Flying the Friendly Skies to Maui (Trip Report)

Trip Reports, United

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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51 comments on “Flying the Friendly Skies to Maui (Trip Report)

  1. Costco Travel is the best for rental cars (at least around DC)! Especially good if you are traveling with a friend or significant other and don’t want to pay the additional driver fee!

    1. I thought most of the majors allowed spouses to drive free. That’s been my experience. When a co-worker wanted to drive too, my employer would have to cough up the fee for that.

  2. Glad to see someone has sense enough to use a carseat on an airplane. It amazes me the number of people who don’t. People won’t get in a car going 35mph without a child seat but they’ll darn sure get on an airplane doing 10X that speed not to mention subject to turbulence…

    1. I concur. Last week I was flying home from BOS and a mother across the aisle from me had 2 kids with her, one in a seat (no booster/child seat) and the other in her lap. The lap kid was huge – at least 18 months old given my best guess. Isn’t there a restriction there?? Anyway, I couldn’t help but think how unsafe that was. The kid in the seat was squirreling all over and wouldn’t stay buckled in. Thank God it was a smooth flight….and Thank you Bose for awesome noise cancelling headphones…and Thank you Delta for live TV so I could watch Thursday night football and ignore the screaming kids.

      Yes, I’ve become the cranky business traveler that doesn’t have patience for kids and old people.

      1. A – I don’t think there is a weight limit on lap children. I think the only rule is that the kid has to be under 2 years old. It’s crazy to think how big some kids are and they can still do that.

        1. Buy a seat for your baby. What price would you pay for her/his health and safety? The greatest risk of turbulence is being thrown about the cabin. I write this as a mother, grandmother and airline employee. Pediatricians agree. Thank you, CF, for writing about this. I wish the airlines and FAA had the guts to require a seat for all.

          1. I don’t know if the weight limit is written somewhere. But it is a serious issue (missile within the plane), and I have seen a Captain require a paid seat before push back.

    2. Car seat are designed for cars not airplanes. I would not want one next to me in the event of a crash, trying to get off the plane. Show me one car seat rated for 550mph ?

      1. #1. Typically a crash isn’t going to happen at 550, and if they are, well that’s not very survivable no matter what protective gear you’ve got.

        #2. I feel sorry for any child who’s parents are dumb enough to try and get the seat off in the event of a crash. In the event of an incident, out comes the kid and the seat should be left behind just like your luggage.

    3. When our son was younger, we coughed up the $200 for a Hammacher-Schlemmer car seat-stroller combo. They used to be advertised in the SkyMall catalog. We saw a family use it and they convinced us it was worth it. We used it for many years, than gave it to another family who is still using it.

      It was a clever design. The child remained strapped in a four-point harness. The wheels and handle retracted, and the seat belt went over the front of the car seat. The only design weakness was that the belt went in front instead of a slot in the back. Some rental cars we had to reject because the belt was too short. We always had to ask the flight attendant for a seat belt extender.

      The big advantage was one less piece of equipment to lug, and no worrying if it would get lost en-route, as it is illegal and unsafe to drive if your young child is not in an (approved) car seat.

      As a stroller, it worked well, unless you ventured off road with it.

      I looked for an example to post a link, but it doesn’t appear to be sold any longer. Too bad. At $200 eight years ago, we felt it was a bargain.

    4. All this talk of the awfulness of lap-babies and the danger therein – does anyone have any stats to back this up? I know some health agencies recommend it, but the evidence doesn’t seem great. For turbulence, all I could find was one baby being injured by turbulence in 2008 in the UK – that’s one incident for 238 million passengers.

      There might be some evidence that car seats would help survival rates in crashes (not turbulence, mind you) but even that seems to be anecdotal and uncontrolled.

      Before we go and demand everyone shell out extra money for airplane seats (also: screw you poor people!) can we have some actual stats and evidence? You know – the same things we’d usually demand when the FAA institutes intrusive safety regulations that affect us….? Bret – I don’t think you can just blithely say lap babies are unsafe in turbulence without, you know… proof?

      1. YOWzers – Not wearing your seatbelt on the airplane is unsafe in turbulence. Take a look at any incident report where an airplane hits severe turbulence and you’ll find that every injury was to someone who was not wearing a seatbelt. So a lap child is no different than any other person.

        1. Except a lap child weighs an order of magnitude less than any other person and is being *held* by another person (who is in a seatbelt!). There are HUGE differences between a lap child and a normal passenger and more than enough, I’d argue, to make the data from one group not applicable to the other.

