‘Ohana by Hawaiian Takes Us to Our Real Vacation in Lana’i (Trip Report)

Hawaiian, Trip Reports

Only a few days after arriving in Honolulu, it was time for — as I called it on Twitter — vacation inception. My wife and I left the kids with our friends on O’ahu and we went for a vacation within a vacation: 2 nights on Lana’i. I will be writing up my experience on Lana’i separately, but for now, let’s talk about flights.

Since Lana’i was the only one of the six main Hawaiian islands that I hadn’t visited, it was at the top of my list. (My quick turn to try out ‘Ohana by Hawaiian back in 2014 didn’t count.)

We picked up tickets on ‘Ohana by Hawaiian for $168.16 each roundtrip (or actually, the equivalent in Chase Ultimate Rewards). Then, I was fortunate enough to be offered a deeply-discounted travel agent rate for the Four Seasons Lana’i thanks to Cranky Concierge being a Four Seasons Preferred Partner. We paid an average of only about $200 a night for the room, about $1,000 less than the going rate.

It didn’t take long for us to learn that North Shore traffic (where we are staying on O’ahu) is bad on weekends and weekday afternoons… and kind of all the time. It’s so bad that I kept a close eye on traffic before our morning flight just to make sure it wouldn’t cause us to miss the flight. Fortunately, things were moving fine, and it took us just under an hour to get to the airport. We arrived about an hour before our flight, but then things took a turn for the worse.

Legend has it that there is an economy parking lot that’s $12 a day, but the legend is just a myth. Apparently, there used to be such a lot near the commuter terminal, but that was razed. It wasn’t clear to me, however, so we kept trying to find it. The tangle of congested and poorly-signed roads at the airport can make for a harrowing experience. We went around the airport twice and never found the lot. Instead, running tight on time, we gave up and parked in the Terminal 1 garage. It’s strange, but there is no longer any long-term parking at the airport, and there don’t really appear to be many private options either.

The terminal 1 garage is really just a byzantine set of ramps with parking spaces that are regularly full. It took a long time for us to get up to the top level where we finally scored a spot near the airport conference center. Side note: I learned there’s an airport conference center on top of the parking garage.

By the time we parked, it was only half an hour before our flight, and I was getting a little anxious, not knowing what security would look like. We walked in on the mauka (toward the mountain, north in this case) side of Terminal 1 and there was a tiny Precheck checkpoint that didn’t have a long line. We headed in there, and when the woman with a large family in front of us overheard me say to my wife that we were cutting it close, she kindly asked if we wanted to go ahead of them. We made it through and walked all the way over to the ‘Ohana gate on the other side… only to find that our airplane wasn’t even there.

The monitors said the inbound would arrive late at 10:30am, but it didn’t. It got there maybe about 10 minutes later, and they were slow to unload. A delay never posted for our flight, but we didn’t even start boarding until after the original departure time.

I asked the gate agent if the flight was full, and she shook her head saying it wasn’t. We headed down to the ramp to board the airplane from the outside.

July 22, 2019
‘Ohana by Hawaiian 634 Lv Honolulu 1051a Arr Lana’i 1125a
Honolulu (HNL): Gate B1, Runway 8R, Depart 16m Late
Lana’i (LNY): Gate 3, Runway 3, Arrive 15m Late
N801HC, ATR 42-500, Standard Ohana colors, ~85% Full
Seat 1D, Coach
Flight Time 20m

As soon as we boarded the ramp in the rear of the aircraft, I asked the flight attendant, Darren, if there was still an ‘ukulele onboard. It was on my first ‘Ohana flight years ago that I learned of this unique feature, and it is what started me off playing the instrument myself. Here’s the photo I took on that flight when I had no idea how to play it at all.

As I explained briefly to Darren, I’d love to get it and tune it up… give it some love and play a few songs. But he curtly said it was sealed up and I couldn’t have it. Well, ok then. Update 8/8: Hawaiian provided an explanation of what happened:

We do place a “tamper seal” on the stored ‘ukulele cases to meet TSA regulations. However, the seal can (and should) be removed whenever our ‘Ohana by Hawaiian guests ask to play the ‘ukulele. The seal allows us to avoid conducting frequent physical inspections of the ‘ukulele and their cases. When the seal is removed, we just need to place a new one after the ‘ukulele is returned and stored prior to arrival. This was an oversight by the crew, so my apologies. But thanks for calling this to our attention.

