If you ask me whether I like something, I can give you a definite answer. Do I like black licorice? Oh, hell, no. Do I like a nice big bowl of tonkatsu ramen? You betcha. Do I like Hawaiian Airlines?
Hmmm. OK. I’ve just flown four long legs on Hawaiian Airlines, and I honestly don’t know how to answer this question. You’d think it’s a simple question -- but it’s hard to evaluate the sum of the parts versus the individual parts themselves. Let’s break it down into pieces so you can see whether Hawaiian Airlines is right for you.
Where I Flew
Phoenix, Ariz. to Honolulu, Hawaii
Honolulu to Auckland, New Zealand
Let’s Start with the Schedule and Airports
One of the reasons I chose Hawaiian Airlines was to avoid Los Angeles International Airport, both outbound and inbound. Hawaiian’s flight from Phoenix gave me a great morning flight on Thursday as opposed to a late-night flight.
Hawaiian also connects via Honolulu to all sorts of destinations in Asia, and our future travel plans include South Korea and Japan (both on our list). So if they passed this test, they’d be a perfect airline for future trips.
Oh, and Honolulu International Airport? It’s wonderful for a layover on the way to Auckland Airport. The little garden area and semi-outdoor corridors give it the nicest vibe of any US airport. Unfortunately, its customs, immigration and baggage areas are an absolute morass. I’d take LAX any day, and that’s saying a lot.
How was the Hawaiian Airlines Staff?
Pilots, flight attendants, gate agents -- no matter what their role at Hawaiian Airlines, they were all far nicer than your typical North American Airlines. Here are a few examples.
I slept through the initial snack/meal service on my flight out of Auckland. I went back into the galley and asked if they had anything left. I got a nice little sandwich, some fruit and a cookie. And no disgruntled attitude about why I missed the flight attendant’s pass through the cabin.
On my flight from Phoenix to Honolulu, I drained my 24-ounce collapsible water bottle and was feeling the thirst. I took the empty bottle back to the galley and asked if I could get a bit of water. Well, the flight attendant kindly filled it all the way up.
Small stuff, right? But it adds up.
Speaking of Food ….
The meal services on the flights were fairly nondescript sandwiches and chicken/rice dishes. They were still considerably better than most meal options I’ve had on long-haul flights with US legacy airlines, though considerably short of the fare on Asiana or All Nippon Airlines (with Asiana being downright tasty).
On the flight into Honolulu from Phoenix, they also served some fun flavors of the islands: sweet onion potato chips and some sort of rum punch that was plenty tasty.
Da Planes, Da Planes!
Tail Numbers and Aircraft Names
PHX-HNL: Boeing 767 with Sky Interior (N588HA, Iwa)
HNL to AKL and Back: Airbus A330 (N388HA, Nahiku; N389HA, Keali’iokonaikalewa)
HNL to PHX: Boeing 767, old interior (N581HA, Manu o Ku)
This is where Hawaiian Airlines has some problems. I really liked our first 767, even though it didn’t have AVOD (on-demand entertainment) at each seat, which is pretty much the standard for long-haul flights on other airlines. It’s the old-school drop-down screens. But I didn’t really care since the Hawaiian Airlines flights were about $1,000 cheaper for my party collectively than competing airlines. Plus, I had a Kindle loaded with some great books. I also like the 2-3-2 seating configuration on the 767, which also gave me ample legroom (6’2 with a 32-inch inseam).
The 767 from HNL to Phoenix was older, and had the earlier, dingier interior. Still, the legroom was perfect.
Now let’s talk about those A330s. They’re the future for Hawaiian Airlines as the 767 gets phased out. The A330 in and of itself isn’t a problem: How Hawaiian Airlines chooses to configure them, though, is a big-time pain for tall travelers. I slid into my seat, and my knees immediately contacted the seat in front of me. So I did what all smart travelers do: I pitched all the reading material in the seat pocket onto the floor in front of me. It opened up some space, but not enough to separate me from the seat. It’s odd that seatguru.com lists the pitch at 31 inches; I’ve flown on plenty of planes with 31 inches of pitch that gave me a little room between seats. The seat cushions were pretty bad, with my left buttock aching about an hour after takeoff.
Also, the Airbus cabins were Yukon cold on both flights. They did have AVOD, but most content would cost. Again, not a big deal for the price break. But factoring in the tight spacing, this becomes more of an issue.
I will definitely avoid any Hawaiian Airlines A330 in the future until they decide to provide some extra space, regardless of price or convenience. There’s just too much competition out there.
Another Little Hitch
Our flight to Auckland was delayed a full three hours by a mechanical problem. That put us at the gate in Auckland just short of 2 a.m., which is pretty rough. Our scheduled 22:25 arrival was already late for travelers craving rest in a real bed.
But things happen, and I get that. Still, Hawaiian Airlines could’ve scored some points by setting passengers up somehow for the delay. Maybe by providing meal vouchers for the delay, or waiving the in-flight entertainment charge. Unfortunately, they missed that chance to make a better situation of a long delay.
What’s the Bottom Line?
I really wanted to love Hawaiian Airlines. I still want to, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. That’s a bummer, because the actual on-the-line employees got it right. The corporate suits, unfortunately, have handed them either aging or cramped aircraft that are well short of the standards being set by other airlines. They’re addressing the aging planes, but they’re replacing them with cramped sardine cans. This is a huge disservice to their pilots, cabin staff and ground staff who do so well.
Fortunately, it’s also reversible. The suits could make some adjustments to the aircraft coming into the fleet, and heed my very good advice when it comes time to refresh the cabins of the A330s currently on hand.
Here’s the good news: If you’re of a shorter stature, the seat pitch won’t matter as much to you. My wife, who is 5’7, had no problem catching Zs on the 767 and A330. Obviously, my 2-year-old wasn’t bothered by the seat pitch!
But since we come as a package and I’m the guy who gets to book the flights, I don’t see Hawaiian Airlines being my go-to airline for future flights unless they’re on a 767 or the A330s get a bit more room for us tall guys.