A Walk Through Hawaiian’s New, Well-Designed 787


It has been a long road for Hawaiian to figure out how to replace (er, augment?) its Airbus A330 fleet with a new flagship, but after two failed attemps with Airbus, the airline has officially taken delivery of its first Boeing 787-9. It brought the airplane to Los Angeles to give media and the airline’s mainland ʻohana (really, employees) a look inside on Saturday. I brought my son along to crawl around and ponder just what Alaska might do with this airplane.

I’ve never quite understood the need for a new fleet type when the A330 still has many years to go, but the 787 is larger (300 vs 278 passenger in a more premium configuration), brings more range, and adds more cargo capacity than the A330. It also provided Hawaiian with a blank canvas on which it could create a new onboard product.

The Overall Ambience Hits a Home Run

The new look and feel becomes apparent very quickly when walking on the airplane from the usual door 2 location. The paneling looks like a koa wood — it’s not wood at all in reality — and there is a frond-engraved ceiling bubble at the entrance.

That “wood” extends to floor as well, but only in that entry area. It makes for a strong feeling that something will be different as you board.

And of course, the mood-lighting is in full effect. The fiber optic ceiling lets Hawaiian put twinkling stars up above.

Overall, the airplane feels warm, welcoming, and like Hawaiʻi, which means they hit the bullseye.

First Class Goes Leihōkū

It has now been almost a decade since Hawaiian outfitted its A330s with flat beds, but that product still did not have direct aisle access. The rationale was that most people were traveling together to this leisure destination, so Hawaiian was happy to squeeze in a mere three rows of six seats for a total of 18 up front.

It didn’t take Hawaiian all that long to realize that there was real demand for a more premium product, and there was enough demand that Hawaiian needed a bigger cabin. This airplane introduces the new Leihōkū — “hōkū” means “star,” so this is a lei of stars — first class which is 1-2-1 across, giving everyone direct aisle access. There are 34 seats onboard.

The center section allows you to cuddle with your neighbor if you’d like. Heads are rather close together in this scenario if you have the divider down. Feet are nowhere near each other, but like many of these seats, the footwell is pretty small and confining. Still for someone my height (5’8″), there’s plenty of room to sleep, not that I can sleep on airplanes anyway.

That center divider does go up and down electronically. It has a translucent top but the rest is opaque and gives plenty of privacy. To operate the divider, both people must be pushing the down arrow at the same time to make sure that both parties actually want it down. To put it up, only one person needs to do it.

Each seat has a big screen and a tray table that comes out from right underneath. The table has one wide arm supporting it which seems to do a good job of providing stability. It can also be made to go narrow or wide by rotating the table itself.

The covering on the tray is adequately grippy so that things won’t fly off.

If you turn it the long way and push it forward, there is just enough room to get out without having to stow the tray.

On the side, you’ll find the usual features including a place to stow headphones, a remote for the screen, and a power outlet. Below, you can see me tugging on something. That is a wireless charger, and the wood-piece holds the phone in place. It was a nice touch that helps avoid cords cluttering your space.

And that brings us to what I find to be just downright silly: the door. Yes, Hawaiian has put a door on all of these suites, and it provides no usefulness whatsoever.

The gap you see above, in case you were wondering, is designed that way to avoid rattling during turbulence. It does feel kind of flimsy, so this is a good feature. That’s about the only thing about the door that makes sense.

Why do I hate doors so much? Well, here’s what it looks like if you don’t have it closed.

The staggered nature of the seats means that you still have plenty of privacy whether opened or closed. And when you lean back, you see even less of any other seat. These doors are apparently what the cool kids like, but I find them to have limited utility and not just on Hawaiian. Instead, it’s just another thing that can break.

A Lot of Extra In The Extra Comfort Seats

The beds take up the entire cabin between doors 1 and 2, but then between doors 2 and 3, it’s Extra Comfort time. The seating is in a 3-3-3 configuration as you generally find on 787s — a huge downside for my family of four vs the A330’s 2-4-2 configuration — and the first 11 rows on the sides are all Extra Comfort along with the two rows in the center section making for a total of 72 seats. The rest of the rows in the center and the remaining four rows at the back on the side are regular coach, and there are 62 of those.