          I ask again – where is the data to support your claim lap children are unsafe – one incident a year? Is that really enough to justify customers spending more, bringing on more child equipment and slowing down the entire boarding process even more?

          If this was any other issue and the FAA was forcing people to spend money and time on a questionable safety procedure, we’d ask for a lot more evidence than what I’ve seen from people in this thread that would be more than happy with mandatory plane-seats…

          Banning lap children would be security theater until proven otherwise – just because you agree with it emotionally, doesn’t make it less so.

          1. YOWzers – The weight of the child is irrelevant when we’re talking about damage to the child and not to the object he or she hits. Being held by another person can actually make things worse. The child can become a buffer between the seat and the adult as in this video:

            I’m assuming that is supposed to simulate an accident as opposed to turbulence but the idea that having two moving bodies working off each other can be more harmful is the same in any situation. And there have been injuries and fatalities over the years.

            But clearly your argument is that there aren’t enough injuries and fatalities to justify making people pay for tickets for infants, right? How many injured or dead children do you require before considering it to be a real threat?

            Look, you could make the argument that there aren’t a lot of crashes either (a handful of commercial aircraft accidents in the US over the last decade) or several turbulence encounters. So why bother with any safety devices? Why do we need seatbelts? Heck, why do we even need seats? So many more people could afford to fly if you could pack everyone into an airplane like commuters on a subway. So aren’t rules requiring seats just trying to make it more expensive for the traveler? Nearly every traveler would make it off the airplane without an injury.

            And honestly, if you wanted to save a few bucks and buy a ticket for standing room only, I’m fine with that. You’re an adult and can make your own decisions. Just make sure that if we do hit turbulence, there’s no way that anyone other than you (the person who buys that ticket) can get hurt. That’s impossible when it comes to a baby, because the baby doesn’t have a say in buying a ticket.

            I also don’t buy the argument that it will make it too expensive for families to fly. Families are going to have to pay those costs as soon as the kid turns 2 anyway. So really all you get is a 2 year reprieve on paying for a seat. Maybe it impacts the number of trips you can take before the kid is 2, but that’s a pretty minor blip of time in the scheme of things.

          2. So, just to be clear, your evidence is 8 incidents (and only 1 death) that might have been prevented by in a 29 year period? That’s… very low.

            And your reduction-to-absurdity line of reasoning cuts both ways – if the new scanners and invasive pat downs save even one life… if the annoying rules preventing you from turning on your e-reader and using your cell phone stop even one turbulence injury… then I guess they are good policy?

            Or alternatively: We could just ban children from aircraft (and all travel!) and save lives that way too – how many children must die in car accidents before you support my no-children-in-cars policy, you monster!?!?

            On the flip side are the unintended consequences of a new policy like this: even if you force only a small percentage of families away from air travel and that group turns instead to (the much less safe) road travel, then I think you have the potential to cause more harm then good.

            You’ve still failed to provide evidence that this is a real problem and you’ve failed to undertake and sort of cost/benefit analysis of your proposed ‘solution’; the level of inconvenience and costs the ‘solution’ would require demands much more than the prevention of one injury every 3 years and one death every 3 decades.

      2. I would think common sense would be enough since people holding a lap infant don’t have a death grip on them the whole time and if a plane drops in turbulence it’s unexpected and the adult holding the child could loose their grip and the inifant hit the ceiling.

        Sad that a parent would rather have their infant injured or killed first before thinking they should have purchased a seat and used a approved safety seat.

        And holding an infant up to age 2 on your lap for 18 1/2 hours on a mega long haul like nonstop Newark-Singapore wouldn’t be good for idea or comfortable for adult or child.

        1. David – see my above response – your argument lacks evidence and coherent logic.

          The evidence suggests that children are much safer (even as lap babies) in an airplane than they are in a car (even in car seats) – in 2010 alone, 1,200 children died and 170,000 were injured in cars.

          You sanctimonious comment could have more accurately read:

          “Sad that a parent would rather have their infant injured or killed first before thinking they should have flown with them in their lap rather than driven.”


          “Sad that a parent would rather have their infant injured or killed first before thinking they should never have put them in a car at all.”

          We live in a world of risks and benefits. The infinitesimally small risk that your child might get injured in a plane (either as a lap child or not) is nothing compared to the (apparently perfectly acceptable) risk of your child getting injured in a car. Or on a playground. Or in leaving the house at all. Planes are a very safe way to travel. Adding a car seat to them makes them almost negligibly safer. Requiring a car seat for planes would be make air travel unaffordable for some, inconvenience everyone, and endanger those children than are forced to drive instead of fly. Let’s all get off our high horses here.

