Last month Hawaiian Airlines invited me down to Honolulu for a couple days to meet with executives at its slick, newly refurbished headquarters. I was also there to poke around the city’s newest hotels, and to check out what’s been happening on Lanai since Larry Ellison bought it.
This was my first time ever flying Hawaiian Airlines, so I had my eyes wide open. Here are seven things I saw or learned that I’d like to share with you:
1- New planes. Hawaiian flies a 294-passenger Airbus A330 between San Francisco and Honolulu. I liked the spacious wide-body ride, so I was a bit disappointed to learn that some of Hawaiian’s west coast flights will eventually switch to narrow-body A321 flights in the next few years. The carrier has been on a plane-buying binge recently and will soon add more A330s and smaller A321s to its fleet. It’s slowly phasing out its older 767s which cannot reach distant cities like Beijing or New York. As of this week, Hawaiian’s fleet is comprised of 18 Boeing 717s and 3 ATRs (used for inter-island flights), plus 18 A330s and 11 B767s used on long hauls.
2- Aloha shirts, natch. I was surprised that our flight to Honolulu had an all-male crew.
3- Hawaiian has installed 40 “Extra Comfort” premium economy seats on its A330s. Up front they share same cabin with 18 first class seats. Current fares between the West Coast and Hawaii vary a lot based on demand, but looking at trips in early November, SFO-HNL roundtrips are running at about $550 in coach and $1150 in first/business class. Extra Comfort seats go for a premium of $60-$100 each way over coach fares and are only available on A330s.
4- Hawaiian is not part of any of the big three global airline alliances, but it maintains partnership agreements with eight airlines (including American, JetBlue and Virgin America), which allow members of frequent flyer programs to earn and burn miles on Hawaiian flights.
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5- Good food! Hawaiian makes a big deal about the fact that it’s the only domestic US carrier that still offers free full meals to coach passengers. And it delivers, in both first and economy class. In addition to the melt-in-your-mouth, brown-sugary goodness of that pineapple upside down cake at the top of this post, first class passengers on morning flights get printed menus, mai-tais and a big hot breakfast. In coach, passengers get a big, warm manapua sandwich, stuffed with chicken, cheese, onions and mushrooms.
6- Hawaiian Air execs are very proud of their expanding route map to Asia… it now flies to four cities in Japan, plus Seoul and Beijing. It also flies nonstop to Auckland, Brisbane, Sydney, Papeete & Pago Pago. It launched nonstop flights to New York JFK in 2012 and is rumored to be considering adding nonstops to Boston. If you are looking for a nice way to add some vacation to your business trip to Asia, consider flying via Honolulu on Hawaiian which offers free stopovers in either direction. One downside to consider for long-haul flying is that its first/business class seats are recliners and do not lie-flat.
7- Hawaiian Airlines CEO Mark Dunkerley sits alongside other employees (most of whom wear colorful Aloha shirts to work every day) in a big bright new “open plan” headquarters adjacent to the airport. The HQ refurb (completed in January 2014) includes the spacious new “Lunch Box” employee cafeteria that even has its own Yelp page.
(Disclosure: Hawaiian Airlines paid for my roundtrip flight between SFO and Honolulu.)
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