There is probably no other airline in the United States that takes its home culture more seriously than Hawaiian Airlines. With 85 years under its belt, Hawaiian had always been one of those carriers that fascinated me. For years, it was focused on interisland travel. It slowly grew into mainland flying, and then during the last few years it exploded throughout the Pacific… with mixed results. So when I was asked if I’d like to come visit with the management team for a couple of days, I jumped at the chance.
[Disclosure: Hawaiian provided flights and accommodation]
I had expected the Hawaiian culture to play an important part in the airline, but I didn’t realize how deep it would go. I’m not just talking about traditional Hawaiian culture, and even the executives are not immune. Case in point? Just before our interview, CEO Mark Dunkerley was stung by a box jellyfish while surfing. He lasted only a few minutes with me before having to be whisked off to the hospital, apparently having an allergic reaction. (They gave him a shot, and he was on a flight to Japan later that day.)
As I’ve done with previous installments in this series with both Korean and United, I’ll go in chronological order through my visit so you can really get a sense of how it all felt for me. To start, of course, I had to sample the product to get there in the first place.
Hawaiian’s presence in LA stretches back 30 years, and it’s the mainstay of the airline’s mainland operation. Today, Hawaiian operates 3 daily flights to Honolulu, 1 to Kahului (Maui), and it’s now trying seasonal flying to both Kona (Big Island) and Lihue (Kauai). It actually has a small, 80-person flight attendant base in LA that staffs many of these flights. Flight attendants fly out to Honolulu and back in one, long day. But they seem to like it, because they get to sleep in their beds most nights.
I had been sent my confirmations long in advance, and I logged on to snag myself a window seat. When I went to check in online, I saw my seat had been moved up to seat 11J in the first row of coach. This is part of the new Extra Comfort section. When I tried to check in, the system tried to charge me for the seat, and I couldn’t move back to my original. A quick note to my PR contact Alison noted that she was trying to upgrade me, and I should just see an agent.
I left home early since it was rush hour, but also because I knew I’d need to talk to an agent. I parked at QuikPark (which has finally reopened near the Radisson at LAX) and was at the ticket counter with more than an hour to spare. It was busy there, but I made my way up front quickly. I was told to talk to the special services agent at counter 9. Considering the numbers were all in the 60s and 70s, I thought I was lost. Then I realized that the 6 on counter 69 had worn off. Hence, it became counter 9.
She checked me in easily and I sailed through security into a dingy Terminal 2. This terminal, the former home of airlines like Pan Am and Northwest, is now primarily for international travel, and it’s in desperate need of attention. Fortunately, the airport is working on that. Hopefully they start with the nasty bathrooms.
I went to the gate and waited until it was time to board. Hawaiian is old school. None of this boarding group garbage. The agents there still go by straight row numbers. Being in row 11, I boarded toward the end. Once I passed that threshold, my Hawaiian experience began.
June 23, 2014
Hawaiian 1 Lv Los Angeles 9a Arr Honolulu 1135a
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 27, Runway 24L, Depart On Time
Honolulu (HNL): Gate 33, Runway 8L, Arrive On Time
N373HA, Airbus A330-243, Standard Hawaiian colors, ~95% Full
Seat 11J, Extra Comfort coach
Flight Time 5h16m
Part of Hawaiian’s pitch to travelers is that it can extend your Hawaiian vacation. Your time on the airplane is increasingly like any other flight on most other carriers. But on Hawaiian, you feel like you’re in Hawai’i while you’re onboard. (I think that’s how it used to be on United before the service was gutted.)
When I boarded, a flight attendant in an Aloha shirt greeted me with a smile and directed me to my seat. On the A330, you board through the second door, and because the First Class cabin is relatively small, you get to turn left if you’re in the first three rows of coach.
That is why this is becoming Extra Comfort. They pulled the bulkhead out between coach and First Class and put a curtain in. That allowed them to increase legroom in those three rows, creating a premium offering. (The exit row back at door 3 is also Extra Comfort.) The fleet is still being fully reconfigured right now, so Extra Comfort is only sold at check-in for $40 on the west coast flights. For travel beginning August 1, you can pre-purchase for $60 on west coast flights.
