changes were caught long before Hawaiian bothered notify anyone and the auto-re-accommodation wasn’t very good. This meant spending a lot of time on the phone with the call center hoping to improve the situation. And when Hawaiian did notify of the changes, they just sent a generic link to the flights without showing the change itself. We had to pull up previous notifications to find out what the changes actually were.

Issue #6 – Not Playing Fair
I saved the best for last. I couldn’t quite believe that any airline would try to play this the way Hawaiian did. One client was booked with a completely legal 55 minute layover in Maui going from Kona to San Jose. Someone who said they were from Hawaiian called us since we were the travel arranger and said that they wanted to do a favor for our client. Since they “only” had 55 minutes, they wanted to move them to an earlier flight from Kona so that they would have more time to connect. Oh, and they were being so kind to offer that without any additional charge.

A quick check of availability showed what was up. The flight they were on was completely full, oversold I’m guessing. The earlier flight had plenty of seats to sell. So Hawaiian was trying to move people to an earlier flight so that nobody had to be bumped. That’s perfectly fine to be proactive like that – in fact, I like it. But if you’re going to do that, don’t pretend you’re doing someone a favor as a way to weasel out of offering compensation.

I honestly thought it was a joke call at first after listening to the message. The person on the phone had a conversation with someone else in the background asking which number we should call back on because they didn’t know. Eventually they gave us a local 808 phone number and asked us to call back and ask for a specific person. We did call back and the agent told us that it was ok if they stayed on their original flights. Gee, thanks. (And yes, they made their connection without any trouble.)


Have any of you flown Hawaiian lately? Had any of these kinds of problems?

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61 Comments on "Amateur Hour at Hawaiian Airlines (Tales From the Field)"

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DrJordan1911
Guest

I’m shocked. It seems a little PeopleExpress’ish where they have begun to outgrow there suit. My only time with Hawaiian was interisland last summer HNL-KOA-HNL and that was booked via united.com with miles. It was a simple enough booking and routing so not alot of opportunity for discombobulation I suppose.

David
Guest

The biggest problem most FTers report is they aren’t playing fair with the baggage fees, violating their own stated policies and not following the latest DOT regulations. See the thread on FT.

They are violating DOT rules and their own rules every day, and getting away with it.

Why do you accept any business for booking on Hawaiian Airlines given all the problems you stated? To be honest, I just don’t understand that at all. Besides, their international product is sub-standard. It’s no different (or worse as you noted) than domestic F.

-David

Mark
Member

David:

Can you specify the FT thread? I’m very interested in this subject.

haolenate
Guest

Mark,

I believe its under “HA connecting bag fee charges”

http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/hawaii-based-airlines-447/

-n

David M
Guest

Hawaiian’s F product is a domestic product, but you have to consider their market. Their long haul flights are primarily geared towards vacation/VFR traffic, not so much the globe-trotting business traveller. I’m not sure about now, but I remember when they launched the Sydney flights, they marketed it as “business class” because they knew it wasn’t up to International First Class standards. And priced it accordingly.

David SF eastbay
Member

Is this a case of an airline who just flew quick simple trips around Hawaii decades and has never caught on on how to offer service on flights over a hour or that involves international travel?

Is their system and workers still stuck in the DC9 intra-island era of the past?

Oliver
Guest

When they were flying the DC-9s around the islands, didn’t they also fly L-1011s and then DC-10s the the mainland? In other words, they have been doing long-haul for quite a while.

They do have grown (especially internationally) quite a bit since those days, of course.

Mark
Member
Hawaiian continues to disappoint me. They have gutted their FF program, and hit you hard on fees especially bag fees. The one thing that REALLY sticks in my grass skirt is the “stand by” fees on interisland flights. I remember when, if you landed early from the mainland, HA and AQ would put you on the first available flight to your destination. No change fee, no hassle, just ALOHA! Welcome to Hawaii! Now they hit you with the all of the typical fees. They are one of the first contacts our tourists have with the Hawaiian islands and they are… Read more »
Neil
Guest

I did JFK-HNL-KOA in November. I had no issues on the ground or in the air. Baggage got there in one piece, and on the right flights.

They also waived the baggage fee – or just didn’t charge me – though I believe the JFK check-in is done by B6 employees. I flew coach out and first back.

