Flyin’ Hawaiian in Coach on the A330 and 717 (Trip Report)

Hawaiian, Trip Reports

When Hawaiian invited me to its Global Media Day, my initial plan was to do a quick strike. I’d fly in on Sunday, do the media day on Monday, and then fly back on Tuesday morning. But then I decided that was stupid. Instead, I bought my wife a ticket and we went to Kaua’i for a couple days in advance. This, besides being a nice quick break, also allowed me to compare Hawaiian’s long haul and short haul products.

[Disclosure: Hawaiian paid for my flights between LA and Honolulu and hotel in Honolulu only.]

Hanalei Bay

With my flights already taken care of, I went on to Hawaiian’s website and bought my wife a roundtrip to Honolulu for $529.06. Then I used 10,000 American miles each to fly roundtrip from Honolulu to Kaua’i on Hawaiian. At the time, my option was to build an illegal connection in Honolulu (arrive 1140a, depart 1225p) or wait a couple more hours. Since we had no bags to check, I opted for the illegal connection and hoped it would work out.

You might remember that the last time Hawaiian brought me out, I was upgraded to Extra Comfort going out and First Class coming back. That was great, but I wanted none of that this time. My goal was to try to coach experience the entire way, and that’s what I got.

My parents came into town to take care of the kids, so my dad drove us up to the airport. The traffic was worse than usual, and we pulled up about 50 minutes before departure. We were already checked in with boarding pass in hand so we went straight to security. Even though Pre Check was on the boarding pass, the line was closed. So we sat and waited.

LAX Terminal 2

Once through security, I thought I had walked into a different world. The work to renovate Terminal 2 appears to be largely complete, and it looks completely different. There are a bunch of local vendors, and while it’s somewhat overwhelming to see them all assaulting your senses, it gives off a much better vibe than before. But we had no time to enjoy. We kept walking to gate 28, a gate I remember using to fly on Pan Am many years before. They had already called our zone so we got in line and hopped onboard.

October 16, 2015
Hawaiian 1 Lv Los Angeles 840a Arr Honolulu 1140a
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 28, Runway 24L, Depart 3m Early
Honolulu (HNL): Gate 13, Runway 8L, Arrive 10m Early
N386HA, Airbus A330-243, Pualani colors, ~99% Full
Seat 36A, Coach
Flight Time 5h36m

We had two seats together on the side (it’s 2-4-2), but we were in the back cabin. After a slow boarding process, we found our seats and waited while others tried to swap seats since they weren’t sitting with their partners. We buttoned up a couple minutes early and were on our way.

Hawaiian A330 Coach

Once we passed through the marine layer, it was time to start watching movies. Hawaiian may not charge for meals, but it does charge $7.99 to watch a movie. It’s a pretty hefty price. Still, we were going to pay it, if we could figure out how to get the system to work. It was not very touch-sensitive, so we both had to hit the screen pretty hard. I can’t imagine this is how it was designed, but it’s just an older, clunky system that needs help.

Breakfast on Hawaiian to Hawai'i

The flight attendants soon came through with breakfast. It was more substantial than last time with a cheese and egg disc, or that’s what I’d call it. There was good fruit and of course, a chocolate-covered macadamia nut.

Once food was done, the woman in front of my wife slammed her seat into full recline, and that sucked. She was hemmed in pretty tightly, but at least the screen tilted to make it viewable.

About halfway through, my wife and I both had to go to the bathroom, so she went in and I waited outside in the back of the airplane. When she opened the door, she pointed out that the wall appeared to be movable. It was for the handicap lav, but I had leaned in to look. Very shortly, a flight attendant showed up and said “what’s going on?” with a little laugh. She apparently thought we were trying to join the mile high club.

Snack on Arrival in Hawai'i

There was a mini-snack served as we got closer to the islands. We were given Maui onion potato chips and a Koloa Breeze rum punch (Koloa is a rum made in Kaua’i.)

Back at our seats, it was time to descend. We came down south between Maui and the Big Island before coming up and landing to the east. We were early despite the long flight time, but they parked us pretty far away, at gate 13 between the Central and Diamond Head Concourses. Knowing we had an illegal connection, I was a bit nervous, but we were off quickly and made it with time to spare.

The interisland gates are kind of strange in that there are a couple of big waiting areas, and then you have to pass down to a lower level to get to the actual gate where people line up. It’s not very spacious, but I guess it does the trick.

Hawaiian 717 in Honolulu

A beautiful 717 (formerly with Midwest) was at our gate, and everyone looked ready to board. We got in line and made our way on with everyone else.

October 16, 2015
Hawaiian 203 Lv Honolulu 1225p Arr
Lihue 104p
Honolulu (HNL): Gate 57, Runway 8R, Depart 3m Late
Lihue (LIH): Gate 5, Runway 35, Arrive 4m Late
N493HA, Boeing 717-2BL, Pualani colors, ~99% Full
Seat 8F, Coach
Flight Time 22m

Hawaiian is nearing completion of its 717 retrofit to use slimline seats. This gives the airline an extra row onboard. And these seats were the exact same ones that Frontier just put in (minus the extra padding). We were on the 3 side this time, but we were way up in row 8. It’s so quiet up there.

