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TO THE POINT: Getting from island to island in Hawaii is pretty easy, especially with a short hop between Maui and Kauai aboard Hawaiian Airlines’ Boeing 717. The pros: service with a smile and an Aloha state of mind. The cons: teeny tiny trays, cramped economy seats and a strange lack of snacks.

There are plenty of nonstop flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Honolulu (HNL), but the better an airfare deal is, the more willing I am to use a connecting flight instead. When I came across an itinerary from my home in LA to Sydney, Australia with free stopovers in Hawaii (on the way and back) for around $600, I gambled that the added flights and travel time would be well worth the overall savings. And so it was that I found myself on a one-stop flight from LA, island-hopping from Kahului Airport (OGG) on Maui to Honolulu International Airport on Oahu.

There are worse places to be a baggage handler than at OGG.
There are worse places to be a baggage handler than at OGG.

Booking

Back in February, I spotted some cheap flights to Australia, some of which allowed for stopovers in Hawaii via Hawaiian Airlines. This itinerary appealed to me and I found the lowest fare by searching on Momondo. The listing there brought me to Faregeek.com, another site that specialized in consolidator fares.

I’d heard mixed things from travelers about booking through consolidator websites, but I’ve never had a problem before and booking with Faregeek.com was pretty straightforward and hassle-free. I used my Enhanced Business Platinum Card from American Express and once I got my ticket numbers, I verified them on Hawaiian Airlines’ website just in case. All was well.

Check-In

When you’re at Kahului Airport, you know you’re in Hawaii. The airport takes advantage of the fabulous Maui weather, with many of the passages between gates open to the sun and tropical breezes. Even some of the signage has tropical overtones while every PA announcement ends with “Mahalo” (thank you in Hawaiian).

Kahului Airport (OGG) finds all sorts of ways to remind you you're in Hawaii.
Kahului Airport (OGG) finds all sorts of ways to remind you you’re in Hawaii.

Food options are pretty limited though, with one bar/restaurant and one hot dog cart near the gates but not much more anywhere else. Hawaiian Airlines offers its Premier Club for elite customers, with eligibility that’s checked by an electronic scanner — no human workers were in sight.

You'll gain access to the Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club at OGG by scanning your boarding pass.
You’ll gain access to the Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club at OGG by scanning your boarding pass.

The open-air passageways mean plane access is arranged in clusters of 2-4 gates, causing a bit of a bottleneck at each one when it’s time to board. I’d already checked in before I left LA, but wanted to see if I could get on another flight that left an hour before mine instead.

A cluster of gates caused a bottleneck at the entrance.
A cluster of gates caused a bottleneck at the entrance.

After waiting in line for 10 minutes, the gate agent informed me that only passengers with elite status on Hawaiian Airlines could switch flights without incurring a fee. Not wanting to pay more, I would have to wait.

Passengers wait for the next flight.
Passengers wait for the next flight.

The gate was showing its age and began to fill with passengers. Fortunately the air conditioning was strong and the views while we waited there were outrageous.

The most beautiful thing I saw was the plane. I’d been expecting a short island-hopping flight to be on a tiny prop plane but was pleasantly surprised to find I’d soon be traveling on a Boeing 717 jet.

A beautiful sight: the B717 approaching the gate.
A beautiful sight: the 717 approaching the gate.

Boarding

The flight was scheduled for 4:38pm and at 4:15pm, passengers began to line up in one of two boarding lanes. A pre-boarding announcement — “Aloha and welcome to flight 335…” — came at 4:22pm and parents with young children began boarding at 4:27pm. Within five minutes, all priority passengers were on and general boarding came at 4:32pm.

The wear and tear of Gate 15 shows behind the boarding sign.
The wear and tear of Gate 15 shows behind the boarding sign.

In keeping with the theme of being in paradise, passengers entered the plane as relaxing island music with birds chirping played throughout the aircraft. The door closed at 4:49pm and wheels were up by 4:57pm.

Cabin and Seats

The 115 economy seats on this 717 are in a 2-3 configuration, measure 18 inches wide and are pre-reclined to 20 degrees with 29–31 inches of pitch.

A crew member cleans the cabin of the B717, with seats in a 2-3 configuration.
A crew member cleans the cabin of the 717, which features its seats in a 2-3 configuration.

Emergency rows got some more legroom, which for the rest of us was a bit cramped but not uncomfortable.

A good deal more legroom in the Emergency Exit rows.
A good deal more legroom in the emergency exit rows.

The seat-backs were noticeably thin — I’d estimate them to be fewer than two inches thick — and the elastic on the pocket was so snug, nothing could be added to the contents already inside. Some of the rows in coach didn’t even have windows, which prompted a nearby passenger to exclaim, “Are you kidding me!?”

The seat backs were thin, with a minimalist design that exposed a plastic shell.
The seat-backs were thin, with a minimalist design that exposed a plastic shell.

The tray table was tiny — barely even big enough to write a postcard on — and did not latch, instead being held in by a stiff hinge. Though adorable, it was essentially useless.

Look like you have giant hands when you use the tiny tray table.
It looks like you have giant hands when you use the tiny tray table provided on this flight.
Amenities

The greatest amenities on this flight are the views. Within moments of takeoff, we were right above the ocean. I could honestly see people taking this flight just to enjoy the sights outside the windows. It certainly wouldn’t be for the Wi-Fi, in-flight entertainment or in-seat power — this flight had none of those things.

Three flight attendants serviced the cabin, each with artificial tropical flowers in their hair.

Even from behind, you can tell a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant by the flower in her hair.
Even from behind, you can tell a Hawaiian Airlines flight attendant by the flowers in her hair.

Food and Beverage

Eight minutes after takeoff, the crew cheerily asked each passenger, “Care for juice?” — there were no other choices for beverages and no snacks available. The “juice” was a passion-orange nectar with 10% juice, served chilled in a tiny foil-sealed container. Three minutes later, the flight attendants began collecting the cups. Five minutes later, the PA announcement came on alerting us to prepare the cabin for landing.

A cup of nectar to quench your tiny tropical thirst.
A tiny cup of nectar to quench your tropical thirst.

Arrival

At 5:20pm, wheels were down in a rather hard landing, with our arrival to the gate happening at 5:25pm, 10 minutes later than originally scheduled. The doors opened three minutes later and we were able to clear the aircraft without incident.

The approach into Honolulu was spectacular, even if the landing was hard.
The approach into Honolulu was spectacular, even if the landing was rather hard.

Overall Impression

While I certainly had some things to complain about, from the condition of the gate to the tiny tray tables, for a 35-minute flight, this was a perfectly fine experience on a well-maintained jet aircraft with some nice Hawaiian touches. Was it better than flying nonstop to HNL from LA? No. But I’ve island-hopped before on less-comfortable aircraft with a less-professional crew. This was much better.

Considering this flight? Get a window seat and bring a better camera than I did.
Considering this flight? Get a window seat and bring a better camera than I did.

Speaking of the crew, an agent at the gate in Maui went out of her way, bringing me my ID that had somehow escaped my pocket. She found me by matching my photo to my face and seemed as excited to bring me the ID as I was relieved to have it back.

That kind of an effort makes a difference, making me even more likely to take this flight again. And if you do, be sure to book a window seat and bring a good camera. And hold on to your ID.

Featured image and all other photos courtesy of the author.

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