Hawaiian has chosen its next generation widebody aircraft three times now. First the A350-800 was scrapped and Hawaiian went with the A330neo. That went away as well, and Hawaiian has now settled on the 787. This one looks like it’s going to stick as the airline has made its first announcements around interior choices for when the aircraft arrives in 2021. I spoke with Avi Mannis, the airline’s SVP of Marketing, to learn more about why it made the choices it did.
First, I should note that yes, 2021 is a long way off. Why is Hawaiian even talking about this now? The reason is because the seat manufacturers were going to start talking about it, especially since Hawaiian is the first airline to choose this new business class seat. The airline figured it would get in front of this even though the only thing that’s actually known is the basic seat and not the interior finishes.
The Premium Cabin
In the front cabin, Hawaiian will install a new flat bed from Adient Aerospace. Here is a look at the generic seat:
You can expect this to look fairly different by the time it’s on a Hawaiian 787. One of the reasons Hawaiian chose Adient is because it’s a smaller manufacturer, and Hawaiian knew it would have more flexibility in customizing the seat itself. Avi explained that they are taking the Hawaiian-ization (my word, not his) they did on the A330 and pushing it even further. They want to evoke the spirit of the original Hawaiian voyagers in their canoes. I have a vision of twinkling stars on the ceiling and a lot of native touches, but we’ll have to wait to see what that actually looks like.
What I found most interesting here was the decision to pick a seat that will go in a 1-2-1 abreast configuration. On the A330, Hawaiian chose a 2-2-2 configuration because most of its passengers travel as couples and actually want to sit next to people. Did that 2-2-2 configuration not work well on the 787 or was it just the wrong decision on the A330?
Apparently the 787 wasn’t the issue. Avi said that they could have adapted the A330 seat to the 787 with some minor modifications if they wanted, but after reviewing all seating options, they didn’t find a 6-abreast one that they really liked for this airplane.
When I say “reviewing,” I mean it. They brought in a bunch of seats from different manufacturers and had 300 employees come through to test them. Frequent fliers were brought in as well, and Avi himself slept in every seat. In the end, they really liked this Adient seat for its comfort and customization potential. It is also “robust” and “well-built.” I assume that means it holds up well to passenger punishment, though I’m not sure if that’s a comment on the current A330 seat’s deficiencies or not.
Part of the rationale for not sticking with the A330 seat was that they wanted to have something new. Avi reminded me that even though they just finished retrofitting the A330s with the new seat last year, the decision to do so had actually been made 5 years ago. And with the 787 not flying until 2021 for Hawaiian, they wanted something today that wouldn’t look dated two years down the line.
Avi also said they liked this seat because it actually does work well for couples and solo travelers. In the center section, the partition between the two seats can go all the way up to the top or a third of the way down electronically. There is the ability to actually bring the partition all the way — possibly requiring a flight attendant to help since the controls haven’t been fully decided — that would allow it to turn into a double bed.
The business cabin on the 787 will be bigger than on the A330, so that means there will be more options for couples in the center section to sit together. Those who want to sit alone will have the sides available. (I wonder how many more people want to sit alone on the return flight vs the way out…)
The Coach Seat
Then there is the economy seat. For this, Hawaiian has chosen the now-named Collins Aerospace Aspire seat.
If you fly United, you may know the Aspire seat. That’s the one on in coach on the 777-200s and 787-10s. Of course, what you see on United may not be what you see on Hawaiian after it is done customizing the seat the best it can.
The Aspire is again a relatively new seat, so that was considered in Hawaiian’s decision-making process. And while Avi admitted that the “degrees of freedom are less for an economy seat,” that didn’t stop them from evaluating everything from armrest geometry to how the tray table swings out and, of course, knee room. In his opinion, Avi says “this seat offers the best room around the knees at normal industry pitch.” He wanted to make sure to reiterate that “this is not a stripped down short-haul seat.” In other words, this is nothing like Hawaiian’s 717 seat.
Unlike on the A321neo which is meant for 5 to 6 hours legs, the 787 will be flying much longer distances and that’s one reason that every seat will have seatback video even in coach. Since the 787 will be flying to Asia, it makes even more sense. Apparently Asian-origin travelers are less likely to bring their own devices and value this more.
I asked Avi if they talked to their partner Japan Airlines about any of these design pieces to help cater it toward a Japanese audience. He said that they did talk to them about their philosophy as much as they could (anti-trust immunity still hasn’t been approved), but JAL and Hawaiian arrange their cabins differently and have different philosophies. Still, they do collaborate when they can.
So, consider this a preview of what’s the come. You know the base seat that will be used, but now it’s up to Hawaiian’s team to design it to match what Hawaiian wants. We probably won’t hear about that for more than a year, but at least we know the base that the product will be built on.