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: 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.

A Tip of the Hat to the Boeing 747

A preface from Wandering Justin: I originally wrote this for another blog, but it seems relevant here. Enjoy!

Photo courtesy of Boeing
Photo courtesy of Boeing

Every time I go to band practice, I take the 143 freeway past Sky Harbor. I always look to my right and see a British Airways 747 parked at Terminal 4, getting ready to head to London.

And I wish I was getting on that plane. Not so much because it’s going to London, but because … well, I can’t explain it in one sentence. But here are the thoughts that jumble through my head:

-First, there is a certain something special and exciting about a 747. It’s an icon of style, adventure and anticipation. You don’t take a 747 from Charlotte to Pittsburgh. No, That’s what takes you to Hong Kong, to Paris, to Sydney, to Johannesburg. From the first time I rode one on the way to Germany as a 5-year-old boy, it has made me feel something no other airplane can replicate. The 777 is a marvelous piece of technology, and the A380 is built on a mind-boggling scale. But no aircraft save the Concorde cuts the same image on final approach, or puts that flutter in my stomach as I cross from the jetway into its fuselage. Sadly, less than a handful of American-based airlines still fly it.

-Second, it being a British Airways flight, I know that the people aboard will not be treated like cattle. Foreign airlines seem to have figured out how not to nickel-and-dime passengers to death, and understand that a good experience aloft will endear them to American passengers. I’ve only flown Qantas and JetStar recently. But people whose opinions I respect tell me Air New Zealand, British Airways and Air France are on their game. And I’ve heard Emirates and Virgin are dialed in, too.

-Third, I just love flying. The longer the flight, the happier I am. But put me in a seat with a few hundred people on the way to someplace that requires a widebody jet, and all is right with my world. Is it as comfortable as my reading chair? No. Is the food all that good? No. But I can afford to buy a seat and travel 7,000 or more miles and get off that plane in what feels like a different world. If you can’t get fired up about that, I seriously don’t know what the hell is the matter with you.

-Fourth, I love airports. Sure, the TSA seems like it’s deliberately trying to drive me crazy. There are throngs of people, completely bovine in their lack of situational awareness and clueless meandering. But outside, it’s a well-choreographed display of efficient motion. And there’s something electric in the air at a major international airport (as opposed to my local Sky Harbor, which hosts all of one flight from the U.K., and then a bunch from Canada and Mexico and another from Costa Rica. Hell, that’s barely enough to qualify.). All these people from around the world, all these aircraft that have been who-knows-where. It invigorates me, and gets me excited about everything going on in the world at every given moment.

For me, the inconveniences and discomforts become so petty and so worth enduring when I wake up in another city that my grandparents never could’ve imagined visiting in their lifetime.