Hawaiian’s Inaugural From Long Beach on the A321neo (Trip Report)

Hawaiian, Trip Reports

I’m going on vacation from the blog for the next week and a half, so get ready for a whole lot of Hawaiian. I’ll be back with more regular content on July 3.

I generally make it a point to not take inaugural flights. As a rule, I’m much more interested in seeing how a flight goes on a normal day than I am seeing one with all the festivities, but I made an exception this time. Hawaiian launched its Long Beach – Honolulu flight on June 1, and I accepted the invitation. Why? Well, there were three main reasons.

First, I wanted to try the A321neo, since I had yet to fly one. Second, I had several interviews that I was hoping to line up in Honolulu, and Hawaiian came through on all of them. Third, I was able to fly in First Class on the return on the A330, and I wanted to try those beds. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was able to spend a few hours in Hawai’i as part of this. Even though being on the ground in Hawai’i for a mere 20 hours should be considered an unfair form of torture, it was still better than nothing.

[Disclosure: Hawaiian provided the flight and paid for the hotel night.]

My day started VERY early, far earlier than I expected. Even though the flight didn’t leave until 8:30am, I was told that I’d interview CEO Peter Ingram at 6:15am. I left home at 5:30am and found a ton of people at the curb looking for travelers on the flight. Inside the terminal, Hawaiian has been wedged into a sliver of the small ticket counter area.

I was through security quickly, and I found a number of people preparing for the event. I snuck away to do the interview with Peter and SVP Revenue Management and Network Planning Brent Overbeek. They were ready for the occasion.

There was a lot of local media in the gate area, but I was the only one taking the flight. So they did their TV shots and all that while the Hawaiian dancers and musicians entertained the growing crowd.

Then, the traditional blessing that Hawaiian gives for every new aircraft and new destination was given by Kahu Richard Kamanu. I had the good fortune of sitting next to him on the flight.

With that finished, it was time to board. Every passenger was given a lei as well as a little gift bag with Hawaiian goodies.

June 1, 2018
Hawaiian 69 Lv Long Beach 830a Arr Honolulu 1140a
Long Beach (LGB): Gate 11, Runway 30, Depart 5m Early
Honolulu (HNL): Gate E4, Runway 4R, Arrive 25m Early
N204HA, Airbus A321-271N (neo), Standard Hawaiian colors, 90% Full
Seat 1J, First Class
Flight Time 5h30m

On the aircraft, I put my stuff away and then walked aft to see the back cabin. The coach seats have a gray fabric which don’t have much color to them, but they did look nice.

From the back, I took this shot where two things stand out. First, that’s a huge bin. And second, there is no in-seat video. I spoke to Avi Mannis, SVP Marketing for Hawaiian about this and more when I was in Honolulu, and I’ll sprinkle what I learned throughout the trip report. Regarding the bins, Avi said they got the biggest ones the airplane could fit. Despite that, I still found it hard to find room for my bags in first class, so I’ll be curious to see how that works out. As for the entertainment, well, I’ll talk about that later.

I walked back up and took my seat, 1J. In First Class, the seats are recliners with leg rests, so it’s similar to what the A330 used to have before Hawaiian upgraded those to flat beds.

Since these airplanes can’t do much more than a 6 hour flight, the flat beds weren’t deemed necessary. I would tend to agree. The seats have manual controls on them, and there’s a little cubby on the side where the power outlet is hidden.

We pushed back five minutes early and then had a water cannon salute. It was nice of Hawaiian to pay extra for the full rainbow package.

Then it was just a couple more minutes until we were airborne. My first impression? That is a surprisingly quiet airplane. I really enjoyed the silence. We turned to the west and then headed out over the ocean. It was really cold in the cabin, so I opened up the blanket and cuddled up. (I liked the blanket and wanted to steal it, but I didn’t. Avi thanked me later.)

At this point, I started to feel that early wake-up call. In fact, I fell asleep. That is a rarity for me, but I didn’t fully wake up until about an hour and a half into the flight. At that point, the flight attendants quickly swarmed and asked if I wanted my macadamia nuts (I did) and breakfast (I did).

As usual on Hawaiian morning flights, there was no choice. I just had the fruit and “Portuguese style sausage” since the quiche didn’t really interest me. Avi told me that they do offer choices on lunch/dinner flights but just not at breakfast. They are also finally experimenting with limited special meals, including a vegetarian option, in some cases. That’s long overdue.

While the tray was sitting there, I decided it was time to play with inflight entertainment. That, I should note, doesn’t include wifi. Hawaiian has still avoided putting wifi on flights. There were coverage issues previously, and there’s also the problem of needing more bandwidth for widebodies. But ultimately, Avi said, they’ll probably revisit and decide if they should change their minds in the next year.

There is also no in-seat video on Hawaiian’s A321neo. First Class passengers get small tablets, but others have to download an app (Android users can do it onboard, but Apple users have to do it before travel) in order to stream video. Apparently Hawaiian will roll out a functional app for the whole airline that includes entertainment in the fall, so that will be an improvement.

