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The Hawaiian island of Maui is roughly 2,500 miles from Los Angeles, so a seat in first class can help ease the pain of the long journey. En route to the Hawaiian island of Maui, TPG Intern Kevin Song first flew American’s premium economy from JFK-LAX, then for his five-hour leg from Los Angeles (LAX) to Maui’s Kahului Airport (OGG), he was upgraded to first class aboard AA’s Boeing 757-200. This is his review of his LAX-OGG experience.
At present, American flies two routes from the mainland US to Maui (OGG), both on older planes that lack flat-bed seats. LAX-OGG is flown on the Boeing 757-200 and has standard domestic first-class recliner seats and no personal entertainment or Wi-Fi. On the other hand, aboard the Boeing 767-300 from DFW-OGG, the first-class cabin features angle-flat seats for a significantly more comfortable ride.
I’m an AAdvantage Executive Platinum member, and flew first class on the Boeing 757-200 thanks to a complimentary upgrade that cleared at the beginning of the window, 100 hours before the flight. American offers complimentary upgrades to its elites on any domestic route, and in general, it’s especially easy to get upgraded on the carrier’s Hawaii routes. It’s 2,480 miles between LAX and OGG, so Gold and Platinum elites will need to use five 500-mile stickers to upgrade.
All told, it’s about a five-hour, 30-minute flight from Los Angeles to Maui aboard the 757-200. Traditionally, American’s Hawaii routes have been flown on the least desirable aircraft due to their lack of premium business travel, but soon, American will operate this and other Hawaii routes on a smaller, newer Airbus A321 with completely new equipment.
Note that this won’t be the same A321T that I flew from New York-JFK to Los Angeles, which has flat-bed seats and a three-class configuration; instead, the Hawaii-bound A321 planes will look more like standard domestic first-class aircraft. The number of first-class seats will drop from 24 to 16, making it a much tougher upgrade, but the retrofit will include in-flight entertainment. Since the rest of American’s A321 fleet aren’t ETOPS certified, American will need to operate a separate sub-fleet to Hawaii for the extended overwater operation.
Booking the Flight
My one-way ticket from New York-JFK to Maui via Los Angeles cost $849.22. As an Executive Platinum elite, I was able to choose a Main Cabin Extra seat for free on my flight to Los Angeles, and on this second flight (as I mentioned above), I was upgraded to first class. Various elites — Oneworld Emerald, Oneworld Sapphire and AAdvantage Platinum — are also able to choose Main Cabin Extra seats for free, but Oneworld Ruby and AAdvantage Gold elites can only choose Main Cabin Extra seats for free at check-in within 24 hours – otherwise, they’ll receive a 50% discount.
Here’s the fare breakdown for my one-way flight between New York-JFK and OGG:
One-trip tickets: $785.00
Taxes and fees: $64.22
You can also book the LAX-Maui flight starting at 17,500 AAdvantage miles each way, but you’ll need to pay for the upgrade to Main Cabin Extra, as there’s no way to redeem miles for that.
I arrived in LAX with about an hour layover, just enough time to stretch a bit after the economy flight from New York. The main American Airlines terminal is pretty small (not including the remote “Eagle’s Nest” regional jet terminal), so I quickly made my way over to the Admirals Club. Flying first class domestically (except the transcontinental routes) isn’t enough to qualify you for lounge access, but I got in by virtue of the Citi Executive AAdvantage Mastercard.
The lounge is pretty big, but when I visited, it was absolutely jam-packed; it was difficult to find a seat, and when I did find one, it didn’t have access to an electrical outlet. (On the bright side, I didn’t have to drive in or out of this overcrowded terminal/airport.)
Huddled in my seat around the corner from the food and bar area, I did enjoy a bowl of delicious soup, and before long, it was time to head to my gate. Although I got there about 35 minutes before departure and five minutes before the stated boarding time, they’d already moved well past elite and priority boarding and were calling for Group 2.
Cabin and Seat
Aboard the Boeing 757-200 on this route, the first-class cabin has a total of 24 seats spread across six rows, arranged in a 2-2 configuration. The main redeeming factors of these seats are 1) the sheer number of them and 2) the fact that they exist on a leisure route, creating a decent chance for an upgrade. Be sure to bring something to read or watch, as there are no personal in-flight entertainment screens and no Wi-Fi.
The plane is definitely showing its age, and my seat wasn’t particularly clean or comfortable. I could feel a bit of the metal below the seat through the worn cushion, so I had to stick the pillow on top of my seat for additional cushioning. Fortunately, on this domestic flight you get the same larger, thicker pillow and heftier duvet blanket that you would get on an international AA flight.
I also thought it was a nice touch that the flight attendants wore flowers in their hair or even leis, and during boarding, we were treated to a video featuring calming island scenery and soothing Hawaiian music, creating a welcome vacation vibe.
As with all Hawaii flights, all passengers — regardless of citizenship — were given a landing card that included basic survey information and an agricultural declaration, which we were required to complete and return to the flight attendant sometime during the flight. However, those of us in first class didn’t get an amenity kit and didn’t have any pens on hand; I would’ve appreciated them passing a few pens around to fill out the form.
I felt that the food on this flight was an improvement over the usual domestic first-class fare; it seemed more like what you’d find on a short international route or the JFK-SFO/LAX premium flights.
On the ground in Los Angeles, we were offered a pre-departure beverage, and before long, we were airborne. On its Hawaii flights, American adds candied pineapple to its nut mixture for a bit of Hawaiian flair.
Shortly after the initial beverage service, we were served our main meal. You can pre-order a meal up to 24 hours before the flight, and since I was upgraded five days in advance, I was able to pre-order mine with no problem. I got the beef tenderloin, which comes with a salad and a beef carpaccio appetizer.
I didn’t do much but poke at the salad, but the carpaccio appetizer was actually quite delicious. The tenderloin main course was a bit dry, but didn’t taste too bad; it was topped with a chunk of pineapple, in keeping with the Hawaiian theme.
What distinguished this meal was actually dessert. I’m used to being served a warm cookie after most domestic meals, but on this flight, we were offered an ice cream sundae with our choice of toppings. It didn’t look great, but fortunately, it tasted really good. It was nice to have a bona fide dessert for a change.
Though I slept through much of the remainder of my flight, I did notice that the flight attendants made a few passes with the reasonably provisioned snack basket, which included various chips, cookies and fresh fruit.
Most service to Hawaii, despite being more than five hours flying time from the mainland US, is operated on shabby old planes, and this one is no exception. I dearly wish that AA would ditch this out-dated product for something more modern.
All this said, small touches in the present version of first class definitely boost this experience above a normal domestic route. The special nut mix, international-style duvet and pillow, calming boarding music and expanded meal service certainly are a welcome addition to the start of any Hawaiian vacation.