My aircraft was fully configured in the new layout, and it was nice. Row 11 has a crazy amount of legroom and with no bulkhead, it still has storage under the seat in front. The only downside? The tray and the in-seat video in the arm aren’t exactly ideal.
But what is good is that these seats all have 110V power ports. When the product officially launches in August, it will also have priority security and boarding, a pillow and blanket, and free TV (excluding new release movies). On international flights, there will be an upgraded meal as well. So unlike most extra legroom seats, there is more of a product built around this.
We took off into the remains of the morning marine layer and were quickly into bright sunshine. My favorite thing about the Hawai’i flights? You just take off and keep going. The airplane barely turns the entire time.
As soon as we were above 10,000 feet, I pulled out my in-seat video player and started poking around. There was a slightly out-of-date history of the airline (touting new service to Taipei… which has already been canceled) and a bunch of movie and TV options. I flipped on a movie and stared out at the wide open ocean. There is no airplane full of happier people than one flying to Hawai’i.
Shortly after, it was time for our free meal. Say what? Yeah, apparently in Hawai’i, you can’t enter someone else’s home without being offered food. It’s a sign of hospitality, and Hawaiian felt it important to do the same for its customers. But it’s not going to do it quietly. You’ll hear an announcement proudly proclaiming that Hawaiian is the only domestic airline to offer free food.
The morning meal is pretty skimpy. It’s just fresh fruit, cheese and crackers, and a chocolate-covered macadamia nut. But somehow it still seemed like a bounty compared to my usual expectations. They used to allow people to pay for a premium meal, but the uptake wasn’t great and they couldn’t make it work out very well so they cut it. I was told later they are looking for ways to bring something like that back if they can.
After the service was done, they announced the opening of the Pau Hana store. Pau Hana means the time after work, when you socialize and relax with friends. The store is opened up in the galley area behind the Extra Comfort section and kept open for hours. There is a bunch of food in there (all shelf stable) and things like a pillow and blanket kit. The flight attendants welcomed people steadily throughout the flight, to my surprise. I spoke with them briefly and they said they do a pretty brisk business.
Once my movie was done, we were hours from land in any direction and cruising along in smooth air. I thought about another movie, but I started to get into the spirit of Hawai’i and opted for music. They have a bunch of music channels, and I settled on Territorial Airwaves, with music from the time before Hawai’i became a state. I kicked back and stared out the window, feeling fairly relaxed considering I wouldn’t get much time to do that once on the ground.
We got closer to the islands and it was time for the second service. Hawaiian serves a bag of Maui chips (though these are nothing compared to the best Maui chips on Earth, Kitch’n Cook’d) and a drink. I could have had a rum punch, but I opted for POG juice instead. Taking a swig of POG (passion, orange, guava), instantly brings me back to my childhood. This stuff has been served on interisland flights for as long as I can remember. And that’s pretty much the only time I drink it.
Unfortunately, I was on the right side so I couldn’t get that first glimpse of a volcano off in the distance signifying the beginning of the end of our journey. But the flight attendants came on shortly after descent and started giving a lengthy history of the islands. Apparently this used to be scripted long ago but it’s not mandatory anymore. Many (if not most) flight attendants still love it and like giving an audio tour as you pass by the Big Island, Maui, and Moloka’i on the way in to Honolulu.
We flew in over Kaneohe and then descended with that glorious view of Diamond Head and Waikiki. We looped around and came in for a landing. I had a very strange feeling as we touched down. Usually landing in paradise meant the beginning of a vacation, but this time, it meant it was time for me to get to work.
We parked at gate 33 at the far end of the Ewa concourse and only then did I realize what a weird layout Honolulu has. I’ll write more about that and the future plans at the airport in a later post.
Alison picked me up and whisked me off to the headquarters building, which is right across from the terminal. Tomorrow I’ll have more on that visit, along with my flight in the airline’s very first airplane… 85 years ago.