Hawaiian 717 Slimline Seat

I may not have had the tiny tray table when I flew Frontier, but I had it on this short flight. Legroom seemed perfectly good and the pre-reclining seat again felt comfortable. We pushed back a couple minutes late and then took off to the east. After a right-hand turn, the flight was almost halfway over.

POG Juice and Tiny Tray Table

As always, Hawaiian passed out water or POG juice. I took the POG and it fit just fine on my tiny tray table. After downing it, we were well into our descent. The Lihu’e Airport is right on the coast, and I couldn’t see much until we touched down.

This was my first time in Kaua’i and I really enjoyed it. But just two days later, it was time to go back to Honolulu to do some work. We arrived on the early side, and once again, there was no real Pre Check line. It was the usual “oh, if you have Pre Check you can leave your shoes on but that’s it” kind of thing.

Firefighters at Gate In Lihu'e

At the gate, we found some seats and just waited. The airplane got in on time, but boarding was slow and chaotic. At one point, boarding stopped and we saw the fire department pull up outside the window. Two guys put on their full reflective gear, and we could only wonder what was happening. (Later, the pilot told us that the brakes were too hot after landing so they were ready if things got out of hand.)

October 18, 2015
Hawaiian 172 Lv Lihue 302p Arr Honolulu 337p
Lihue (LIH): Gate 5, Runway 3, Depart 12m Late
Honolulu (HNL): Gate 58, Runway 8L, Arrive 7m Late
N491HA, Boeing 717-2BL, Pualani colors, ~99% Full
Seat 23B, Coach
Flight Time 20m

On this flight, we were on the two side, but we were back in row 23 just in front of the engines. The flight was packed, and we were late thanks to the brake problem, but none of the passengers seemed to care. Any delay is slightly aggravating, but at least the pilots explained the delay and apologized.

We took off and as you can see in the above video, immediately banked right to head back to Honolulu. It was certainly louder back in row 23, but it’s nothing like being in an MD-80. I can’t complain at all, and I just sat back and enjoyed my POG juice. The pilots expertly dodged clouds as we descended into Honolulu.

Once there, it was time for work (that’s when Hawaiian announced its flat bed seats). But it wasn’t long after that we had to head back home. This was the first time I could remember taking the morning flight back to LA, but we wanted to get home before the kids went to bed. I actually really like this flight time.

We checked in at the kiosks, got our boarding passes, and walked through a real, functioning Pre Check line. Huzzah. Hawaiian had arranged lounge access for everyone at Media Day. At this early hour, the new Business Class lounge wasn’t open, but we stopped in to the Premier Club to take a look. That took about a minute, and then we went to the gate.

Hawaiian Premier Club in Honolulu

It was pouring on-and-off that morning, so it’s a good thing the outdoor walkways are covered. Our gate, 26, was the first on the Ewa Concourse so it was a short walk. These gates have a very old-school look to them. The gate area was busy, and boarding began soon after we got there.

Rainy Morning at HNL

October 20, 2015
Hawaiian 10 Lv Honolulu 750a Arr Los Angeles 430p
Honolulu (HNL): Gate 26, Runway 8R, Depart 5m Early
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 27, Runway 25L, Arrive 12m Early
N378HA, Airbus A330-243, Pualani colors, ~85% Full
Seat 23J, Coach
Flight Time 5h8m

This time, our seats were further forward in row 23, in the middle cabin. We took our seats and realized that this flight wasn’t quite as full as the others. Several of the middle seats were empty.

We taxied out to the reef runway and took off right toward a big rainy sky. The pilots turned right to go out to sea and missed the rain entirely. We eventually got back on track and flew past Maui and the Big Island before going over the open ocean.

New IFE on Hawaiian A330

There were two things that stood out to me on this flight. First, the difference in noise in the middle cabin is dramatic compared to the aft cabin. It was much quieter and more comfortable. The second is that the IFE system was much newer. This airplane was only delivered in May and the upgrade was very noticeable. The only problem was that the person in front of me reclined halfway and the screen on this one did not tilt.

Hawaiian Breakfast on A330

Breakfast was served and again we had an egg sandwich, but this time on a more substantial roll, and fruit. We were smarter with our movies this time around. My wife bought a movie (Aloha) and watched it. Once she was done, we just switched seats and I watched the same one. There’s no limit on how many times you can watch each movie.

The sky was as smooth as could be, and the time passed quickly. Once we got closer, we had another round of Maui onion chips and Koloa Breeze. We came in from the south and crossed over the coast around Huntington Beach before coming up and landing as usual at LAX.

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17 comments on “Flyin’ Hawaiian in Coach on the A330 and 717 (Trip Report)

  1. Hawaiian does a lot of things right.

    I’ve flown longhaul once (JFK-HNL) and inter-island a few times (HNL/OGG/KOA). Every crew I’ve ever had was friendly, nice, and seemed genuinely happy to be onboard. The food was all pretty good. First on the long flight back to JFK wasn’t awesome, but with the new seats that’ll help a lot.

