Flight Review: Hawaiian Airlines Business Class Sydney-Honolulu and Air New Zealand SYD Lounge

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So far in my series on my trip to Australia with TPG Managing Editor Eric, I’ve covered how I used miles to book my award ticket, my flight from LAX-MEL in United GlobalFirst, the day I spent wine-tasting out in the Yarra Valley, a restaurant review roundup of all the fantastic places we ate in the city, my review of the Westin Melbourne, my review on the Hamiliton Island Reef View Hotel, flying Jetstar to Hamilton Island and on Virgin Australia from Hamilton Island to Sydney. Yesterday I reviewed my stay at the Park Hyatt Sydney, and for today’s trip report, here are my thoughts on the Hawaiian Airlines flight I took from Sydney to Honolulu on my way home. Although I’m skipping ahead to the flight home, stay tuned for more posts on what I did in Australia in the coming days.

HA Route
My flight path from Sydney to Honolulu – just about 10 hours in the sky.

I was sad to see my trip to Australia end, but it was time to get to Honolulu for a business meting that presented itself at the last minute, so I hopped on a Hawaiian Airlines flight to Honolulu at about 9pm on a Monday evening.

Three airlines fly business class from Sydney to Honolulu – Qantas, JetStar (a wholly owned subsidiary of Qantas) and Hawaiian Airlines. Some Jetstar flights from SYD-HNL actually make a stop in Melbourne, resulting in a flight that’s (with layover time) anywhere from 14 to 20 hours long.

On the other hand, Hawaiian flies nonstop daily from Sydney to Honolulu in just under 10 hours, and earns either Hawaiian or American miles. Luckily, I managed to snag the last business class seat on the Monday, February 24th flight.

Just over 9 hours to Honolulu.

I booked the flight that worked best for my schedule, a red-eye that left at about 9:20pm and arrived around 10:00am and would get me into Honolulu in time to make my same-day meetings. Because I had to do it at the last minute and award tickets were not available, I purchased my ticket for approximately $2,560 via Orbitz (and earned $25.61 in Orbucks while I was at it) and also Ultimate Rewards points for booking through the UR Shopping Portal and 2.14x for using my Sapphire Preferred.

Hawaiian Airlines doesn’t have a lounge at the Sydney Airport, but I showed my Hawaiian business class boarding pass and was given access to Air New Zealand’s Koru International Lounge.

HA NZ Lounge

Located after security, the Sydney Koru Lounge is one of Air New Zealand’s largest, with a seating capacity for 250 people. It’s nothing fancy, but at least it has a simple, comfortable setup with free WiFi, a limited bar, and enough finger food that you won’t go hungry, not that I was really appetized by much of it.

Air New Zealand's lounge at SYD
Air New Zealand’s lounge at SYD

There was a sparse self-serve bar, though the abundance of delicious New Zealand wines made up for it I suppose.

NZ Lounge BoozeThere were also some hot items like this beef curry with white rice – I passed.

NZ Lounge food

I’d had a long day in Sydney and wanted to freshen up so I decided to use the shower facilities. The facilities are kept very clean, and offer Living Nature products. It was a good way to get refreshed before the long flight.

NZ Lounge shower

They announced boarding in the lounge at almost an hour before departure, so I made my way to the plane, which was just a 5 minute walk away. Upon boarding I was greeted by several friendly flight attendants and was offered a guava juice, champagne or signature Na Pua (guava and champagne) cocktail.

Hawaiian #452 left SYD at 9:20pm, and because of the time zone switch, was scheduled to get me into Honolulu at 10:15am – the same day. This already felt like time travel, but little did I know that the outdated cabin would feel like time travel, too! The flight was on a Hawaiian Airbus A330-200 – Hawaiian’s flagship long-haul plane – which has 18 business class recliner seats in 3 rows in a 2 x 2 x 2 configuration. Each has a 45-46″ pitch and a width of 18.5.” The problem with the recline is so slight that I actually felt like I was sitting upright even when fully “reclined”. In fact I had to ask the flight attendant at first if my seat was broken, but he laughed and said that was “what it was.”  Most “short” US-Europe flights are more sophisticated these days, and call me spoiled if you will, but I feel that even an angled lie-flat seat is outdated!

My seat – nice colors, but no recline!

Between a minor back injury I sustained a few weeks back and the fact that I’m 6’7,” I found it very difficult to find a comfortable position at this angle. Additionally, the cabin was frigid, which didn’t help sleep since the blanket given was thinner than some I’ve had in coach. I’d have bundled up in the airline’s in-flight blanket, but it was too small to wrap around myself and only about a quarter-inch thick.  Collectively, Hawaiian’s hard product made for an extremely uncomfortable flight, and even a sleeping pill didn’t help. Could have been worse, I suppose: Jetstar’s business class seats for the same route also offer a minimal recline, but with a pitch of 38″ and a width of 18.” But for paying over $2,000, I was disappointed.

