Hawaiian Airlines 787: What It Could Mean for Travelers

It’s been nearly a month since Hawaiian Airlines announced its switch from the Airbus A330-900 to the Boeing 787-9. This was great news, but I was also too caught up in writing about gravel bikes to put much effort into a post here. The Hawaiian Airlines 787 will now get its due. Airline geeks will debate the merits of these two aircraft ad nauseum in some of the most opaque language. Fine. That’s what they do.

From a passenger experience side, this is good news. As a Phoenix resident, I think of Hawaiian Airlines as my secret airline. If I want to go anywhere on the Pacific Rim, they’re a strong choice that allows me to avoid Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc. I flew Hawaiian Airlines to and from New Zealand with my wife and then-2-year-old daughter.

Hawaiian Airlines 787
Will the Hawaiian Airlines 787 take over service from Phoenix Sky Harbor from the 767?

I wrote about that. If you don’t feel like clicking the link, here’s the long and short of it:

  • Great service and decent food
  • Huge variation between aircraft
    • The 767s flying between Phoenix and Honolulu range from fairly updated inside to, well, let’s just call it long in the tooth.
    • The A330s flying between Auckland and Honolulu absolutely suck for tall people. I had to remove everything from the seat pockets to prevent my knees from touching the seat in front of me.
Hawaiian Airlines 767 Iwa
My little person gives two thumbs up to Hawaiian Airlines. She was a trooper on four legs from Phoenix to Auckland and back.

I’ve flown in 787s from San Jose, Calif., to Tokyo and from Shanghai to LAX in a variety of configurations. Even the United Airlines 787 was comfortable. Some travelers squawk about that one because United Airlines configured it with 9 seats – three rows of three seats each. Even being 6’2 and 200 pounds, I was comfortable. The cabin was also quiet, and the seats had all the latest amenities (hello, USB ports!).

I know Hawaiian Airlines intended to replace the 767s serving Phoenix with the A330; I hope that means Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport will get its first 787 service from Hawaiian. Most airlines will tell you that fleet commonality is a good thing, so it’s possible older A330s in the fleet get phased out in favor of the 787. I haven’t found any confirmation that Sky Harbor will be served by the Hawaiian Airlines 787, but it fits the situation well. They didn’t respond to a tweet asking about it.

Hawaiian Airlines A330 Nahiku
I’d much rather fly a Hawaiian Airlines 787 rather than the A330 pictured.

This is could be great news for people who want to travel to the Pacific Rim while avoiding LAX, SFO and other busy, crowded airports. If it plays out the way I expect, Hawaiian Airlines and Sky Harbor should talk this up. I’m not sure what’s behind the hesitation. Phoenix Sky Harbor lags in intercontinental service for a city its size; that’s a combination of proximity to other intercontinental hubs and an economy that isn’t exactly firing on all cylinders. But weather rarely cancels flights here. Savvy travelers could easily latch onto the Hawaiian Airlines 787 flights as a way to travel the Pacific without a stop at busier, more chaotic airports. I hope that Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t do something silly and replace the 767 with a single-aisle A321, which it has done for certain routes. I guess we’ll find out.

787 Dreamliner – My Travel Highlight of 2013

Dreamliner Review
The 787 Dreamliner is a pretty airplane from any angle.

I usually get just one big international trip every year. So it seems too obvious to name my recent trip to Vietnam as my Best of 2013. I mean, that means my big trip would score the top spot every year.

Alright, then – if we go beyond the trip to Vietnam, what’s my most-interesting travel-related tidbit of 2013?

Easy. This year, I took my first flight on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The first was back in July, a short domestic trip from Houston to Chicago. But I logged two more flights, both trans-Pacifics, as the curtain closed on 2013. The first was from Mineta San Jose International Airport to Narita International Airport outside Tokyo – that was also my first flight on All Nippon Airways, which Skytrax rates as a 5-star airline. Next, I flew from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport on a United 787 Dreamliner.

I’ll review both flights in upcoming blog posts (NOTE: I am not an avgeek’s avgeek. So I won’t tell you what runway we took from, list the aircraft registration number or subject you to four photos of every meal/snack. That stuff just doesn’t interest me.). For now, let me focus on the 787 itself. Both airlines fly the 787-8 variant, which is the first launched. The 787-9 just made its first flight, so it’s not yet in service.

787 Dreamliner Review
Inside the United Dreamliner. Notice the LED lighting and the very high ceiling.

The ANA 787 holds fewer than 200 people seated eight across in the economy cabin. The United seems packed tighter at nine abreast.

Regardless of their configuration differences, each Dreamliner had some common features that make this a nice aircraft for a journey across continents.