Other posts from my 72 hours with Hawaiian Airlines:
72 Hours with Hawaiian: A Unique Headquarters Setup, Flying Hawaiian’s Very First Airplane
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
Excellent – I’ll be following this review closely. Unfortunately I am booked on United from IAH nonstop to HNL in December…with service that will probably be the polar opposite of the Hawaiian experience. No food, no IFE, no joy
I have actually flown IAH – HNL on United, and unfortunately, you have the right idea about how the flight’s going to turn out. You may fly on a pmCO 767-400 which is operated during low seasons, however I flew on a pmUA 777-200. If you do end up with the triple seven, do your best to book a window seat. I don’t know what United was smoking when they came up with this, but it is in the 2-4-2 configuration. It is a pretty miserable experience. The pmUA 777 has ancient IFE’s, but at least they’re there. Of course the pmCO 767-400 has IFE’s. Honestly, your flight should depend on what plane you get. Considering United hasn’t been able to merge labor contracts yet, the crew you get depends on the plane you get. (pmUA plane = pmUA crew). Cross your fingers for Continental
The Pau Hana store seems tacky, Walmart could set up a better display I bet.
I like that meal set up, the tray and liner paper look like thought was put into that instead of just some plain tray.
Have we ever seen you travel in anything but faded jeans and brown shoes :-)
David SF – Well, I’m sure they could have made it look nicer, but that would require some real investment. They just arranged everything on top of the galley carts. I was actually amazed that they spent as much time as they did arranging everything.
As for my wardrobe, well, yes. My return had me in khakis since I was coming directly from meetings with the airilne. But these days, jeans are always my chosen pant if I can.
This seems like a pretty good company to fly with.
I like the fruit platter for breakfast. Well thought and perfect for vegans :)
I might give it a try to go to Honolulu during my round the world trip. I hope to have a similar experience than yours.
Cheers from a global-trotter French
Great article. I’ve been waiting for a review of Hawaiians EC and the new cabin layout. We’re booked in EC from SYD-HNL in October, unless we can score a late first class upgrade. I wish airlines would give passengers traveling economy the option to purchase an upgraded meal, they’re always looking for more revenue. I’d pay.
Rick – Well, for international flying, the EC cabin comes with an upgraded meal, so we’ll see if you like it. But Hawaiian had a lot of trouble with their pay for more food plan. They are looking at ways to bring it back where people can pay in advance so they don’t have to worry about spoilage.
CF-Any indication from Hawaiian if they will ever introduce lie-flat seats in first? What was your opinion of first class?
Rick – We did talk about flat seats, and I’ll have that in a later post. As for First Class, it was good for what it was. I’ll have more on that later as well.
Hello CF, one last question on Hawaiian’s EC. Did Hawaiian eloborate at all what they consider an “upgraded meal?” I was checking out the menus from SYD-HNL and they only have listed “complimentary” and “first class” menus, curious where the EC menu will fall on their international flights. Thanks!
Rick – No clue what it means, I’m afraid.
The SFO United Club still have POG in one of its self-serve juice dispensers, and I can’t find it anywhere else.
Hope you enjoyed Grand Budapest Hotel.
ptahcha – Aha! Someone caught the movie from a photo on my Dublin flight last year, and so I figured I’d give a screenshot and see if anyone called it out. Of course I enjoyed the movie. I love his movies.
I’ve had the same problem as Cranky with the web site trying to force me to pay for a premium seat. In my case, no seats were available for online checkin, and when I went to checkin on line, it gave me a preferred seat (bulkhead row) and tried to charge me for it. I aborted the online checkin, but the same thing happened at the airport kiosk and it wouldn’t let me change to another seat. The agents were also trying to say that that whole circle of kiosks were broken but they obviously weren’t. I ended up having to wait for one of the few agents, who were able to cancel our seat assignments but not give me a new one, instead I had to go see another agent at the gate to get a seat assignment; we got the pair in the very last row of coach. I didn’t mind, but my wife didn’t appreciate being next to the lav.