The only things I’ll say – though I knew beforehand – were the first class seats on the A330 aren’t awesome for a redeye, and the HA lounge at HNL is a tiny, unstocked shambles.

longtimeobserver
Member

Hey, but at least they claim to be “on-time”…

jaybru
Member
It seems to me, in this industry, one so many of us care about, it’s just one issue after another. Problems that affect someone or the other; problems that may not be earth-changing, but problems for so many of us nonetheless. Is it that: (1) the airlines don’t know that these issues exist, (2) the airlines don’t have enough experienced or qualified people to fix the problems, (3) the airlines are so consumed, so overwhelmed by day-to-day operations, there simply isn’t the time to fix these things, or (4) they simply don’t care? Unfairly though it may seem to the… Read more »
noahkimmel
Member
Jay, having loved the airline business for most of my life, I would guess it is a combination of factors. I think most people would agree with your number 4, even if it is likely the least accurate statement. My initial hypotheses: First, like any business that has a lot of low-wage people, its tough to make a consistently positive human interaction experience (are you delighted everytime you go to Best Buy?, and made worse by poor relations, pay stagnation, etc.). I would just leave a caveat that there are fantastic people in many airlines who love the business, work… Read more »
jaybru
Member
Noah, Thanks for your comments. Everytime Cranky sees a post with more than 2 paragraphs, I’ll bet he gets a little nervous. But, the posts seem uniformly great, of course, starting with his topic selection. First, low-wage people. I’m pretty sure this is one of those industries where people go to work not primarily for the money. Flight crews, gate personnel, admin., you name it. Typically, very passionate people who would love to show more of a customer-friendly attitude, but who have just been beaten down, so to speak. It’s a shame this has happened and I blame airline management.… Read more »
colpuck
Guest

I booked a refundable ticket HA that when I went to refund it they told me wasn’t refundable.

Bradorsomething
Guest

I had the same problem with vegetarian meals when I flew my family to Hawaii last year. A real shame, since I called twice in advance to confirm my family could have vegetarian meals during the flight; they got to eat rolls.

Hearing a case of this in First as well turns me completely off this airline.

JUDY NAGY
Guest

OMG, I will never complain about UA again! I’ve never flown Hawaiian and please God, never will. What a bunch of idots. No excuse for running any business like this, especially a business that puts people on airplanes.

Erik Nordheim
Guest

I flew Hawaiian Airlines to Maui from Seattle last year. Flight was smooth and on time. It was also a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than Alaska Airlines. I would have liked to fly Alaska Airlines to get my miles, but it wasn’t worth the extra cash.

davidthomson_98
Member

Thanks for the very informative post. Thankfully I just changed a reservation I had with them to fly LAX-BNE with AA Award miles to the direct QF flight. I had thought that a day in HNL would be nice, but then decided I couldnt bother with the hassle of transfers, hotels etc and swapped! Thanks Brett!

garyedel
Member

They also have a frequent flyer glitch with airlines who have joint arrangements. If you book a HA interisland flight, there is no place to enter a Delta FF number. You must book on line, the call the toll free number and have it added to you reservation. This is a waste of time that can easily be fixed.

haolenate
Guest
Every time I’ve flown Hawaiian transpac we were late. Then again, the common denominator is HA 36 – HNL to PHX. This flight is constantly delayed because its the last afternoon flight to the west coast, so the plane gets “taken” and used on other routes frequently. The agents were not very good at handling it or being honest with passengers on ANY of the times it was late. The airline should simply say “the plane that does your trip is now coming from Portland, Oregon and hasn’t even taken off yet.. may as well go to the beach or… Read more »
Itan2Much
Member
Living on Maui, we have flown exclusively on Alaska Airlines the past two years because of the inept customer service of Hawaiian Airlines. Their customer service is handled in Manila and most of the agents you interact sound as if they don’t even know where Hawaii is . . . let alone know that Maui is a separate island from Oahu. We flew Hawaiian to the Big Island at Thanksgiving. Hawaiian not only switched our planes (which was originally a nonstop), but changed our seats. . . and, we’re FF’s. . . without as much as an email or phone… Read more »
aussiefa
Member

Once again (or more!), expectations are far greater than what is delivered. Look at the profit margins, look at the ticket price and remember it it for TRANSPORTATION for a person ONLY. Everything else, including “special meals” or a bread roll should not be expected. Be grateful that you arrived safely.