  3. So you have to fill out a tag for the stroller and they don’t let you do it ahead of time. Now that seems dumb to not hand them out to save time during the boarding process.

    Who was the babysitter? Good job to have, you fly alone on another airplane and the parents deal with the kids in flight….lol

  4. Good report. I’m guessing that you got LAX based s-CO crew, and they are probably fairly senior in seniority because of the turn trip.

    On ParkingSpot: you can get some good discount with AAA or coupons on their website that put them to be competitive with other LAX parking providers. Also, if you valet (for $1 more/day, I believe), you can ask them to wash or detail your car, and/or even change the oil while you’re away for an additional charge. I thought that was a nice side benefit.

    1. ptahcha – The coupons on the website just give 10% off the rate. For rooftop parking, they charge $15.95 so you’re still looking at over $14 a day. I’ve found Quikpark usually in the $6 to $7 range and others are similar.

  5. I booked a pair of F tickets last month using my miles on UA and my wife had the same comment you had about the flight having nothing Hawaiian about it. I usually fly AS to the islands and they have mai thais and pog as available drinks and there is usually some flower in the meals they serve. Plus, the FA’s wear something that looks like a combination of AS and Hawaii.

  6. Did you know that the Halfway to Hawaii game is not only played on UAL’s westbound mainland routes….its also played on its eastbound asian routes. I played it (and lost) on the GUM-HNL leg when returning from Palau in February. BTW, I’m not sure what you.are.referring to about UAL’s Hawaii service being “gutted”. It’s been the same as this for me the past six years I have flown there in Economy Plus. First is of course different with the free Mai Tais…

    1. Doug – Maybe it hasn’t changed in the last 6 years, but United used to have a distinctly Hawaiian service as others have mentioned.

  7. Nice job on the makeshift fort. Although, it’d be fun if you and two other parents traded seats so there could be a whole fort row.. That might give the FA’s an aneurism though.

  8. Hey Nick, While a “fort row” for kids might be entertaining, it would be dangerous. You always need at least one adult in a row of three with kids, in case of rapid decompression or turbulence.

    1. Dianne. Good point. Although, I’d expect an adult to be a row ahead or a row behind. Also, from what I’ve read most mainline jets have one more oxygen mask than seat, so the adult would be able to use a mask in that row.

      I’m curious what the safety discussions for Air New Zealand’s story time in the rear galley of their 777-300ERs looked like. I wonder how Air New Zealand addressed the safety concerns for that.

      1. Nick – Good question about the Air NZ story time. I think the reality is that the chance of having a big turbulence issue when the seatbelt sign is off or a decompression is so tiny that it’s not a difficult risk to take. But then again, I have no idea what regulators say about this.

  9. Sadly all air service seems to be a commodity. Airlines used to have special service to Hawaii. Pleasant Hawaiian used to offer full meal service including dessert on their ATA flights. Airlines could still have the spirit of Aloha by playing Hawaiian music as you board the plane, training the crew in the Spirit of Aloha and providing Hawaiian themed meals and drinks. And enough with the crews who forget they are not only there to make us safe, but also make us feel welcomed and important. Hawaii is special and just because airlines think most people are burning miles to go there shouldn’t stop them from making this a special flight. They certainly aren’t offering the cheap fares they used to so someone is making money! I will say I did just have a great experience on American to HNL. Although the service was the same as if I was going to NYC, I did have an extremely friendly crew. I love travel and only want the airlines to improve.

    1. Don’t paint with a broad brush – AS has a nice product to Hawaii. Free Mai Tai’s FA’s in Hawaiian shirts, Hawaiian menu items, etc. Even the little kids kit is Hawaiian themed. It was a pretty nice flight. I’ll admit the return was less exciting – having a killjoy flight attendant didn’t help.

  10. So how did you do on Halfway to Hawaii? Closest I’ve come to winning was being in a 4-way tie. The tie breaker was to guess the combined seniority of the flight attendants.

    Costco is indeed great for rental car rates.

    For parking, I like to check for coupons. Though my current preferred lot at SAN (WallyPark) offers a bigger AAA discount than the discount with their coupon.

    1. David M – I was a little over a minute off. Punks. But then again, what the heck would I have done with a paper Lonely Planet guide? Not much.