I wanted to try the system, so I tried to log in. I had some issues with it initially saying the access point was full, but it eventually connected. Video costs money to watch onboard, so I didn’t want to test that (since it was free for First Class passengers on the tablet). Instead, I flipped on my favorite radio option, Territorial Airwaves, and listened. That worked fine except it stopped every 10 minutes and the network prompted me to sign in again for some unknown reason.

Once the meal tray was cleared, I decided to break out the tiny tablet. Avi told me that they are looking at options to accommodate a bigger tablet, and that’s a good thing. This is really small.

In most rows in First Class, there is a place to hang the tablet on the seatback in front. But since I was in row 1, there wasn’t that option. At first, I just assumed it had to be put on the tray. Then I realized something. The tray comes out half-folded from the armrest. I saw a little flap when I opened it, so I flipped that up and could rest the tablet on it.

That afternoon, I realized I was doing it wrong. Avi explained that I was supposed to open the tray table fully and then that holder would flip around from the bottom to hold the tablet without getting in the way of the top of the tray. I wish I had known that, and Avi admitted they probably need to find a better way of explaining the mechanics.

There was a bit of chop on much of the flight, and every time it started, the seatbelt sign came on for long periods of time. I think the crew just forgot, because at one point, they flipped it on again even though it was already on. (You can tell because there’s an automated announcement that goes off every time.)

After watching The Darkest Hour, we had about an hour and a half left. I filled out my agriculture form, and talked to the excellent crew. This was their first trip working the A321neo, and it sounds like it takes some getting used to. Remember, they are used to working widebodies, so preparing meals from a smaller galley like this is a big shift.

As we got closer, the chop picked up. At that point, I struck up a conversation with Kahu Richard Kamanu, the man who blessed the flight. We had a great conversation for the last hour of the ride ranging from religion to Hawaiian history. He has apparently done this for the last twenty years for Hawaiian, and he had just flown out to Long Beach for the night.

Soon, we were descending and I could barely see O’ahu through the clouds. We went out to sea and then circled back to land on runway 4R. That day, Honolulu had completely changed its terminal/gate/baggage numbering systems so there was a fair bit of confusion in the terminal.

The old Interisland Terminal, where Hawaiian checks everyone in, is now called Terminal 1. The old Overseas Terminal is now Terminal 2, and the new commuter terminal is Terminal 3. Baggage claims are now numbered instead of lettered, and gates are now alphanumeric instead of numbered. So what the day before would have seen us park at gate 15 on the Central concourse in the Overseas Terminal became gate E4 in Terminal 2.

I was off quickly since I was in row 1, and I headed out to an afternoon of interviews. Overall, I thought the A321 was nice. Of course, it wasn’t nearly as nice as flying a widebody, especially in the front cabin. But that’s just not an option for Long Beach. The A321neo allows this kind of flight to exist from Long Beach, and so it’s well worth the more spartan experience. I do think they need to reconsider the inflight entertainment options, but other than that, I enjoyed the usual Hawaiian service.

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34 comments on “Hawaiian’s Inaugural From Long Beach on the A321neo (Trip Report)

  1. I love Hawaiian. I use them as much as I can from JFK and inter-island. But at this point, Wifi and lots of outlets are mandatory. Launching a new fleet without that is just silly. I get they don’t want the weight of screens and servers and I am happy to load up my own iPad. Fast Wifi is the only way.

  2. Wi-Fi is now the most important part of a flight – whether for business or pleasure. To say there are coverage issues does not make sense. I take Delta to Asia and I have Wi-Fi over the north pole. Also, ‘entertainment’ is too generic. Live TV is important. I love keeping abreast of sports and world news while on a plane. Taped reruns of 3 is Company you can keep.

    1. The most important part of the flight? To Hawaii? Naa, completely disagree. A good Mai Tai is the most important part. Then decent leg room. Then relaxing boarding music. Then a good book on my iPad or Kindle.

      Are people these days really not able to disconnect from the rest of the world for six hours anymore?

      1. Anyone can disconnect for six hours, but some choose not too. In my case, since I can work remotely – I can manage a full day’s work from airport lounges and an aircraft’s Wi-Fi. The on-board Wi-Fi may not be 100% as efficient as the ground, but with some advance planning it’s doable, and I’m available, productive, and in contact.

        This means a day of airports and airplane seats doesn’t burn an entire vacation day – and I can do more with the time I have and spend/maximize the time at my destination/ Especially useful when traveling to far away places where it’s a day of travel just to get there. This means I’ve saved 2-3 days with the ability to work remotely in the sky.

        1. Exactly James. Doing work on a plane allows me to take more vacations and feel less stressed when I am away. I would rather answer emails on an airplane, than in a hotel room!

