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Hawaiian Airlines provides a comfortable ride for the long-haul journey between Hawaii and Australia — though the service could have been better. The Pros: Decent in-flight entertainment. The Cons: No option to reserve vegetarian meals ahead of time and no Wi-Fi on this 10-hour flight.
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here: The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, Chase Sapphire Reserve, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
When you want to reach Australia from California, you can go nonstop — or you can go creative. To get to my final destination, Melbourne, I found a crazy-cheap itinerary through Hawaii for just a little more than $600. While far from ideal, this was a sacrifice I was willing to make for such a low fare.
Here’s what the long-haul economy portion from Hawaii of the flight, crossing both the international date line and the equator, was like on Hawaiian Airlines.
Booking and Check-In
As I mentioned in a previous post, I came across some cheap flights to Australia earlier this year, some of which allowed for stopovers in Hawaii via Hawaiian Airlines. I found the lowest fare by searching on Momondo. The listing there brought me to Faregeek.com, another site that specializes 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 ended up scoring quite a deal, too — $604 to fly from Los Angeles (LAX) to Maui (OGG), Oahu (HNL), Sydney (SYD) and Melbourne (MEL), then back from SYD to LAX via HNL. I used my Business Platinum® Card from American Express to book and once I got my ticket numbers, I verified them on Hawaiian Airlines’ website just in case. All was well. Alternatively, I could have booked with a travel credit card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Chase Sapphire Preferred, which would have let me earn 3x or 2x points for the travel purchase, respectively.
Even though I hadn’t booked with that site before, I had no problems on the first leg of my journey and didn’t expect any on this one. Something interesting did come up, but it was my own fault. My travel companion and I had somehow misunderstood the Australian visa requirements and hadn’t secured an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) for our visit, which meant we couldn’t take advantage of online check-in or baggage drop at the check-in kiosks. At the airport, we had to see a customer service agent, who was able to process our ETA visas for $50 each. It would have saved us about $30 and a bunch of time if we had arranged everything in advance — you can do this easily through the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s website — but the agent processed everything quickly and we were soon on our way.
Airport and Lounge
TSA PreCheck was available and much appreciated. After clearing security, we had the option of taking a Wiki Wiki Shuttle bus or walking to our gate. We walked, hoping to find a lounge I could access. While I wasn’t eligible to enter the Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club lounge, I did see that thanks to the Priority Pass membership that came with my Business Platinum Card from American Express, I could access the IASS Executive Lounge. This turned out to be the worst lounge I have ever been in — there were no food or beverage items and barely enough seats — so we decided to stick to the offerings in the terminal instead. Alas, there were very poor food options in our concourse: a Starbucks with some pre-made sandwiches, a vending machine with chips and one Gordon Biersch restaurant. The bathrooms were small and had lines.
Aside from that, walking through HNL is a great experience if you like looking at airplanes in tropical environments. Many passageways are open-air and picturesque, with great views of the aircraft, like the A330-200 that would take us to SYD.
Cabin and Seats
When we arrived at the gate at 11:40am for our 12:30pm flight, boarding was already underway, with a “final boarding call” announced at 11:53am. Though the flight had many empty seats, the queue backed up quickly.
Once on the plane, passengers took to their seats rapidly, aided by roomy overhead bins that accommodated my stuffed rollaboard with ease. The 276 economy seats on the A330 are arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration, and Hawaiian Airlines lists them as having 31 to 32 inches of pitch. Mine was of average comfort, with a little more recline than I’d expected — I also appreciated having an empty seat next to me so I could cross my legs. On each seat was a plastic-wrapped blanket and pillow. The blanket was of good quality and long and wide enough to cover me and keep out the chill.
The IFE, wth a touchscreen monitor, provided USB power and a vast selection of movies, TV shows, music and games and also had traditional seat controls. Note that there was no other in-seat power, and the flight had no Wi-Fi. The seatback pocket was pretty standard, as was the tray table.