Hawaiian has some quirks. They’re definitely not as good as they used to be back in the DC-10 era. I feel like they’ve gotten lazy without competition from Aloha to keep them on their toes.
At one point the free meal was pretty minimal (just an entree and dessert), but the last time I flew with them (when I had trouble with the seat assignment) the meal had gone back to a more typical coach meal. Not to mention that the food they had when Beverly Gannon was their corporate chef was much better than the stuff they have now. A fruit plate as the only breakfast option feels lame.
David M – They definitely have IT issues, and I brought this up in several of my discussions. Apparently they’re working on them, so I’ll have an update on that in a future post. But to me, that’s their Achilles heel right now.
I’m told that the food on the return is a regular hot meal unlike the breakfast service, but they ended up bumping me up to First Class on that one so I didn’t get to try.
Seems like alot of brown in the plane.. Which is different from the Grey/Blue trend everyone else is going for lately. Does it work and seem modern enough? Or is it like flying in the 70s?
Nick – Only the First Class seats are brown. The rest are blue. I actually talked about this with their marketing person. They like the neutral earth tones because it will allow them to play more with bursts of color in the way they present things. It prevents that from being too overwhelming. (Or something like that. I’m not a design guy.)
Aww, blue now. Used to be closer to purple.
The blue uniforms bother me too. It’s not a color I associate with Hawaiian. I see them and I think Air Tahiti Nui, not Hawaiian. Purple seems to be a better fit for them.
Older purple uniforms: http://uniformfreak.com/1hawaiian.html
Recent blue uniforms: https://www.flickr.com/photos/hawaiian-airlines/6506818609/
There is a Hawaiian shirt store just outside of Waikiki called Bailey’s Aloha Shirts. In the back of the store, there is a rack of uniform shirts including older Hawaiian Airlines shirts and TheBus uniform shirts. I picked up the men’s purple shirt and got quite a few comments while wearing it on my flight back to PHX on Hawaiian.
Allow me to go wildly off topic, but perhaps you know that the oracle of Delphic style has ruled that square-toe shoes are horribly gauche? I mention this from a good place….and semi-seriously. Perhaps you know and don’t care, or don’t know and don’t care, but there is at least the consideration that some shallow individual somewhere may judge you harshly for wearing the shoes of a Midwestern high school science teacher (meant light-heartedly :). Perhaps a concern for a traveling businessman, traveling on business…
I’ve read about Extra Comfort on Hawaiian’s website and it looks similar to Delta’s Economy Comfort on long haul, international and transcontinental flights, but with more benefits and a better legroom advantage, especially in the exit row which I heard gives you about 9″ more legroom. The airline makes the seats sound promising and if I ever fly on Hawaiian Airlines, I will definitely try to book an extra comfort seat.
Thank you for your review of extra comfort. However, I was hoping you might have some insight into the extra comfort seats without the bulkhead. While I know that you did not sit there, is there anything you can add in regards to the normal legroom in the extra comfort section? Thanks again!
Jeff – The legroom is not as good but it’s still plenty in those rows. It’s comparable to Economy Plus on United.
Thanks for the info!
Thank you for a very informative review.
We are flying on Hawaiian Air and have the comfort seats but in aisle 13A&B on all four flights, inbound and outbound. It’s not too late for us to change seats if needed. We would like to see the volcano as we arrive and depart from Honolulu. Please tell me whether we should change our seats. Thank you!!
from Los Angeles to Honolulu
from Honolulu to Auckland
from Auckland to Honolu
from Honolulu to LA
Guin – By “the volcano,” I assume you mean Diamond Head. You’re in the right seats for the flight to and from the mainland. Most of the time, Diamond Head will be out your left side, though there’s never a guarantee. Going to Auckland, you might have a glimpse on the left side, but you probably won’t get much of a view. On the way back from Auckland, you aren’t likely to see Diamond Head.
Thank you for your response. Do you have any comments or made any observations re: row 13? Those are the last of three rolls of “extra comfort” towards the front of the plane. Thank you again.