    2. To me, the most important part of a flight is to get where I’m going. It’s preferable to get there on time, in one piece and with my luggage. The rest is less important to me than safety and reliability.

    3. jeff2 – Satellite coverage does vary by region, and there may have been better coverage over the north Pacific in the past than over the mid-Pacific. But the coverage issue is largely resolved with more capacity coming on shortly. So that’s why they’re going to revisit this.

    1. WindCzech – I don’t remember exactly, but it’s the usual recessed-style bins that you’ll see on newer aircraft.

  3. The tablet for entertainment looks a little cheap for a new plane and reminds me of Alaska. Do they still do that? I’m not fully on board yet with ditching the seat back screens. 5+ hours is a long flight for no wi-fi or screens. Also, going from LGB my assumption is +90% of this flight will be locals to the LA region. Makes sense. My west coast friends go to Hawaii like those of us east of the Rockies dip to the Caribbean. Just don’t see a scenario where I’d connect through LGB to Hawaii. Didn’t catch the frequency. Can the region support the flights?

    Assume the NEO has the same issues as the old version with being such a long single aisle plane that those back rows take forever to get out of. I despise that plane (and the 737-900) for being terrible for quick turns at hubs if you’re stuck in cattle class, but to the Islands it probably isn’t too big of deal.

    1. There’s one flight each day, leaving around 8:30 a.m. LGB time each morning. There’s also a daily return flight that gets in before 9:30 p.m. or so.

    2. A – It’s going to be mostly Long Beach-origin, but there is a sizable Hawaiian population near Long Beach, so it’s reasonable to expect a not-insignificant number of locals to via family on the mainland via LGB. But connections beyond on the mainline? There are a few in one direction or the other, but it has to be a rounding error at best.

    1. JKlos – Exactly right. We were pretty low. I thought it was 30k, but Flightaware says 31k. I can’t help but think if we were higher we would have had a smoother ride (as we did on the return on the A330 to LAX).

  4. A very avgeek question: obviously the plane flew into LGB the night before (5/31), was that a revenue flight? Did Kahu Richard Kamanu take that flight or have to go through LAX?

    1. It seems the planes that cycle through LGB also go through Portland at some point, so there’s a decent chance the inaugural plane come from there.

    2. Brendan – As David says, it was the day before. That was the inaugural flight in and Kahu Richard Kamanu as well as CEO Peter Ingram and a host of other folks came in on that flight.

  5. As always, I enjoy your trip reports.

    You show that you took off from LGB runway 30. When you take the usual westbound departure from LAX, then soon make the left 180 turn for the trip East, if you are sitting on the right side, you look directly into LGB 30. I always think, does ATC know for sure we’re crossing vectors? Of course they do, but I still worry just a little!

  6. The A321 CEO can easily do more than 6 hours so I have to imagine the NEO (even in non LR form) can do more. I’ve personally done 7+ hour flights several times in the CEO.

  7. I’m not sure the last time I’ve been in an A321, but I flew coach to ATL on one of Delta’s A321s (and back) recently and was really, really impressed. For a narrow body, the seats are extremely wide and the overhead bins seemed very generous. I look forward to trying the Neo soon.

  8. I appreciate that Hawaii is a leisure market, competition is tough and that many people ride up front by dumping their miles; not exactly compelling reasons to offer top-shelf service. But I am really surprised to learn that there is only one meal choice (and surely breakfast flights make up many of HA’s westbound flights), and really blown away that a vegetarian option is only available on limited routes as part of an “experiment.”

    Is HA’s current product such that a vegetarian pax paying full-fare First can’t get a proper meal? That can’t be. Is this common up front across US-carriers flying to Hawaii?

    I can accept this in economy, where your competitors are offering nothing, but up front? I’ll be curious to read this week if HA is really trying to get more paying people upfront. If they are, they’re really going to have to step that up.

    1. Chris – That is, and has largely been, correct on morning flights from the mainland to Hawai’i. There is no choice for morning departures, but there is bread and fruit, so vegetarians can eat something. Still, I agree this is lacking.

  9. They are still doing cheap tablets for IFE. On a brand new airplane, in 2018, in First Class no less? When you consider that they CHARGE for the seatback IFE ‘privilege’ on the A330s and could have done so here, what were they thinking? No thanks…

  10. The lack of basic understanding of the economics of in-flight wifi in the comments is… Frightening. WiFi is cheaper and easier with larger customer bases. Continental US is easy, it can support full satellite coverage with multiple satellites overlapping the coverage are with multiple signals and ground based back up stations as needed. The customer base can support this. But the coast to Hawaii? Where is the large customer base, or the lower cost backup stations on the ground? They don’t exist. That means it going to cost more and be of a lower quality. Bigger airlines can subsidize the higher price with the rest of the network.. But Hawaiian? This is the majority of their flying. I am sure the quotes they are getting seems astronomical so I get why they are still not ready with WiFi quite yet. I am sure it will eventually come but I can certainly see the reasons why it’s not their yet.

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