72 Hours with Hawaiian: A Unique Headquarters Setup, Flying Hawaiian’s Very First Airplane

I left off in Part 1 yesterday as I stepped off the airplane into the warm Honolulu sunshine. After a brief ride, I was at Hawaiian’s headquarters building.

[Disclosure: Hawaiian paid for my flights and hotel.]

From the outside, the building is a twisted mess of multi-level parking lots. It’s home to all kinds of different firms ranging from telecom to vehicle maintenance for the state. Buried in there is Hawaiian’s brand new facility. Once you walk in the door, you forget that the outside is such a confused mess.

The entrance is on the third floor, and right past the entry way is a big stairway leading upstairs. To the right is the airline’s modest operations center. To the left is the Pili Lunchbox, the lunch room that is run by a local Hawaiian chef who creates farm-to-table dishes every day. The rest of the floor is filled with desks, as is the floor above. They are working on the 5th floor now which will fully complete the airline’s facility when it opens.

Open Concept Hawaiian Offices

This isn’t your typical headquarters building. The office is all open-concept. Desks are open to those around you, and the floors are only broken up by conference rooms and huis. The hui is a gathering place where they have printers, coffee, water, etc. Nobody has their own printers, so they force you to socialize with coworkers. There are no exceptions. President and CEO Mark Dunkerley has an open desk just like anyone else. The only difference is he has a conference room behind him if he needs to go into a meeting.

Hawaiian Headquarter Hui

The Lunchbox is a big gathering place. The tables are mostly communal and it is packed during lunch hour. Why? Because the airline has a rule that nobody can eat at their desks. Oh sure, you can go out elsewhere if you’d like, but if you stay in the building, you can’t eat alone.

Hawaiian Pili Lunchbox

Why do they do this? It seems to be a big effort at building a work family, or ‘ohana in Hawaiian. (As you’ll see later, this isn’t the only place they use that word.)

After the tour of the office, it was time to get right back on another airplane. But this was no ordinary airplane. This was an incredibly old airplane that makes the Convair I flew in Phoenix in May look brand-spanking new.

Ride on the Bellanca
Ship NC 251M is a 1929 Bellanca. In fact, it’s Hawaiian’s very first airplane. Before it acquired flying boats to do interisland flying, Hawaiian opened up shop with a Bellanca, THIS Bellanca, doing flightseeing tours around O’ahu. A few years ago, they found this airplane and decided to fix it up back to flying condition to honor the airline’s history.

Hawaiian Bellanca NC251M

They keep the airplane in a Castle & Cooke hangar on the makai (ocean) side of the airport, and it’s a real beauty. It sounds like the process to get this up and running wasn’t the easiest. They had to get creative. For example, the tires? Those came off a 1925 Ford Model T truck. They also put a bigger engine in there than it had originally, so it has plenty of power.

The Bellanca is available for employees and their families to fly without charge. Unbelievable, I know. I guess it’s considered a perk, and it goes up several times a week. Our pilot was Merle, a guy who had only been flying the airplane for only a few months. But his long history of flying all kinds of aircraft made it an easy transition. He asked us where we wanted to go, and I told him to just take us anywhere for as long as we could stay up. The end result was a slightly longer tour of the island than normal. After taking off to the north, we flew over Waikiki and Diamond Head. Then we snaked up the windward side, passing Koko Head and the Pali and Likelike highways. We came around the North Shore and then passed through the middle of the island, over Pearl Harbor, and right back on the ground. It was amazing, and it was too cool for words. Take a look at this 4m22s video of my Bellanca tour around O’ahu.

By the time we got back, I was exhausted. Fortunately, we were done for the day. They took me over to the Ala Moana Hotel, which was fine but is clearly well past its prime, and I was ready to collapse. But I needed to eat, so thanks to all of you who helped me on Twitter. I went to Nico’s Pier 38 and had some excellent ahi. Then I came back and passed out.

The next morning I was up before the sun. I’m not sure why this always happens, but when I go to Hawai’i, I always wake up early that first day. It doesn’t happen to me when I come back home after a trip to the east coast (same time change), but in Hawai’i it’s like clockwork. And that’s my favorite part of the trip. I walked down to the beach and watched the sunrise.

Ala Moana Sunrise

After that, it was time to start the day. First up was my truncated interview with President and CEO Mark Dunkerley. I’ll have that, including our follow-up phone call, next week. (I figure I’ll give you a break from my Hawaiian series on Thursday.)

Other posts from my 72 hours with Hawaiian Airlines:
72 Hours with Hawaiian: Flying to Honolulu in Extra Comfort
72 Hours With Hawaiian: Across the Aisle From President and CEO Mark Dunkerley
72 Hours with Hawaiian: Meeting with Execs, Flying ‘Ohana by Hawaiian
72 Hours with Hawaiian Airlines: The Honolulu International Airport Modernization Plan
72 Hours With Hawaiian Airlines: Talking to Flight Ops, the Ride Home in First Class

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