We were given a small amenity pouch containing a sleep mask, earplugs and earphones. I didn’t need any of these items, but there was no way I could fit them back into the tiny box from whence they came.
The safety video was, like most PA announcements — which ended with mahalo, an expression of thanks or respect — a reminder that we were flying on Hawaiian Airlines.
Food and Beverage
Beverage service began 25 minutes after takeoff, with complimentary beer from Maui Brewing Co. and wine along with soft drinks.
Beverages came with a small packet of “Pau Hana” snack mix, a salty melange of crackers and nuts, and were collected 20 minutes later. After another 15 minutes, a hot meal was served.
My friend and I had wanted a vegetarian meal on this flight but it was not offered when we checked our reservations online. When my friend called the airline to request one, she was told there was no vegetarian option, so you can imagine our surprise when we saw people being served vegetarian meals! When we asked the flight attendant if we could get some, we were told, “There are two people ahead of you,” and that we should put on our call light and they’d see what they could do. In the meantime, I got a tray with an empty spot for an entrée, filled with a brochure for the airline’s mileage program.
10 minutes later, we were served our meatless tray with a “Thank you for waiting” from the flight attendant — it was not worth the wait. The stir-fried vegetables were overcooked and overwhelmed by a heavy sauce next to adequately cooked white rice, while the pasta salad with a few beans tasted mostly like the mayonnaise that drowned it. There was barely a gram of protein to be found — even the cookie was burnt. Sadly, this is what most people think of when they think of airplane food. Five minutes later, the flight attendants began collecting the trays and mine had almost the same amount on it as when it was delivered.
Next came a long gap of no service, with water offered three hours later and again 90 minutes after that. I requested a soft drink a couple of hours later and received it promptly, with a refill offer 30 minutes after that. About nine hours into the flight, a full eight hours after our hot meal, we received a snack — a sandwich that was half egg salad, half turkey and cheese — and a macadamia nut candy.
This service also came with another beverage, which the flight attendant (in a Hawaiian-shirt uniform, as you can see below) inexplicably placed on top of my laptop keyboard.
10 hours into the flight, a recorded announcement about Australian customs forms was played, followed shortly by another announcing our descent. The landing gear was down at 6:50am Sydney time, and four minutes later we landed — so smoothly I almost couldn’t tell we’d touched the ground. An announcement welcomed us to Australia — and to a new day, as we’d crossed the International Date Line several hours prior. After taxiing for a few minutes, a flight attendant announced that before we could deplane, they would have to come through the cabin and empty spray cans into the overhead bins for disinfestation — I’d seen this procedure before on some flights but had never had to wait for a government official to board the plane to witness it! 10 minutes after arriving at the gate, we were cleared to exit. Scheduled to arrive at 7:20am, I was off the plane by 7:12am.
This aircraft flew beautifully and landed flawlessly. We took off and landed on time, even a touch early, and none of the issues I had on this flight were related to the aircraft or its operation. The in-flight entertainment system worked well — though some content was censored — and it just so happened that I didn’t need to plug in my laptop or use Wi-Fi on this leg, so lack of power or Internet wasn’t a problem. That’s not always the case on a long flight though, and it seems odd that Hawaiian Airlines provides an aircraft that has so many other modern amenities, but not these.
The main thing that could be improved was the food service — not just the quality of the hot meal, but the ability to reserve it ahead of time. A flight this long should be able to accommodate basic passenger nutritional requests, like the vegetarian dish. This — along with some bizarre crew behavior — left me with the impression that Hawaiian Airlines is a small operation stretching beyond its current abilities. While the regional touches do separate it from the pack, I’d trade every tropical-themed tchotchke for more attentive service and quality amenities. Nothing was so egregious that it would prevent me from flying with the carrier again, but given the choice of another airline at a similar price, I don’t think I’ll be seeing the Pualani logo again anytime soon.
All photos by the author.
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