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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Straight answers are pretty rare when it comes to airfares. Just look at my recent search for flights to Auckland Airport. I priced out airfares for two adults and an infant just to get the conversation of our next trip started.
As usual, I started searching for airfares with a pretty broad Google Flights search – any airline, any alliance, pretty much any anything. This gave me a pretty good idea of what was out there. Hawaiian Airlines came out on top.
Now, I’m one of those guys who likes to maximize his frequent flier mileage haul. So once I find a flight that works, I check to see if it shares an alliance with an airline where I have a good chunk of miles. In this case, Hawaiian Airlines is in a bit of a weird state – it doesn’t seem to be a member of an airline alliance; its website lists American Airlines as a partner, but that status seems iffy, as well: The website says “**Important information on our partnership with American Airlines: The last day to earn HawaiianMiles on eligible American Airlines flightsÂ was December 31, 2015. Flights with travel dates after December 31, 2015 will not be eligible to earn HawaiianMiles.**”
So, flying Hawaiian won’t let me use any miles that I have, and it won’t earn me anything. That’s a bummer. If Hawaiian was still an American partner, I could’ve presumably booked through AA.com to get on a Hawaiian flight and still earn some AAdvantage miles. I did a flight search, though, and Hawaiian wasn’t an option. And the less said about American’s options, the better – it’s the only airline that isn’t set up to get me to Auckland with one stop. I’d have to fly to Australia first.
This is all a disappointment because flying Hawaiian Airlines would let me skip visiting LAX, which is yet to win me over, humongous redesign or not. Its airfares are also reasonable.
So, what about other options?
Air New Zealand is also a solid choice and offers decent pricing through its own website. About $3,500 in airfares for a family is pretty good, and Air New Zealand gets solid reviews from customers.
Now, if I try booking on the United Airlines (one of Air New Zealand’s Star Alliance partners) website, the airfare shoots skyward. The price for an infant is $1,819! The price through the United Airlines website is nearly $3,000 than booking through the Air New Zealand site. I just cannot fathom this.
Delta Air Lines also couldn’t get us to Auckland with one stop, so I skipped them, too. Their airfares were also a few hundred dollars per ticket off the mark.
Clearly, booking through the Air New Zealand website is by far the winner here. It makes me really question the benefits of the airline alliances if you have the huge of a price variance even among member airlines for the same flight.
The latest Hawaiian Airlines flight deals could motivate some of my fellow Phoenix residents to travel further afield. For years, Hawaiian Airlines has quietly offered travelers from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport a gateway to Asia and the South Pacific.
With just one nonstop intercontinental flight from Phoenix (the daily British Airways flight to London Heathrow), most Phoenix travelers have to get to a major intercontinental hub like Los Angeles, O’Hare or John F. Kennedy if they’re headed to a far-flung destination. But Hawaiian Airlines lets locals skip that by flying direct from Phoenix Sky Harbor to Honolulu, where they connect to a broad variety of cities in Asia, Australia, New Zealand and more. And really, who wouldn’t want to skip LAX?
I’ve called Hawaiian Airlines Sky Harbor’s best-kept secret for intercontinental travel without the stop at LAX. And it seems they’re making a better effort to spill the beans – I just got a newsletter about Hawaiian Airlines flight deals from Phoenix to Auckland and Taipei. The flights start at $1080 if you book before Aug. 26. The travel dates are limited.
Here’s the thing, though: This seems to be an unadvertised special. I got it by signing up for the Hawaiian Airlines eNewsletter. If you want to find about Hawaiian airlines flight deals, you should sign up at the Special Offers page.
I’d really like to see Phoenix travelers jump on deals like this. I’ve heard from local travel agents that the lack of intercontinental flights frustrates them (and their clients), and I’ve ranted about this more than a few times. This is a good way to show demand and encourage more airlines and routes from Sky Harbor.
A few weeks ago, I paged through the latest Mountain Flyer magazine and saw a review of the Foundry Broadaxe mountain bike.The base-level Broadaxe will set you back $2,950. That’s a hefty chunk of change. The Mountain Flyer writer describes the Broadaxe as "more capable than I would have imagined."
Look, if I drop $3,000 on a bike, I expect its biggest limitation to be me. I’d be appalled by a $3K bike that isn’t excellent. And it made me think of how a bike can be the smallest part of the mountain bike experience.
I started to think about what I’d do if someone handed me $3,000 with the condition that I spend it on something bike-related. Here’s my answer … and I’d love to hear yours in the comments.
The last thing I’d spend my money on is another bike.Â I have two great bikes. And great as they are, they’re not the endgame. They’re the means to the endgame of great experiences.Â So I’d seek a great experience -- I’d travel to New Zealand and ride the trails near Auckland and Rotorua, which has great scenery and riding. I’d love to include Queenstown, but that would eat away at my budget and time.
First step: Find a flight from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. This overgrown regional airport has one intercontinental flight per day. But Hawaiian Airlines recently started service from Honolulu to Auckland -- and Hawaiian flies direct from Sky Harbor to Honolulu. I can skip the Los Angeles International Airport chaos and still travel to New Zealand. And I’d get to spend about a day hanging out in Honolulu before my connecting flight to Auckland on the outbound flight. Some people might like to split the trip into two flights, but I love long flights. A bonus – I’d finally get to fly Hawaiian Airlines, which has a reputation as one of the best U.S. carriers. But I’d be deprived of a flight on the Air New Zealand 777, which is one nice airplane. The Hawaiian Airlines bottom line is too attractive to pass, though: $1,212 for a round trip leaving Dec. 4 and returning Dec. 17.