The cool blue colors work well, and the cabin looks sharp. Those Extra Comfort seats can easily be identified by the headrest cover. Those seats to have a lot of legroom.

Perhaps the best way to see this is in the last row of Extra Comfort where you can easily observe the difference in seat pitch between the two rows.

A Worthy Coach Product

Extra Comfort may have more room, but for me, the coach seat provided plenty of legroom in its own right.

I’d be perfectly happy in coach on a West Coast – Hawaiʻi flight, but for something longer, I can see the appeal of having more space where the window seat occupant can get out without needing the middle or aisle to get up.

In the last cabin between doors 3 and 4, the exit row adds another 7 seats of Extra Comfort — the sides only have 2 seats in them. These rows are terrible if you value a window view but excellent if you just want space. Behind that are another 125 regular coach seats with the last two rows also only having 2 seats in their side sections as the cabin tapers.

I spent some time in these seats, and I found them to be really comfortable. Most importantly in my mind, I love the cloth seating. I know people seem to have a thing for leather, but you slide around too much in them. And if youʻre wearing your beach gear, it gets hot and sticky. Further, the leather seats show scuffing a lot more than these patterned cloth ones will. Iʻm glad to see Hawaiian went with cloth.

The inflight entertainment screen is plenty big, and thereʻs a bunch of content. I donʻt think itʻs all that much different than whatʻs on the A330s, but I do miss the radio stations from the old days. I always loved listening to Territorial Airwaves when approaching the islands, but none of those stations are around anymore, just albums of music.

A Well-Designed Airplane

Kudos to Avi Mannis, Executive Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer at Hawaiian, and his team for putting together a very nice onboard experience. Avi was there for this event, and as I mentioned to him, just being onboard made me want to be back in Hawaiʻi. It is Hawaiianʻs job to make people feel like there’s a piece of the islands with them from the moment they step onboard. This airplane certainly does that.

Of course, if Hawaiian were charting its own path, that might be one thing, but now that Alaska is acquiring the airline, it remains to be seen exactly how this airplane gets used outside of its traditional markets. The Hawaiian theming may end up seeming odd on a Seattle – London or Tokyo route, but the more dense configuration compared to, say, United at 257 seats or British Airways at 216, should create an opportunity to complement a more traditional premium-heavy product on some of those routes outside of the islands while still serving their core purpose.

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47 comments on “A Walk Through Hawaiian’s New, Well-Designed 787

  1. I know you said in your previous article that they probably still haven’t figured out the details, but would Alaska and Hawaiian really share 787s? It would be interesting to see what livery they’d be in, assuming they end up flying for both airlines.

    1. Maybe they’ll go with the half/half, one livery on each side like KLM and Northwest did on the DC-10 back in the day.

    2. MK03 – We have absolutely no idea, but if they don’t flow the aircraft between networks it’s a real missed opportunity.

      1. Alaska is attempting to purchase Hawaiian & yet it’s based in Seattle. Am I the only one who finds that just a little weird?

  2. Thanks for the report. Very pretty interior.

    How is the hip/elbow/shoulder room on the regular & Extra Comfort seats, and how does it compare to seats on competitors? For me personally, small differences in width in airline coach seats can make a big difference in comfort.

    > I’d be perfectly happy in coach on a West Coast – Hawai?i flight, but for something longer, I can see the appeal of having more space where the window seat occupant can get out without needing the middle or aisle to get up.

    In Extra Comfort when seats in the rows ahead of you and in your own row are reclined (as many people do to sleep on longer flights), is there still enough space to comfortably squeeze past pax in your own row?

    I’m not arguing the value of extra pitch, as it’s great on longer flights, and not trying to nitpick, just pointing out that for those of us who are not contortionists or super flexible, seat pitch seems to disappear quickly when trying to move between two rows of reclined seats.