You’ll notice amenities like on-demand entertainment at every seat. But here’s the really nice part – you can charge up your electronic gadgets with a USB port at every seat. That’s terrific convenience. The cabin is spacious, with lots of headroom for a tall guy like me.

787 Dreamliner Review
Notice the huge engines … believe it or not, they’re still very quiet.

There are some things that are harder to measure, like the higher air pressure and the higher humidity. Both factors are difficult to measure scientifically. And how do you account for an aviation nerd skewing his observations because he’s pumped to fly the latest and greatest in commercial aviation? You don’t.

Still, I think the complete package of the 787 Dreamliner makes it a better experience for all passengers. I hope much of what Boeing learned from the Dreamliner winds up in the 777X.

Here’s a suggestion I’ll pass along: If Boeing opts against using traditional window shades and uses the Dreamliner-style dimming windows, I hope its engineers can get the window to shift to fully opaque. If they don’t, each of them deserves to fly up against the window facing the sun for the rest of their lives. Seriously.

Still, I’m very happy I had the chance to fly on it three times. The 777 was in service for more than 10 years before I got my first flight, and I didn’t want to wait that long or a Dreamliner ride. Mission accomplished!

787 Dreamliner Review
When the Dreamliner takes to the air, its wing flexes upward. You won’t believe how much it moves.

787 Dreamliner: Regular Guy’s Review

787 Dreamliner
A United Dreamliner preps for a flight from Houston to Phoenix.

(UPDATE: I now have a more thorough 787 Dreamliner review for a nice, long US-to-Japan flight.) By now, just about every elite blogger has scored a free ride on the 787 Dreamliner. But what’s the Boeing wunderflugzeug like for a regular guy who pays for a cheap seat? Find out!

How I Caught a Flight
I needed to be in Chicago, and I was on my own for the flight. I could’ve caught a direct flight on any number of airlines, but I picked United Airlines since it flies a 787 Dreamliner from Houston to Chicago O’Hare. I paid marginally more for the flight than I would have for a direct flight. But hey -- I had to find out what’s up with the 787 Dreamliner. (If you want to fly the Dreamliner, check this list of airlines and routes using the 787.)

Step 1 involved a flight on an Embraer regional jet from Phoenix next to a couple of guys who sounded exactly like Boomhauer from King of the Hill. The flight had a particularly good flight attendant. This is just a small thing: She saw that I emptied the tiny cup of water from the beverage service into my 24-ounce sports bottle – and she offered to give me a second cup. I thanked her, but said I didn’t want to hog all the water. She promised to return if she had some left over. She stopped by awhile later and topped me off. Again, it’s just a small thing. But it was a nice thing to do.

787 Dreamliner
An unstaged look inside a working Dreamliner cabin. Notice the windows?

Boarding the Future of Aviation?
The 787 Dreamliner will catch your eye if you have any interest in design at all. Its nose is sleek. The wingtips rake up, but are not quite as dramatic in person. The engines are huge. The total package just looks modern and built to fly.

When I boarded, there was a "new plane" smell along with a very J.J. Abrams-era Star Trek flavor to the interior – clean white bulkheads, soft-colored lighting, smooth lines everywhere, a touch-screen on-demand entertainment system. I had to pass through first class on my way back. I got a bit envious, but I think the main cabin is the real test of any airplane or airline.

I noticed the on-demand system had a USB port – I presume you could charge gadgets from it. A label on the seatback said there was another outlet between the seats. I couldn’t find it, but I didn’t look very hard (a more thorough search may have seemed creepy to my neighbor).

787 Dreamliner
A look at the upswept wing and cool raked wingtips.

Oh, and how ‘bout those big windows? The 787 Dreamliner windows are notably bigger than any airliner window. It makes it easy to gaze out the window – especially for tall guys. The dimmer function is cool, too: Rather than a window shade to pull down, there’s a button to control the window’s opacity. Nice!

What about comfort? Well, my 34-inch inseam legs had a good bit of distance from the seat next to me. The adjustable head rest was also a nice touch. I managed to fall asleep for awhile and woke up refreshed.

Getting in the Air
The calm, automated voice for routine announcements adds to the Star Trek flavor of the 787 Dreamliner.

Then there’s the engine start and its high-pitched, electronic-sounding whine. It’s noticeable – but even sitting in the first row forward of the wing’s trailing edge, I could hear every word my two neighbors said to each other (Every.Single.One.Of.Them.).

787 Dreamliner
A look at the sleekest nose flying.

Boeing has a lot to say about one aspect of the 787 Dreamliner: its carbon fuselage allows it to have more humidity, plus the air pressure feels more like 6,000 feet rather than the 8,000 feet of most other airplanes. As much as I like flying, my head often feels fuzzy after flying. I had none of that feeling when I landed – I’d love to see if this holds up on a longer flight.