This is late spring/early summer in New Zealand – peak season! My standby, Anns Volcanic, was booked for weeks around my proposed date. But the YHA Rotorua website shows all sorts of options. A room with double beds and a private bathroom ("ensuite" in the local parlance) is $44 NZ. I should be able to match that rate at a similar hostel in Auckland, which also has great trails. That’s $550 NZ. And with the exchange rate? That turns into $465 US. Tack on $100 for a basic hotel in Hawaii during the layover, and that’s $565 US.
That leaves bike rental -- or bike hire, as it’s called in New Zealand. Hardtails are around $60 NZ a day, with dualies as high as $150 NZ. There’s a place that rents Yeti 575s from $75 a day. Factor in a price break for multi-day rental, the occasional day off the trails and I came up with a conservative budget of $541 US in bike rentals. That’s based on eight days of rental out of 11 full days on the ground. The days off are for other fun stuff like hiking, loafing and local flavors of adventure sports like the Zorb and SchweebÂ at The Agrodome, one of my favorite places ever.
Total? $2,318 US – with cash left over for meals, transportation and visits to places like the Agrodome.
To me, this beats the pants off a new bike, even something as cool as a Foundry Broadaxe (and make no mistake, it’s pretty sweet). Every bike wears out or gets less cool as new products roll out. But awesome days of adventure? They live forever.
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is in a constant state of change. Perpetual construction, evolving security protocols and the addition of a "people mover" to connect to the Metro Light Rail shake things up with every visit. Fortunately, I’ve spent enough time here to understand Sky Harbor’s flow. This is my insider guide to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
The Layout Sky Harbor has three terminals numbered two through four. T4 is the biggest, the most modern and also the most generic. The visitor experience varies greatly, with the nicest portions serving Southwest Airlines. T3 is smaller, older -- but possessing a certain kitschy 1980s Arizona charm. Then there’s T2 – which was once super-cool but completely ruined by the TSA’s security effort. It once had an eye-catching, airy entryway. Everything has shrunk to accommodate the security lines. But there’s something very cool about T2 -- more on that soon.
The Players Despite its name, Sky Harbor is really an overgrown domestic airport. It’s a major hub for Southwest Airlines and US Airways, both of which hog T4. And while US Airways flies to places like Tel Aviv and even Helsinki, it sure doesn’t do it from Phoenix. A daily British Airways flight connects Sky Harbor to London. American Airlines (T3) isn’t a major player here, nor is United (T2). [UPDATE April 2014: The US Airways/American Airlines merger changes this. American Airlines is now at Terminal 4 and becoming more important. The future is still in flux for what the merger means for Sky Harbor’s hub status.]
The Big Secrets These are my two biggest insider secrets about Phoenix Sky Harbor, and I’ve never seen any other blog mention them.
First, try to book flights on airlines serving Terminal 2. What? The oldest terminal? Yes. Because it’s small, the odds of getting lost or missing a flight due to a gate change or long TSA line plummet. You can also walk from the West Economy lot directly to the terminal in moments – the only place st Sky Harbor where that’s possible. Airlines serving T2 include United, Alaska Airlines and Great Lakes Airlines.
My second tip is for international/intercontinental travelers. Phoenicians are generally forced to San Francisco or Los Angeles for intercontinental flights. Both are pretty harried airports, but LAX is definitely worse. If you’re headed west to the International Date Line, you have another option: skipping West Coast connections with Hawaiian Airlines (at T3). It has daily flights to Honolulu, which can then connect you to Japan, Tahiti, the Philippines, Korea and (drum roll, please) Australia. I haven’t flown Hawaiian Airlines – but considering their interactions with followers on Twitter, it seems this is an airline that gets it -- that wants to make air travel fun.
Plethora of Parking There’s really no shortage of cheap parking at Phoenix Sky Harbor – you have choices between the Economy lots on-site, plus private off-site parking. If you’re into planning ahead and you leave yourself enough time, off-site parking is a solid option. You’ll find it a bit more secure and generally less-crowded. Another bonus: They’re easier to get to. Recent construction has completely changed most of the roads leading into Sky Harbor. I can no longer drive in relying on memory. It’s a roadscape in flux, and you can just leave it to the shuttle driver if you park off the grounds.
If you want on-site covered parking, you can find it right at the terminals. But be prepared to pay through the nose. The covered parking at the East Economy lot is far more affordable, but you’ll have to catch the shuttle to the terminals. This can be a factor if you’re running late or facing summer heat (the bus stops in the Economy Lot reflect a lot of heat).
Grabbing a Bite I rarely eat at Sky Harbor. There’s usually time for me to grab a snack at home before showing up for my flight. If I run low on time, though, there are some options beyond the usual fast-food, bland, greasy megacorporation options: Several local restaurants will open at Sky Harbor. The standouts: Cartel Coffee Lab, Press Coffee, Le Grande Orange and Barrio Cafe. I’d like to see Pita Jungle set up shop, too – and not like its mall locations, but with its actual sit-down menu.
Keep this info in mind whenever your flights take you to Sky Harbor. You’ll be in, out, well-fed and less frustrated. You might even have a little fun.
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?
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 Â 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.
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