Flying the Friendly Skies to Maui (Trip Report)

With my wife’s maternity leave from her job coming to an end, and a couple of unused United MileagePlus tickets sitting around (didn’t want to pay the $150 redeposit fee), we decided it was time to take a little trip. Of course, with two little kids, there aren’t a lot of places that seem very appealing so we looked west toward Hawai’i.

With nonstop flights to islands we know well, it would make for about as easy of a trip as we could want while still being worthwhile. All we had to do was find availability.

It turns out, that wasn’t very hard. United had excellent availability, and we settled on Maui, the same place we went last year. We changed our two existing tickets to go to Maui and then used US Airways miles for the other three. (That’s 1 for each kid and 1 for a babysitter. I won’t do the lap child thing after trying it once – it’s just not safe in turbulence.)

After some issues with our babysitter and then with US Airways (not United), we got everything squared away. The four of us would fly United while our babysitter ended up doing something I’ve never seen before – fly on a low level Delta award to Hawai’i. (I believe that’s as rare as a unicorn sighting.)

Overall, the flights were perfectly fine. There was nothing that really stood out good or bad.

The Delta flight left an hour before ours, so we went to the airport early. I dropped the babysitter off at Delta’s Terminal 5. Then I dropped my wife and daughter off at United’s Terminal 7. I took my son to park the car.

Normally when it comes to parking, I just find the cheapest place I can that’s not too far away (which is often QuikPark, though it’s unclear to me if they’re even open right now – they keep moving). This time, however, The Parking Spot offered to let me try one of their facilities for free. I chose the Sepulveda location right near In ‘n Out. The place was clean and well-located, shuttles were frequent, and you get a bottle of water when you leave, but it also seems to be more expensive, sometimes double what I usually get. I can’t imagine justifying that, especially on a longer trip.

Once at LAX, I sailed through Pre Check with my son in tow, and we made our way to Terminal 6. It dawned on me that I hadn’t flown United in a really long time. The last time was, in fact, in May 2011 when Lufthansa brought me back to LA from SFO after the A380 inaugural. Of course, a lot has changed since then, so I was looking forward to seeing the “new” United at work.

The first thing I noticed in the gate area was the boarding system. There were rows for each boarding group, though at this gate, they were shoe-horned behind some pillars and it made things a little awkward. I went up to the counter to get a stroller tag in advance, but the gate agent said to just get it when I boarded. There were a lot of kids on this flight (naturally, it’s Hawai’i), so I was surprised she didn’t want to tag them early.

United no longer does pre-boarding for families with little kids, so we got in line for group 3 and boarded with everyone else. The stroller tags on United actually require filling out the name with the destination, so it took a little time to get that done. But soon we were on.

October 4, 2013
United 1176 Lv Los Angeles 9a Arr Kahului 1138a
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 76, Runway 25R, Depart 3m Early
Kahului (OGG): Gate 29, Runway 2, Arrive 30m Early
N57863, Boeing 757-33N, United globe colors, ~99% Full
Seat 12E, Coach
Flight Time 4h52m

Originally, we were in the last two rows on the airplane but thanks to a US Airways problem, we lost our seats. United’s Twitter team came to the rescue and got us the best they could – two sets of seats together in Economy Plus. Once onboard, we were able to switch with a couple so we had an aisle/middle with the middle/window behind.

My wife had the baby in the window, as you have to do with a car seat. I sat in the row in front with my son in the aisle. For those of you with little kids who don’t want to bring a car seat, you need to immediately go and buy the CARES harness. This is FAA-approved and it’s tiny. I love this thing.

Soon we were in the air and the kids fell asleep on takeoff. The flight attendants did their jobs, but I wouldn’t say they were overly-friendly. You know that feeling when you think the flight attendant is annoyed you asked them something but they don’t outright say it because they’re professionals? It was kind of like that.

I was most surprised at how much the Hawai’i service has been gutted. There was absolutely nothing different from the regular United on this flight except for the Halfway to Hawai’i game. If you guess what time you’ll get halfway, you win a Lonely Planet guidebook. They also bombard you with Hilton timeshare propaganda in the pamphlet.

The flight passed quickly, and the kids did well. I had to get a little creative (yes, that’s a makeshift fort below), but there were only a couple minor bouts of screaming and crying. Soon enough, Maui was in view.

On the return, things went pretty similarly. I dropped everyone off at the terminal while I returned the minivan to Budget. (Thank you, Costco Travel, for having great rates.)

We checked in, went through security (no Pre Check for me this time), and headed to the gate to wait. The same boarding lines were set up as in LA, but it seemed like nearly every non-elite was in boarding area 3. I’m curious how they divvy these up.

October 10, 2013
United 1191 Lv Kahului 1255p Arr Los Angeles 916p
Kahului (OGG): Gate 29, Runway 2, Depart 3m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 63, Runway 24L, Arrive 12m Late
N78866, Boeing 757-33N, United globe colors, ~90% Full
Seat 40E, Coach
Flight Time 4h59m

This time, our seats at the rear of the airplane were unchanged and I couldn’t have been happier. That is one long airplane, but the mini-cabin at the back is the perfect place for a kids-only cabin. There is no galley at the back, so between there and the lavs in front, there isn’t much traffic at all.

Another great reason for kids in the back? It’s really, really loud back there on this airplane. Launching off Maui’s short runway with throttle waaaay up shows just how loud it can be. (Even gunning it, the short runway meant we had a weight restriction so seats went empty. The best news was that one of the empty ones was next to me – no surprise since it was the last row.) Though my son looked concerned at how loud it was on takeoff, he quickly fell asleep again.

I was surprised that I didn’t even notice the difference in legroom since, unlike on the way out, we weren’t in Economy Plus on this flight. It was perfectly fine for me. The only thing we did notice is that the the car seat didn’t fit without obstructing the recline in front.

The flight attendants seemed tired – no surprise since they had started the morning in LA and were turning around to go back with us. This time, there was more “Hawai’i” in the service. They had floral aprons they wore, and the person making the announcements said “aloha” and “mahalo” a lot. I don’t know his background but it wouldn’t surprise me if he was from Hawai’i.

He was so tired that his announcements sounded like he was going to fall asleep. When we passed through 10,000 feet, he started rattling off a bunch of things including the speech about how the seatbelt sign had been turned off but we should remain buckled while seated. Too bad the sign actually wasn’t off.

We flew through some cloud tops on and off for the first couple hours, so the seatbelt sign was on that whole time. I was nervous my son would get antsy, but he slept the whole time. (That says a lot – you really feel the turbulence a lot more back there.)

The rest of the flight was uneventful. I had a cobb salad wrap which wasn’t bad though the lettuce was kind of wilted. Still, it tasted pretty good.

The last hour of the flight was in the dark, and since I was on the right side, that meant missing much of the view of the coast on the way in. After landing, the flight attendant warned us that it could take awhile to taxi. He wasn’t kidding. We had to wait and multiple intersections for traffic to clear, and then we had to be towed into our gate, 25 minutes after our wheels had touched the ground.

Once off the airplane, I went to pick up the car. (It took about 10 minutes for the shuttle to arrive, though there were 2 that passed by for the Century location.) Then I picked everyone up and we headed home.

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