    1. Kilroy – I didn’t have a set in front recline, but there really is a lot of room there. I don’t have an answer for you. And seat width, I dunno, probably pretty standard. It didn’t stand out to me.

      1. Shh… Don’t give Ryanair any ideas. ;-)

        (I’d say Spirit instead, but they don’t fly Boeings.)

  3. Brett,
    In the past Alaska butchered the ambiance of the Virgin interiors. What does you gut tell you about what they might do with the Hawaiian product?

    1. Angry Bob – No way of knowing. It’s far too early to tell, but they are keeping the Hawaiian brand which they did not do with Virgin America, so I would assume it would not be “butchered” in the same way

  4. “The Hawaiian theming may end up seeming odd on a Seattle – London or Tokyo route,”

    I don’t disagree but I’m a little curious what would appear more odd in London… Pualani or the Eskimo….?

    In Tokyo, the Eskimo has never been while Pualani is quite the regular there.

    1. In 5 years time, AS will have butchered HA and will be back to an all-737 operator, with no traces of HA remaining.

      They don’t think outside the box up there, at all.

      1. That could be a solid reason to reject this merger if the JetBlue/ Spirit merger is any indication. Hawaiian is a carrier with brand recognition even if they mostly fly to the west coast & have little service east of Las Vegas.

    2. Merge with jetblue which already has London slots/brand awareness, and can put better use to the widebodies. Keep the jetblue name. Problem solved

  5. Do you have any insights into their decision behind the Extra Comfort seat layout ? Seems unique to Hawaiian

  6. Regarding the question of how this fits alongside the A330, you have to go back to Hawaiian’s original A330 order. That order was not just for A330-200s, but also for the A350-800. When Airbus elected not to build the A350-800 variant, those A350s became A330-800s. It’s generally assumed that Hawaiian felt the A350-900 was too big for them. The A330-800 did actually get built but it is not very popular and some people doubted that variant would get built at all. I guess that there were enough questions and delays that Hawaiian reevaluated their fleet plan and the A330-800 order was dropped in favor of the 787-9.

  7. Thumbs up on the cloth seats. I’ve never been a fan of leatherette; it’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. And as you mentioned, your body seems to slide around.

  8. Re. the 3-3-3 configuration vs. the 2-4-2… this is an aspect of the product that I think is wildly underrated & underdiscussed.

    Family of 4 here as well so pretty much all of our family flying is either in 4s (parents + kids) or 2s (parents only or 1 parent + 1 kid). I go out of my way to fly 330s, 767s, 220s, and even E75s / CRJs because they all let you at least have a block of 2 without having to share the row.

    I realize it takes an aerophile to know that and make a purchasing decision based on it, but I think if an airline really leaned into the marketing, they might actually be able to win some customers based on it. How many people would really prefer a block of 3 seats vs 2?

    If an airline really ever wanted to earn my forever loyalty and apply this concept to a 9-across aircraft, they could take this all a step farther and create (what I believe KLM tried on their M11s), a 3-4-2 configuration. I’m sure there’s an MBA Junior Associate Vice President of a Spreadsheet who thinks that’s a bad idea, but take it straight to PTA meetings man and you’ll win them all.

    1. Family of 3 here, so 3-3-3 seating (or 2-3-2 on 767s) is ideal for us! 2-4-2s leave someone with an awkward partner. The idea of a 3-4-2 configuration is really intriguing though…

      1. Yes, and my apologies for targeting your family type, but my point is that on a leisure flight a 3 block of seats is ONLY ideal for a 3 person family traveling together.

        2 blocks are preferable for just about everyone else because they work for couples, families of 4 (1 parent + 1 kid per 2 block), and even solo travelers because then they’re only sharing their block with 1 other person.

    2. On ANA’s 777-300ER fleet, some of them are arranged in a 2-4-3 config. They are the only airline I know that has this config. Kudos to them for this.