Al Porotesano
Guest
I was on HA 466 a few days ago. My cousin, his wife & child and I were on our way from Pago Pago, American Samoa to Honolulu. This Red Eye flight was full so I just fell asleep before takeoff. I wake up at 1:30 AM to see the plane still on the ground. The captain on the controls of that stuffy-aired Boeing 767-300 ran into mechanical problems involving rudders or Door Paddings. Once I heard his problems as a FF, I knew we had to get off the plane and so I did with a lot of angry… Read more »
aussiefa
Member

Bring your own food. If you know you have a problem, or any food intolerance, etc. DO NOT RELY on anyone but yourself to provide what you think you need.

Ben Mead
Guest
Hey Kate, are you a shill for the airline or what? HA treats even us frequent fliers like shit. I travel 3X weekly inter-island, and recently even being able to go on-line early and reserve an empty seat up front was taken away. I spend in excess of $34,000 a year to fly inter island, and they want to make an additional $50 on my seat? HA reported $51 million in profit for 2013. $51,000,000. That is $51 MILLION. What do they think is reasonable? Don’t give me that shit that they are making $1-10 per customer per flight. Every… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Yikes, I wonder why they haven’t been bought out yet..

Sure the interisland thing is a drag, but my Grandmother could run a better operation than this..

Jim
Guest

According to the most recent DOT report, Hawaiian Airlines has the lowest number of complaints per 100,000 enplanements of any US airline.

Perhaps it’s because they mostly have leisure travelers who are less likely to complain?

david duncan
Guest

Wow! Thanks for the heads-up. Was thinking these guys might offer a good flight experience. Will now avoid.

malbarda
Member

If I am not mistaking, DL, BA, KLM do not offer special meal service in Domestic First Class (DL in the US, BA in the UK) or on shorter international flights within flights (BA, KLM). It usually a meat and vegetarian option.

malbarda
Member

“….on shorter international flights within flights…” meant to read: on shorter international flights within Europe.

Adrian Jenkins
Guest

Thanks very much for this CrankyFlyer. I was seriously considering trying their AKL-HNL service when they start in March 2013, but I’m not so sure now. Having said that, Air NZ AKL-HNL isn’t much better. Unless you pay for “The Works” product, there’s no free meals on a 9-10 hour flight on Air NZ.

JUDY NAGY
Guest

I’m with Kate on the food thing – why would anyone rely on a stranger to cater to their food challenges? As for expecting “free food” in coach, that’s all over now, guys. Everyone wants low fares, so we have low fares and no extras are included. Take responsibility for yourself, whether it be bringing a meal, paying for food on the plane or getting a credit card that allows you to check your bag free.

Foxthomasb
Member

I was scheduled to fly ogg-hnl on Hawaiian recently. (the only segment) I received a call asking if I wanted to change flights to a later flight on the same route. After speaking briefly with with HA agent, the flight was oversold. I asked what the compensation was to take the later flight. I was told that there was no compensation to take another flight. I laughed and wished the lady a nice day. I assumed they found their sucker…I mean volunteer.

yo
Guest

A 55 minute connection time in OGG is an ETERNITY. Any gate can be accessed by any gate in under 10 minutes, unless you are Abe Vigoda, then it would be 15 minutes. I hate the shuck and jive and it sounds like HA has gotten pretty complacent in their intra-island monopoly.

PF
Guest

I question the special meal expectation as being totally the airlines problem. The website states there are no special meals offered. You entered the request into your system (assume a GDS) – what was the status of the service request?

Jim
Guest

Not to offend anyone, but the special meal issue sounds like the failure of the travel agent. If I pay an agent to book me a flight and tell him I am vegan, I expect him to let me know if such a meal isn’t going to be available so I can bring my own. That is why busy people use agents to do these things. Putting the request in the system and then shrugging when the airline ignores it isn’t providing good service. Even Orbitz can do that.

Jim
Guest

Sorry if that sounded harsh, Brett. I realize that you are a flight monitoring service and not a travel agency. But I did enjoy this post, and some of the other criticisms are valid.

That guy
Guest

Rather sad, and pathetic, that many hear judge a company just based on hearsay. Have flown Hawaiian for years, to every quadrant of their network. I actually wonder why anyone would fly another airline to the islands… Judging by how consistently full all their flights are, I don’t think thy have to worry much.