Guin – The only thing about the last row is that it’s closest to the galley so when they open the “Pau Hana” store for people to buy in flight, it could spill up into that area a little. But it shouldn’t be a big issue. The first row is where I sat and I liked it. There is no bulkhead so you still have storage under the First Class seats in front of you.
HI CF if you had a choice and a little on the plump side. Would you choose 11A and 11B over 12A and 12B on EComfort. it is a redeye flight. So wondering if the equipment in the middle of the arm and two people is a bit of a hinderance.
Hi CF would you pleasd advise if you would prefer 11A and B over 12A and B in EC. It is a redeye flight from Australia and not sure which way to go. seeing the equipment is in the arm. Cheers
Gail – I just don’t know since I didn’t sit in row 12, but I found row 11 to be plenty comfortable with a ton of legroom.
Hello CF… I just “discovered” you and am so glad I did. Over the weekend was researching an alternative to United Airlines which I have vowed to Never Fly Again. Delays, missed connections, long lines, rude flight attendants (smile it’s not that hard), and a pathetic attitude and approach to customer relations. They simply don’t care that there lack of performance impacts People! Just Horrible!! I booked 4 Comfort Class seats in row 11..as we are tall bunch and the leg room is key. Reading your article was a great confirmation! We fly Alaska whenever possible as much of our travel moves us around the Northwest.. The entire United Organization should b e shipped there for training. Look forward to your future insights-
We vouched never to fly on United about 15+ years ago, and sadly, things never changed… Thank goodness we don’t have any United miles and we do not have a frequent flyer status with them.
Thanks for such an in-depth narrative on your experience. All my questions that I was going to pose to the airline were answered in great detail. Love the pictures.
Very interested in this review. People do read these reviews and they do influence flight choices. Would consider extra comfort to to Honolulu out of Auckland, or further to the West Coast. Leg room makes all the difference on long haul flights and it’s well worth paying a little more. I had too chuckle at the fuss over “free” meals. Most full-service international carriers serve free meals, it’s mainly US domestic airlines that don’t. Although Air NZ now has a baffling range of different service levels, even on trans-Pacific flights as far as Hawaii.
Thank-you for the review. Is there a way to order the EC seats thru the online travel sites reliably – Orbitz, etc? I don’t see that option on Orbitz which shows Hawaiian AL, but do see it on CheapAir which does NOT offer Hawaiian.
Never mind…I just didn’t scroll down far enough on Orbitz….but unfortunately the Prem Economy doesn’t show any avl. seats…but they do show as avl. on HAL’s website…..Hmmm.
What GARBAGE. Yet another low in airline service. Nothing like those in economy leering from behind a piece of crap curtain while you’ve paid a fortune for a UNIQUE experience. GTH HI.
So hard to enjoy the front of the cabin if the hoi polloi can catch a glimpse of your exalted presence through a curtain. What a tool.
Do you have two different trays for eating in row 11? I looked at the photos and it looks like your breakfast meal with the fruit has a full size tray across your lap, but the other photo looks like a half size tray. I’m wanting to book this seat for myself and my 9year old daughter but I want to be sure the tray will be okay for her to use. Thanks for your help!
Kalani – Are you talking about the tray table? It folds out of the armrest and then expands. So you can use it as a half tray or you can fold it out into a full tray.
Hi’ yes I was asking about the tray table. Is it sturdy enough for a 9 year old to use? And do you feel the added cost is worth the 5inches of added leg room?
kalani – It’s the same as any other coach tray table. If you don’t like the ones that come out of the armrests, then you can choose one of the seats not in the front row. It’s certainly a nicer experience, though it’s up to you whether the cost is worthwhile.
Out of curiosity, since you were on the window in row 11, does the arm rest against the window go up at all or is it immobile? I am a taller guy (6’5) but also a wider guy, so I am trying to decide whether it makes sense to sit in aisle 11 or 12 (where I can put the armrest up between me and my wife, but may be sacrificing leg room, especially if the person in row 11 reclines). Any information/advice would be greatly appreciated.
DAS – Sorry, but I don’t recall. I’m guessing it goes up but I can’t remember.