72 Hours with Hawaiian: Meeting with Execs, Flying ‘Ohana by Hawaiian

72 Hours With, Hawaiian

After my abbreviated interview with Hawaiian President and CEO Mark Dunkerley, it was time to move on. Next up was Peter Ingram, Chief Commercial Officer. I first met Peter a couple years back when I moderated a panel with him in Phoenix. After Peter, I met Avi Mannis who was just promoted to Senior Vice President of Marketing. Avi was the one who reached out to me after a critical post I wrote last year. He took the time to walk me through each of my points and I really appreciated that. I specifically asked to meet with him on this trip.

[Disclosure: Hawaiian paid for my flights and hotel]

Both Peter and Avi are clearly very smart and easy to talk to. One thing I found with not just these two but with everyone I spoke with was a real consistency. Whether it’s true or not, this seemed like a group of people who were actually working closely together.

Each meeting began with a genuine interest from each wondering about my flight in. With Avi, I gave a full rundown of the entire experience, and he seemed completely and totally interested in knowing the good and the bad. From there, I’ll give you some of the highlights. (As I said, these guys are all consistent so a full transcript would have a lot of overlap.)

Onboard Experience
Avi sees a lot of importance in the sensory experience on the airplane. A great example that was mentioned by multiple people on my visit is the soap on the airplane. Customers rave about its coconut smell. People ask where they can buy it, and the answer is you can’t. (They say they don’t have a good enough online shop.) But it’s more than just the smell of the soap. It’s the boarding music welcoming you to Hawaiʻi. It’s the ambient noise channel which is actually an audio tour around Hawaiʻi. It’s the imagery in the inflight magazine. Even the food is meant to try to create a sense of relaxation.

Hawaiian Coconut Soap

Special and Premium Meals
Speaking of food, giving free meals in general isn’t going away. Avi noted that “Giving people something is an inherent trigger of hospitality.” it’s the act of giving them something and welcoming them that also makes the job of the flight attendant easier.

Hawaiian doesn’t do special meals today at all, and that seems like an issue to me considering the longer and longer hauls. Avi admitted that they want to do special meals, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. They are at least trying to do more to communicate better that special meals aren’t available. “For a brand that is about hospitality, it’s tough to have that experience.”

They did have premium meals that people could buy at the gate or onboard but the uptake wasn’t great and there was too much spoilage. They’d like to bring them back, possibly with pre-ordering online at some point.

First Class
Just as Mark said, they haven’t made any decision about whether to go with flat beds or not up front. But Hawaiʻi is a very different market than the mainland and it’s a tougher business case to make. It sounds like this is something that gets debated often.

Peter did mention that they’re also looking the idea of creating sub-fleets. In other words, one group of A330s could have a more premium product and be used on the longer international runs while the other group could have a more similar product to what’s there today flying to the west coast, where they already have the best product.

Inflight Entertainment
It sounds like the team at Hawaiian isn’t sure if they’d put in-seat video on their airplanes again for west coast flying. (And I’d be surprised to see it on the A321neos when those come in.) For international though, it is still very important. They do love the idea of delivering content (eg wireless streaming). We already talked about how important they consider all the sensory experiences, so delivering content fits right in. As for wifi, it’s not coming soon. The options over the Pacific historically haven’t been very good, and it’s not necessary just yet. They fully realize that will change.

About 18 months ago, Hawaiian started rebuilding its entire e-commerce platform from scratch. Both Peter and Avi mentioned that it had been a long time since they last did a project like this and so they had just continued to bolt things on over time. When the new project is up and running (beginning on Asian sites later this year with the US site to come in Q1 2015), it will make it way easier to service a booking after it’s been made. It should be a significantly improved experience across the board. They’re also working on doing more with mobile, admitting they’d fallen too far behind on that.

`Ohana Gate

With those meetings done, we grabbed lunch and then headed back to the airport. It was time to fly once again, but this time on the smallest airplanes in the fleet, ATR 42s operated as ʻOhana by Hawaiian. We headed over to gate 49, the main gate used for ʻOhana and met with Hadden Watt, Managing Director of ʻOhana while we waited for our flight.

Hawaiian started ʻOhana in March as a way to serve the smaller islands. It’s been years since Hawaiian served both Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi on its own. In recent years, Hawaiian has codeshared with smaller operators but the airline decided the time had come to get back in the game.

Flight crews had made an agreement a few years back that allowed Hawaiian to outsource its turboprop flying to a regional partner as long as it didn’t go on to any of the main interisland routes from Honolulu (Lihue, Kahului, Kona, and Hilo). With that, Hawaiian did its due diligence and selected Empire Airlines to do the flying. Who the heck is that?

Hadden explained that Empire buzzes around the mainland flying ATR 42s for FedEx. So it’s actually a great partner for what Hawaiian wanted to do. The company even has a maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) facility that helped speed up the induction process for the airline.

The ATR was the clear choice for ʻOhana because of the economics involved, the number of seats (48), and the fact that it’s still being produced. There might have been older, more capable airplanes, but it wasn’t worth it. The biggest issue now, it seems, is that they can’t fly to West Maui airport because of it’s extremely short runway, but they are working on a procedure for that now. If it allows them to carry enough passengers, they’ll fly there. They’re optimistic.