      Thanks for the tip on Looks like a good site.

      1. I miss Quick Park. That Avion Drive location was fantastic for price, proximity, and service. But they failed to notify me of their demise on a recent trip so I punted and went to the Parking Spot on Century (the reservation refund took two weeks, could have been worse). Parking Spot gives a better feeling of security, it’s nice not to have to call for a pickup (a Century van has magically appeared within two minutes both times I’ve recently used them), and the Parking Spot’s service is very good: Their drivers seem to have a higher level of professionalism and friendliness. I’m not sure that’s worth $14.95/day as opposed to QP’s $6 or $7. But my parking for business trips is covered, so I don’t mind.

        I won the Halfway to Hawaii game a few years ago (just 20 seconds off, a world record for that particular captain). The prize then was an Iz CD.

        If having a Hawaiian experience coming and going is important, fly Hawaiian Airlines. There’s free food for everyone (nothing special, but upgrades are available for purchase), crew garbed in Hawaiian shirts, Hawaii travelogs on the entertainment system, and Hawaiian music upon landing (even on return trips). They had an equipment issue on my last return from there and handled it pretty well: There was about 45 minutes of sitting in the plane while they tried to fix it (that was a drag although the captain was informative); when it couldn’t be fixed, a replacement plane was reloaded and took off only two hours later than scheduled. Not ideal, but not bad.

  11. I fly United all the time all over the world. I’m generally very happy and have my global services status to thank for this. But my one complaint is that flying to Hawaii is now “just another flight.” Even in first class. Gone are the floral shirts, gone are the celeb chef inspired meals. It’s scrambled eggs and that weird sausage patty. Just like going to Chicago on a typical Monday morning. Where is the Mahalo love? @drosen85 (if you are listening United!)

    1. stan – I know, I know. It’s impossible to believe. Must have been a glitch on Delta’s website that accidentally allowed it to happen.

  12. United’s new former Continental management has done their best to take away anything special about flying and to make the flights as generic as possible, so that the flights to Hawaii are no different than the flights to Cleveland. It’s all part of the lack of charm of the “new United”.

  13. For a minute I thought you were doing the hot dogs or legs photo game. I have also decided that every flight needs a fort, great idea and he appeared to be having a good time.

  14. I read your blog often but we have never met. I flew United from OGG to SFO the same day you flew back to LAX. I left one gate away and never saw you! I would have introduced myself as a crankyflier fan. Small world!

    1. cmhaviator – I’m sure we walked right by you since our gate was the next one down. If you saw a little kid running around in circles, that was probably us.

  15. Flights to Hawaii are no different now than a fight to Newark, except the air is a lot nicer when you land. But Maui? It is Oahu Junior! Kauai or Kona/Hilo, where you can still find Hawaii and isolated beaches and nice locals not trying to sell you timeshares every 20 feet.

  16. I much would rather have flown on the Delta flight. I use to get free seats there on a nearly bi monthly basis or in first class.

    Not much of a vacation watching someones children and I never in all my years traveling to Hawaii can understand whya nice couples place like that why anyone would want the kids in tow ? I have 2 kids but time for myself and the wife is more important than with the children that don’t understand or appreciate it

    Clearly not a good use of your time or money

    1. I doubt it was mean to be a vacation for the babysitter. It was a friend volunteering so that a couple could enjoy some alone time on a family trip.

      Who are you to judge what is a good use of someone else’s time and money? The Islands are a great family destination…it’s not some giant Sandals resort.

  17. About 10 years ago I boarded a UA flight from HNL to SFO and mistakenly asked the FA “when did you stop wearing aloha attire on flights to the mainland”. I got a crazy look like what planet was I on. I remember frequetn flights in the 1970s and 1980s from HNL were always a highlight of travel. I totally agree that United has gutted the aloha spirit on flights to Hawaii. The same with the Red Carpet Lounge at HNL, a very sparse selection of prepackaged snacks and soft drinks. I now have Premier 1K on United (primarily foreign travel) and systemwide I have found UA to be a dog, even travel in First. I flew twice this year on AS from Seattle to Maui return and all flights on AS were great, pleasant crew wearing aloha attire and a generally very jovial group of pax.

  18. Anything more than a flower in their hair can be cause for the UA flight attendants to be written up for being out of dress code now.

  19. Nice review of a very dull airline. The important note is that you no longer do the lid-on-lap routine. Congratulations! That is a dumb rule and dreadfully unsafe. For others: If you love your kids, Don’t Do It.

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