We took our seats in the next to last row on the left side, row 12, as they got us ready for departure. The gate agent must have a very strange definition of a “not full” flight, because this one only had a handful of seats open. It was filled with laborers and tourists, all going to the same place for very different reasons.

After the safety demonstration, the flight attendant came back and asked those of us in the last two rows if two of us would move forward for weight and balance. The others back there were workers who wanted to stay as close to the exit as possible so they could get off and go to work. My wife and I didn’t care, so we volunteered. At the front, the little lounge area was empty, so we sat on the window facing each other. I took this photo in the same seat I had taken years ago as I strummed the ‘ukulele. This time, my hands were empty.

We took off to the east as usual, and climbed up through the lowest scattered layer of clouds. It was a cloudy day with poor visibility, so we couldn’t see much at all on the way over. We settled just under the overcast cloud deck in smooth skies for our brief cruise. The flight attendant came through with a choice of water or POG juice, and we took the opportunity to toast our mini-vacation.

Moments later, we were descending. It was so hazy and cloudy that we couldn’t even see Maui on our way in.

We landed and, since we were up front, we were the last ones to get off the airplane. The Four Seasons had a van waiting to take us away for our adventure. As I mentioned before, I’ll have much more on the experience on Lana’i in a separate post.

After two glorious nights away, it was time to come back to O’ahu. As we boarded the van at the hotel, one of the staff members was playing Aloha ‘Oe, Queen Lili’uokalani’s famous song which in English means, Farewell to Thee.

We arrived at the airport an hour before our flight, and that seemed entirely excessive. (You may think my lei and hat are entirely excessive as well, but I wore them with pride and appreciated the hard work that went into making them.)

There is nothing beyond security, so we just sat outside on a bench and enjoyed the afternoon. I checked the local timetable on the wall which was surprisingly kept up to date.

Then I pulled up Flightradar24 to find that our airplane hadn’t yet left Honolulu, so I kept tabs to see when it would get in the air. Only when our inbound plane landed did we opt to head through security.

Lana’i does Precheck light where you still need to pull all your stuff out of your bags. They scrutinized everything VERY carefully, far more carefully than you’d think Lana’i departures would require.

By the time we got through, boarding had just begun.

July 24, 2019
‘Ohana by Hawaiian 655 Lv Lana’i 218p Arr Honolulu 250p
Lana’i (LNY): Gate 3, Runway 21, Depart On Time
Honolulu (HNL): Gate B1, Runway 8L, Arrive 5m Late
N805HC, ATR 42-500, Standard Ohana colors, ~50% Full
Seat 11D, Coach
Flight Time 27m

This time we had seats 11C and D, hoping to have a good view of Moloka’i on our way back.

Our flight attendant was again Darren, just as it was on the way out, so I didn’t bother to ask for the ‘ukulele. I already knew his answer.

We started up right on time and headed to the runway, launching to the south over the water. We climbed to the towering height of 8,000 feet and turned toward O’ahu. But then we made an odd left turn out over the water. The pilots came on and apologized, saying that we would have to vector a bit because another plane coming from West Maui had to land before us. I’m not sure why that was the case, but it meant we zigged and zagged a couple times before resuming our course.

We descended fairly early and leveled off at 1,500 feet before we could even see O’ahu. Just after leveling, air traffic control must have told them to speed up, because the props got loud and we picked up speed. It was loud and downright bouncy at 1,500 feet, and it was only slightly unnerving to see the whitecaps dotting the windswept sea not far below us.

Soon, O’ahu came into view. We came nearly straight in, perpendicular to the reef runway, before hanging a right and planting ourselves down on the ground.

Taxi-in was quick, and we almost would have made it on time had we not had to wait for the West Maui flight to unload at the same gate as us.

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17 comments on “‘Ohana by Hawaiian Takes Us to Our Real Vacation in Lana’i (Trip Report)

  1. Hrmm.. What is the point of having the ‘ukulele if its not going to be offered to passengers like it was intended?

    1. Nick – This is a great question, and I wish I had an answer. The Hawaiian comms team was just as stumped when I asked.