    I haven’t been to the new lounge in HNL yet, but the old lounge was super small and tired. And yeah, the inter-island terminal is sort of depressing but that’s not HA’s fault.

    All in all, they do a really good job. Will be interesting to see what eventually replaces the 717s.

  2. Brett probably has more definitive sources on this than I could find with a quick Google, but looks like the 717’s runway landing requirements are within ~1500 feet of the 6500 feet runways that Lihue has, so as a layperson the hot brakes don’t sound unreasonable.

    Oh, and firefighters put their turnout gear (protective clothing etc) on just about any time they leave the truck, so I wouldn’t worry about that. It was nice of the pilot to offer an explanation, though, and given the proximity of overly hot brakes to fuel etc, it’s good to be safe .

    The local volunteer firefighters I know are trained/drilled until they can go from standing still with sneakers on to full gear (including SCBA tank & mask) with no exposed skin in under two minutes, and many try to gear up while the truck is rolling to the scene. Again, better to be safe, as bad things can happen quickly.

  3. I did not know that C.F. was old enough to have flown out of LAX on Pan Am. My wish had been to fly Pan Am # 1 around the world, or to fly on their first flight into space (yes, there was a sign-up list).

    Hawaii is what California claims to be. It was nice that CF brought his wife along to share the experience. It is worthwhile noting that he separated his comp flights from his wife’s for ethical reasons.

    We have had similar experiences in that we never know how Pre-Check will work. Also, the new aircraft seats can be comfortable, or awful in that they do not recline enough for snoozing, or people can recline them onto your lap when you are trying to eat, use your computer, or watch the “movie.”

    1. kelty – Yes indeed. I flew Pan Am a couple times in its waning days. I believe I flew in 1989 and 1990. Once I did LAX-JFK-Zurich-JFK-LAX all on 747s. The other time was LAX-JFK-Berlin/Tegel and then London-LAX all on 747s except for the JFK-Berlin flight which was on an A310.

  4. Smart move taking a few extra days on Kauai. I did LAX-HNL-LIH on October 19. I really enjoy flying on Hawaiian. Extra Comfort rows 11, 12, and 13 are in the front cabin. I was in 13J on the return and was fourth off the plane, which makes the fact that my bag was coming off the carousel as I arrived even more impressive.

  5. Those Hawaiian 717s must get a lot of braking action flying into LIH over a day, a month, whatever. Not the longest runways and there are only 2, so hit it, and slam it.

    On my many UA 757 trips into LIH, their brakes get a workout, too. As a PAX, you just wonder, will we? But to those pilots, seems like all in day’s work.

    I’ve always thought, if I gotta go and THE paradise is not in the cards, this gorgeous Garden Isle paradise is fine with me.

  6. Actually in a humid climate like Hawaii, if you have carbon brakes, you really want to get them hot on just about every landing. They last longer, and perform better if they are ‘cooked’ on a regular basis. The heating drives the condensation that forms on them when the descend from cruise into the much warmer air for lander, out of the carbon matrix that form the brakes discs.

  7. Glad you got to experience my new home island! That weekend was beautiful on the North Shore :-). And as an inter-island flyer, I love the slimline seats.

  8. Glad you finally made it to Kauai! I’m flying on AA on the A321 to KOA later this week, interested in seeing the product.

    1. Yo – The American A321s are nice, but I haven’t done it for more than 3 hours. I’ll be curious to hear how you like the seat after more than 5 hours.

      1. I pulled up the entertainment options on AA’s website, 170 movies…incredible. I’m looking forward to it, taking my SO who has never been to Hawaii, so I get to be tour guide. 5 hours is nothing, done much longer in much worse planes.

      2. Just got back. A321S is a nice new plane. The entertainment system is great, tons of choices, but I had no desire to pay for movies, I had a few on my tablet. There is both a standard plug and a USB plug, so you can charge things up. Good moving map display. I chatted up the flight attendants, they said that the pax liked the A321, and it had been going smoothly. I let them know I was former AWA, and one of the attendants was as well, so, free food, free beer and free premium wine for my GF, nice touch. Only bad thing, the seatback had a headrest but it wasn’t very good, I kept angling for a way to make my head rest in it, but it wasn’t angled right. There was a few inches gap for my head to hit it right while seated in any configuration, so lots of waking with neck soreness. LAX is a mess, landing 2 terminals away and walking under the ramp in the tunnel. I still don’t have my bag, going on 10 hours later (Kona bag tag printers were down, so hand written, I hope to get it tomorrow). Much better than the 757, but a widebody would be great…

  9. As a retired AA employee, I have used HA many times, to & from the Islands.
    Never had a late or cancelled flight in nearly 30+ years. Very nice emps., and
    decent food. Have not yet been on the A330, but, do look forward to “ride” on it.

  10. HA is a great airline because they treat Coach Pax well. The 2+4+2 seating on the transpac flight is great for vacationing couples who plan ahead and get the aisle/window combo because half the discomfort of coach is having a big person sit next to you and slop into your seat–which often times the big person absolutely cannot avoid.

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