Nick Barnard
Member

Full flights doesn’t equal a profit… Although if you have a monopoly on many routes it might…

David M
Guest
From a financial perspective, they’re doing pretty well. I believe I read a while back they’re actually sitting on a fair amount of cash, such that their stock is pretty badly undervalued. Probably explains how they’re able to pull off a lot of the recent expansion into new markets and the A321NEO order. Not having any real competition in the inter-island market certainly helps. They used to split the market nearly 50/50 with Aloha, but now they dominate the market as the small fleet of CRJs and Dash 8s flown by Go and Island Air don’t come close to matching… Read more »
David M
Guest
As someone who has been flying Hawaiian for years (since I was a kid flying L-1011s from LAX with my parents), I can say the service isn’t what it used to be. I haven’t been flying them as much as I used to since I mostly shop on price and it seems like United’s often been coming up cheaper. The coach meal stood out as having gone downhill. It’s still free, but it’s a box with a warmed entree and dessert, not the old standard entree/salad/bread/dessert setup they and other airlines used to have. The food itself isn’t as good,… Read more »
Nick Barnard
Member

Okay, I hate this as much as the next guy, but perhaps Hawaiian is being cut so its ready for a sale?

I can see Delta buying it, putting taking the 717s to the mainland and replacing them with RJs. Or perhaps just keeping the 717sin Hawaii and raising the fares and operating the interisland as a sub-brand. IMHO I’m not a fan of airline within an airline, but it’d work here I’d think..

jonathan reed
Guest

I’m sure these are all legitimate complaints, but I love Hawaiian Air: Free, tasty hot meals for flights over the Pacific in economy and the ability to pay extra for seats with a lot of extra legroom in coach. Plus, it doesn’t take that long to call and talk to a knowledgeable person if you need to. Also, flight attendants in coach have a good attitude.

Fred
Guest

But unless you’re just flying from Hawaii to Asia or Australia, United, Delta, as well as Asia-based airlines offer these as well (and even if you originating in Hawaii, there are still usually other airlines).

Carol
Guest

Wow, Hawaiian Airlines is usually one of the better airlines I thought. I’ve only had good experiences when I’ve flown with them.

drybean
Member

I miss Aloha…

bigislander
Guest
Indeed we miss Aloha and why the poor customer service at HA? I sat next to a trainer for Aloha and she was pissed that the cabin crew were yacking their life stories away a common interisland ritual without a clue of our needs. She noted that Aloha spent +$1 mil on customer service training whereas HA, you guessed it $0. She asked! Cutbacks on FF awards: Last year my roundtrips KOA – LIH were 4 segments and with Pualani Platinum status 2000 miles. This year I am getting gypped with only half that. Doesn’t the IATA have a definition… Read more »
YouThinkHe'sCranky?
Guest
I recently experienced several of the issues described in CF’s post. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m the Cranky client in several of his examples. :-) But for me, the biggest issue of all is one that CF didn’t mention: On our OGG-SJC flight, Hawaiian Airlines screened the movie ?Taken 2? on the big screen in the main cabin… in front of an audience that included many young children While I?m sure the movie was edited for airline use, it nevertheless retained extensive graphically violent imagery. In the first 15 minutes or so, this included: – A man being murdered… Read more »
Ted Bier
Guest

Having just paid for 14 family members on a total of at least 18 Hawaiian flights, I strongly agree with just about every problem discussed in this article.

Unannounced schedule changes without notification

Unbelievably uncomfortable seats on JFK/HNL route (but excellent food)

Poorly trained gate personnel in NY, passengers with Boarding Passes for the same seat.

Totally unresponsive management.

We will NEVER use them again except MAYBE for interisland.

ouiserv
Member

I’ve flown Hawaiian for many years, but it truly has become a substandard airline. My big beef is the complete unavailability of refundable tickets. One can only apply unused tickets to a new ticket, which is especially fun with the $150 change fees (which cannot be deducted from the old ticket value!). Ripoff city.

don
Guest

Hawaiian airlines sucks ass. I will never fly them again – their agents are incompetent, they schedule change every 5 minutes without telling you – their website is always “undergoing maintenance” and you spend hours on the phone AFTER YOU HAVE BOOKED – just making sure there are no undisclosed flight chnages, seat changes or anything else. Their standard response is “that’s not my department – you have to call reservations/web support/customer service” – always pointing the finger. I will never again spend my hard earned money on these *ss*oles!!!! Rot in piece you jerks!!!

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