The beverage service was pretty efficient. The cabin crew was nice enough – nothing to stand out either way.

I didn’t get up to wander the cabin, so there’s one crucial bit of long-haul knowledge I didn’t acquire: Does the 787 Dreamliner have a place to refill water bottles like the Qantas 747 and the Asiana Airlines 777? I love being able to refill on my own during intercontinental flights.

What About Those Problems?
The 787 Dreamliner has had some niggles. But think about this: What if the 747 or DC-10 launched during an age when the news cycle never ends and every disgruntled customer could use social media as a cudgel against any perceived wrong? Yeah – it would be a lot like what the Dreamliner is going through.

The 787 Dreamliner and its technology will change the way we fly in some small but important ways. More fuel efficiency is good for the airlines. Lower carbon emissions benefit us all. And more comfort in the cabin is great for the passengers.

I’d happily sign up for a Dreamliner flight again knowing everything it’s gone through, whether it’s headed to Albuquerque or Auckland.

And here’s something else: If I have a choice between a 787 Dreamliner or any other plane, I’ll pick the 787 first.

7 Thoughts on Asiana Airlines

asiana 777
An Asiana 777 takes to the sky. (ykanazawa1999 via Flickr)

UPDATE: I’ve posted a review of my 5 flights on Asiana Airlines.

I just booked tickets for my first trip to Asia. This fall, I’ll fly Asiana Airlines to Incheon and Tokyo. U.S. Airways, one of Asiana’s Star Alliance partners, will get us to LAX and from San Franciso International. The plan is to go first to Seoul, hit the countryside and then make a quick visit to take in the otherworldly craziness that is Tokyo.

So why Asiana, which isn’t one of the better-known names in the United States?

Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A330
I'd love to fly on a Hawaiian A330. Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines.

It’s online booking actually works -- unlike those of ANA, Korean Airlines and JAL. I considered those heavy hitters (hoping that ANA might have a 787 Dreamliner flying by then). Too bad their online booking is clunky to the point of non-functional. The online booking experience is a flyer’s introduction to an airline. It needs to work flawlessly every time. Asiana’s does. You’ll notice I don’t mention the big American carrier’s That’s because I have yet to see evidence that any U.S. carrier outside of Hawaiian Airlines provides the level of service of its overseas counterparts. More on them below.

It’s prices are the most reasonable I could find. A good chunk includes taxes and fees, though. Out of curiosity, I set up the same flights on Continental.com, also a Star Alliance member. Tack on another 10 percent. Not egregious, but not worth rolling the dice – American-based carriers just don’t have a reputation for good service, and mediocrity can make a long flight hell. Oh, and some of the flights are operated by United on its older 747-400s.

It has a great reputation for service. It’s the SkyTrax  Airline of the Year Award winner for 2010 -- the same year Global Travelers magazine named its in-flight service the world’s best. And its online booking actually works (I’m sure you read that somewhere recently --)

It has a very shiny new fleet. That’s always a plus, as is its reputation for rigorous maintenance. I’m looking forward to my first flight on a Boeing 777, which I’ve heard is a sweet ride for people who actually like commercial air travel.

Why Asiana Isn’t Quite Perfect

  • No direct flights from Tokyo to the United States during the times I searched. We have to go back to Incheon. That costs a bit of time. But hey, it’s another ride on a 767, one of my favorites.
  • An Asiana 747 freighter just crashed. There’s word that the flight disappeared after reporting a fire onboard. I can’t think of the last time an airline has last two aircraft very quickly, so that puts stats in my favor! And freight versus commercial service. I have no cause to worry.
The Very Worthy Second Choice
Hawaiian Airlines. I love the idea of skipping LAX and flying from Phoenix to Honolulu to Incheon to Tokyo to Honolulu to Phoenix. I also hear Hawaiian Airlines totally rocks, providing inflight service on-par with foreign carriers. The timetables just didn’t favor my allotted time. I also would’ve been more interested if I could’ve caught a ride on a Hawaiian A330 instead of a 767. Again, I like the 767 … but I’ve never been on an A330. Yes, these things do weigh into a flying geek’s decision making.
Also, Hawaiian’s site doesn’t take advantage of its Star Alliance buddies to get me from Incheon to Tokyo. One thing I learned: If you book all from one site, you’re covered better for mishaps like missing a connection. Qantas left us high and dry because we booked separately from Auckland to LAX and LAX to Phoenix. The ground staff lost some serious brownie points, but I also learned to book more efficiently.