At this point, as we were deep in discussion, a customer came up to Hadden and asked a question about changing a flight. He could easily have just pointed her to a counter across the way to get an answer, but he stopped and took the time to try to understand her issue and see if he could have helped. Once again, customer service took precedence. It was refreshing.

Back to our conversation, Hadden said that this was the only airplane they were looking at, even in the future. There didn’t seem to be much interest in a smaller airplane and they can’t operate a larger one per their agreements with employees. So the focus is on growing the non-core interisland flying for now. So far, Hadden says “demand has been good,” and they are ahead of plan but they need to work on getting load factors up over time.

With that, it was time to board, so we said goodbye to Hadden and walked to our airplane. (That’s Hadden below.)

Hadden Watt `Ohana

June 24, 2014
ʻOhana by Hawaiian 616 Lv Honolulu 240p Arr Lanai 310p (operated by Empire)
Honolulu (HNL): Gate 49, Runway 8L, Depart 13m Early
Lanai (LNY): Gate 3, Runway 3, Arrive 13m Early
N804HC, ATR 42-500, Standard Ohana colors, ~33% Full
Seat 1D, Coach
Flight Time 19m
I had been told that the people of Molokaʻi gave an ukulele to ʻOhana to honor the woman on the island who taught everyone to play. Mark liked the gesture so much that he decided that every ʻOhana airplane would have an ukulele on board for people to play. So as we boarded, I asked for the ukulele to make our short ride more fun.


Boarding from the back (the baggage compartment is between the passenger cabin and the cockpit on this airplane), we headed toward our seats in the front. That’s when I realize they had lounge seating up front, so we moved over there. With ukulele in hand, I started strumming a little (I have no idea what I’m doing) and we started taxiing very early. We were in the air shortly and on our way to Lanaʻi.

`Ohana Lounge Seating

Service on this short flight was just like any other interisland ride. The flight attendant came back with a choice of water or POG juice, and a recording played in the background talking about the history of the islands.

POG Juice

Unfortunately, it was a fairly cloudy day so we couldn’t see much, but once we got to Lanaʻi it was quite the sight.

Coming in over the southern cliffs, you instantly see a ton of former pineapple fields, now full of brush. The runway comes at you quickly and we landed straight to the north.

We got off the airplane and toured around the shack that passes for a terminal there. (It was awesome.) Coming back through security, my Precheck status meant they let me leave my shoes on. Look at those perks. Once we got back into the waiting room, it was time to board the return.

Lana`i Airport

June 24, 2014
ʻOhana by Hawaiian 617 Lv Lanai 350p Arr Honolulu 420p (operated by Empire)
Lanai (LNY): Gate 3, Runway 21, Depart 16m Early
Honolulu (HNL): Gate 49, Runway 8L, Arrive 19m Early
N804HC, ATR 42-500, Standard Ohana colors, ~33% Full
Seat 2D, Coach
Flight Time 18m
The captain was standing at the entry ramp and it turns out he’s one of the pilots who flies the Bellanca. Alison, my PR contact, had flown with him before so we had a nice little talk before boarding. Alison and I took the same seats as before but switched directions. We again taxied out extremely early and took off in the opposite direction from which we arrived.

Service on the return was the same, and we landed almost before the time we were originally supposed to depart. After a quick taxi back to the gate, we were on our way back into town. Here’s a quick 2m27s video of the landing in Lanaʻi and departing back out.

Alison was going to just drop me off, but first we made a detour to Leonard’s, the home of crack-like malasadas that can only be enjoyed piping hot. After that, I headed back to the hotel. I went to Shokudo for dinner and then came back, ready to collapse after yet another long day.

Other posts from my 72 hours with Hawaiian Airlines:
72 Hours with Hawaiian: Flying to Honolulu in Extra Comfort
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 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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11 comments on “72 Hours with Hawaiian: Meeting with Execs, Flying ‘Ohana by Hawaiian

  1. “Giving people something is an inherent trigger of hospitality.”

    Too bad that attitude doesn’t carry over to the mainland.

  2. Not having in seat video on mainland to Hawaii flights is just another nail in the coffin of the quality product that used to travel between Hawaii and the mainland. I would be willing to pay more for a higher quality, more-amenity filled product than the horrific 757s that now fly these 5-6 hour routes with just overhead video. Why would they consider eliminating in seat video for these routes?

    1. jaymanlb – Because on shorter flights like that, the cost of installing and maintaining in-seat video systems can make it not worthwhile. In particular, now that you can stream content to each traveler’s own device, airlines get more and more comfortable with the idea of not providing the hardware. But on long haul flights, that’s still not the standard.

  3. Brett, I’ve been really enjoying this series. Can you describe what a malasada is? I’ve never heard of it.

    I believe, “shokudo” is Japanese for cafeteria. Was the restaurant a cafeteria-style restaurant?

  4. I’m fine with no IFE. I am not fine with no outlets.

    I flew the JFK – HNL flight last year in First. That’s a crappy seat for 10 hours, especially the redeye back. I get that some won’t pay for a flat bed. It’d be really nice to have the option. Maybe a MINT-like smaller cabin?

  5. “””””Coming back through security, my Precheck status meant they let me leave my shoes on. “””””

    That’s funny since most people more then likely are wearing flip flops…..lol

    Sometimes the smallest aircraft and a smaller airport, can make a trip more enjoyable then the biggest aircraft at a mega airport can.

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