    2. Nick – And now I have an answer. It’s updated in the post, but effectively:

      “We do place a “tamper seal” on the stored ‘ukulele cases to meet TSA regulations. However, the seal can (and should) be removed whenever our ‘Ohana by Hawaiian guests ask to play the ‘ukulele. The seal allows us to avoid conducting frequent physical inspections of the ‘ukulele and their cases. When the seal is removed, we just need to place a new one after the ‘ukulele is returned and stored prior to arrival. This was an oversight by the crew, so my apologies. But thanks for calling this to our attention.”

  2. I flew Ohana to Molokai around a year ago. Had a very friendly female flight attendant, and I asked about the uke and received the same answer. However, she did take time to show the the encased uke, and pointed out where the school kids of Molokai had written some nice words in Hawaiian on it. The uke case was indeed taped closed with some sort of aviation-related tape, which if I recall correctly indicated that it was not to be tampered with. She could not fully explain how/why this came to be, but it is what it is.

  3. I’ll be honest if I had to listen to someone playing the ukulele poorly for the duration of a flight, I would probably be incensed. The reality is there’s no real way to verify if someone is actually half way decent or not, so to some degree I’m glad that they don’t hand it out.

    1. Very true! That said, my son can play the ukulele and would have gotten a kick out of doing so on our last Ohana flight this spring. We, of course, had no idea that this was an Ohana amenity (if it still is one!).

      I’ve found my Ohana flights to be pleasant enough, but the real fun of flying small commercial planes in Hawaii is when you do it with the smaller airlines that don’t have TSA checks (I don’t think you can avoid the TSA at HNL, but you can on the neighbor islands). Airlines like Mokulele, that Brett has written about. There’s something very fun about just showing up at the airport at departure time and hopping right on the plane with no fuss.

      1. iahphx – Ah but you can avoid it in HNL! I flew Mokulele from the new Terminal 3 on Saturday – no TSA required.

        1. Interesting. How new is that? Travel info in Hawaii can be, um, “incomplete.” When I was travelling in the spring, Mokulele’s website said you had to do TSA at HNL. It tipped the scales for me to do Ohana in that direction (since I also got into the HA lounge for breakfast).

          BTW, looking forward to your Lanai trip report. I’ve been to the Lanai airport, and I’ve snorkeled off its coast, but I’ve never stayed on the island. I certainly would have had I had a massive travel agency employee discount. :) Otherwise, the Lanai City accommodation choices seemed limited, and it didn’t seem like there was tons to do on the island.

          1. Iahphx – They moved sometime last year, I think during the summer. So it would have been done by the time you traveled this spring. Sounds like someone needs to update a website.

  4. Sounds like a lot of people must have complained about badly played ukulele so it was sealed up so no one could use it even on a short flight. Must have been the locals who are tired of hearing it played badly…LOL

  5. Your experience with these flights are pretty typical for me, which is why I asked the question I did on a previous post. Perhaps I have bad luck with HA, and that’s why that’s the case for me? Who knows. But, I’m very much looking forward to the rest of your trip report. Always wanted to give FS Lanai a shot, but I’m not paying that much lol

    1. Island Miler – Interesting, because this felt very much like an ‘Ohana experience which is not up to the regular Hawaiian experience I’ve had in most cases.

      1. Ohana definitely isn’t run as well as Hawaiian (I mean, it is Republic and not Hawaiian anyway, right?). But, Hawaiian’s aging fleet of 717s isn’t helping either. Mechanical delays an cancellations have been on the rise recently, my most recent one being a cancellation after I boarded. But, I’ve also had equipment swaps happen 20 minutes after boarding was supposed to begin with no updates leading up to that. Inbound planes arriving 20-40 minutes late with no online or at the airport updates. And even my recent canceled flight showed the flight was “on-time” on Hawaiian’s app after our scheduled arrival time passed. Flight Radar showed the same, but that our flight haden’t left the gate yet. IT is one of Hawaiian’s weak points, though. I mean, look at their new app… You can’t use it to book or change flights!

        1. Island Miler – Sounds like you might have bad luck. The airline’s on-time performance is still very high overall, though that still means 1 in 10 flights will be delayed.

          But the app, yeah. It needs some work. For Android, it is a pain to have it reload every time you try to bring up the boarding pass.

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