    3. I’ve been following av geek blogs for 20 years and a 3-4-2 configuation is the best thought idea I’ve come across yet. As a couple, we love the E175 and now the A220 seat configuation and short of buying in F, these are our preferred types. UA and now F9 allowing purchasing an extra seat (presumably to buy the middle seat) is a great idea as well.

  9. I really don’t understand why they would choose 3-3-3. I think that is a rotten decision and 2-4-2 would be much more appealing. Is there any technical reason? Powerpoints? Ventilation? Food carts? Lighting? How many passengers travel in groups of 3? Not a whole lot methinks. The Air Canada L-1011 used to be 2-5-2 which was horrible when the flight was full. But if not, you effectively had 2-2-2-2 most of the time. Good thinking!

    1. Kilmer – It saves a lot on complexity because you only need shipsets of 3 that can go anywhere on the airplane. Makes it easier with in-seat power and video and works better with the overhead bin placement.

    2. Also 3-3-3 is one seat more than 2-4-2, so more seats to sell. Same thing on the 777s going from mostly 3-3-3 to 3-4-3.

      1. Yeah, easy to understand why they wouldn’t give up the seat and do 2-4-2 (which *is* how the 787 was designed: to have nice and comfortable, wide seats with an 8-across configuration, before some airlines realized it was just wide enough to have 9 cramped seats across). But the 3-4-2 option sure sounds intriguing, especially for Hawaiian with likely many more families than typical airlines. Couples, families of 3, and families of 4 all have an option to get a set of seats to themselves.

      2. I saw JAL’s 787 at 2-4-2 and it looked comfortable. I don’t think I would want to fly in coach on a 3-3-3 787 or a 3-4-3 777/

        I miss the 2-5-2 configuration the 777 had along with the DC-10 and L-1011. It had the advantage of only having one seat per row that required two people to move to get out aisle instead of two.

        1. Early JAL and ANA deliveries I believe are the only 787s with 2-4-2. Everyone else went for 3-3-3 with the narrower seats and aisles to squeeze in that extra seat to sell.

  10. Good looking plane. But I agree with the general dislike for the 3-3-3 layout. Flying to Hawaii I will sometimes choose HA specifically for the 2-4-2 layout of their A330’s. Even the old NW DC-10’s with their 2-5-2 could be good as long as you didn’t get the dreaded middle seat. But for most couples and many families, 3-3-3 is no better than being in the back of a 737. Which is probably what HA will be flying anyways after AS gets rid of these planes.

  11. A further comment of the utter stupidity of 3-3-3: last October my wife and I flew YVR – LHR on Air Canada’s B777. Seat selection was…ummm…interesting! The flight was about two thirds full, there were well over 100 seats open and all were singles. People had taken A and C, on the assumption that nobody would sit between two strangers for ten hours if they could avoid it. The B seats were empty for the entire length of the aircraft on both sides. I was disappointed that my fellow Canadians would be so inconsiderate and selfish but there you have it. Air travel seems to bring out the worst in people. We did find a four right at the back so took D and F leaving E and G open. Guilty as charged, your honour, but we didn’t start this!

    1. Movie theaters, concerts, etc. won’t let you leave gaps of 1 empty seat when choosing seats. Seems reasonable that airlines will eventually land on that solution as well.

    2. I’m trying to understand the issue here. Should people voluntary select a middle seat to leave full rows open for (…?) on a mostly empty flight?

  12. Leather seats are easier to clean if you have a spill,
    You don’t have to sit in a wet seat…to many spills make fabric dis-color after time, even when constantly cleaned.

    1. I’ve replaced many a soiled seat cover on Hawaiian while doing contract maintenance for them in BOS…let’s just say there were many “Water” and “Chocolate” incidents on a 12 hour flight.

  13. Looks great. Hopefully it will hold up. Flew an Air Tahiti Nui dreamliner recently with a lot of similar interior looks, and at only a handful of years old much of the cabin already looks worse for the wear.

    Interesting/sad that HA didn’t take the opportunity to add a premium economy section. It makes for a nice comfortable ride in a 2-3-2 configuration on the dreamliner.

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