An overhead view of my seat.

It also bears mentioning that Hawaiian’s amenity “kit” is little more than a paper box with some ear buds, a toothbrush and some toothpaste.

HA Amenity kit
The amenity kit – that’s it?

However, there were some things I really enjoyed about my travel experience with Hawaiian. Hawaiian tends to offer a reasonable amount of seat availability for miles, especially in economy, and Honolulu is a beautiful, vacation-extending halfway point between Sydney and the east coast of the continental US.

If you use Hawaiian Miles, it’s 40,000 miles each way in coach and 65,000 miles in business class. And if you want to use American miles, it’ll be 37,500 miles each way in economy or 62,500 miles each way in business since it counts as North America in the AA partner chart. Note also, that it counts as business class – and that’s what it said on my ticket – rather than the first class that Hawaiian markets it as on flight to/from the US.

Friendly, Warm Service
Of the other things I liked – there was no line at the Hawaiian ticket counter at SYD, and the agents there were very friendly. The boarding/lounge pass was bright yellow and red, creating a Hawaiian feeling right from the start. And once onboard, I found the service just as warm and friendly, and I loved the Na’ Pua welcome cocktail – a mimosa with Hawaiian guava and sparkling wine.

The plane took off early, got in early, and once we touched down in Honolulu, between my bag being one of the first off and my Global Entry, I was off the plane and on my way within 15 minutes.

HA Lounge and immig pass
My business class ticket got me into the Koru lounge and a fast pass through immigrations.

The most pleasant surprise was the food onboard. These were some of the best airline meals I’ve ever had in my life. The food wasn’t fancy, but simply well-prepared, savory and not too salty. Though my reservation said I would be served a snack, I was actually served a full dinner and breakfast.

I was amazed to discover that Hawaiian offers a total selection of three entrees at dinner, and you can select two – as in, two entrees to yourself! I chose the roast chicken with spinach and green pea risotto and a seared teriyaki salmon with bok choy and jasmine rice, both of which were fair-sized meals in and of themselves, and delicious. I was especially impressed by the salmon, which instead of the usual dry, tasteless airline fish, was moist and flavorful.

My two (count 'em, two) entrees aboard my Hawaiian flight
My two (count ’em, two) entrees aboard my Hawaiian flight

The one dessert choice was a delicious mango cheesecake. Simple but fresh and delicious.

Hawaiian's mango cheesecake
Hawaiian’s mango cheesecake

Breakfast was substantial, too, consisting of strawberry yogurt, a fresh fruit plate, an apple danish, a mushroom-brie omelet, and a potato hash with onion, tomato and pork sausage. I was also a fan of the Hawaiian beer, which comes in a “tall boy” can and bears the name “Big Braddah.” I felt like it was a drink made just for me.

HA BEERIf my seat had been lie-flat and the temperature had been less Arctic, this dining experience would have made a good flight great. However, it’s clear to me that Hawaiian’s planes are sorely in need of upgrades – beyond their planned premium economy installation.

According to this article in Skift, it looks like changes are coming to Hawaiian’s fleet, but not exactly big ones. Two brand new Airbus A330s have just been introduced to the fleet, and all of the A330s will be refreshed to match their interiors by August 1st. There still won’t be lie-flat seats in business/first class, but instead the addition of Economy Comfort, a small mid-plane section of standard economy seats (31-23″/18″) with more legroom. New carpet will also be added, reflecting a more Polynesian design.

So for the time being, there still isn’t a comfortable option for flying the approximately 10 hours from Sydney to Honolulu in business class. Jetstar is refurbishing its 767-300’s, which it flies on this route, but it looks like they’ll still be recliners with just 38 inches of pitch (though on some versions with a 1 x 2 x 2 configuration in business class, they have 50 inches of pitch). Qantas also flies its 767-300’s on the route at the moment, though it plans to switch over to A330’s later this year (so far I’m only finding 767’s on the route). The A330’s still have angled lie-flats as well, though they’re scheduled to get full lie-flats starting at the end of 2014 through 2016, so it’ll be a while.

Luckily most people going to Hawaii are leisure travelers who are happy just being able to go to Hawaii (and for good reason since no matter which island you’re going to, it’s an amazing paradise) however for such long haul flights I wish they had a more solid business class product. However, the market determines the product and I doubt many other people actually paid full price for their seats and instead upgraded using miles (which isn’t hard to do since Hawaiian is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express).

Overall – the soft product (service) was awesome, but the hard product was sorely lacking. However, since Hawaiian partners with American Airlines, I was able to bank a bunch of AAdvantage miles and EQM’s, which surely took the sting away of the outdated seat!

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