Flight review: The longest US domestic flight, Hawaiian Airlines' Boston to Honolulu on the A330 in first class
During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. However, we have resumed the publication of new, previously unpublished flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken before the lockdown. To help keep you entertained — and maybe inspire you — we are also republishing a selection of our most popular reviews from 2019 and 2020, including the one below, which was originally published in April 2019. We hope this will help you choose once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.
Note that the flight reviewed in this article is currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to a schedule published by Hawaiian Airlines, all flights to the mainland except for one daily service each to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle are suspended until May 20, 2020.
This article has been lightly edited from the original.
[tpg_rating tpg-rating-score="77" ground-experience="4" cabin-seat="20" amens-ife="8" food-bev="22" service="23" pros="Outstanding service, good food and attention to detail." cons="Mediocre IFE setup and content, less-than-stellar ground experience." /]
Under most circumstances, flying over 11 hours nonstop across six time zones means you’re flying internationally. On Hawaiian Airlines' nonstop from Boston to Honolulu, the longest US domestic flight in history, this isn’t the case. In April 2019, Hawaiian Airlines broke its own record for the longest domestic nonstop — New York-JFK to Honolulu (HNL) — by going about 100 miles farther to another East Coast metropolis, also with the Airbus A330-200.
We were aboard the carrier’s very first flight from Boston (BOS) to Hawaii's capital city, in first class, no less.
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Being based in New York City, I needed to get to Boston before catching the long-haul to Honolulu. We decided to use JetBlue for the positioning flight the evening before. Word to the wise: Don’t let the 40-minute flight time between New York and Boston fool you. If you have a choice, take the train. Factoring in rush-hour traffic, crowded public transit and flight and taxi delays, you’ll by lucky if you get in any earlier than if you'd come by train (or even bus, for that matter). That being said, I’d be staying overnight at the airport hotel, so coming right into the airport did make sense in this case.
Related: Planes versus train: What’s the fastest way from Boston to NYC?
You can redeem your points and miles for Hawaiian Airlines flights, but availability is quite hard to come by. If you get lucky and find a saver award, you'll need 40,000 HawaiianMiles for a one-way ticket in first class. And, Hawaiian is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, so it's relatively easy to build your account balance with Hawaiian.
Predictably, there was no availability at the saver level for the brand-new flight, so we paid $2,145 for a round-trip flight between Boston and Honolulu, with the outbound segment in first class and the return in economy. We charged the ticket to The Platinum Card® from American Express to take advantage of the card's 5x bonus category on flights purchased directly with the airline or through Amex travel (starting Jan. 1, 2021, earn 5x points on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). We earned a total of 10,725 Membership Rewards points for the purchase, which are worth about $204 according to TPG's current valuations.
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Hawaiian Airlines 89 had a scheduled departure time of 8:10am, with boarding scheduled for 7:25am from Gate E5. At Boston Logan, Terminal E is the international terminal.
Being in the first-class cabin and having TSA PreCheck (included with Global Entry, which I got thanks to the up to $100 credit on my Chase Sapphire Reserve card), I knew I had leeway when it came to beating the morning-rush security line. As this was a domestic flight, I didn't have lounge access included in my first-class ticket. With my Priority Pass membership (also complimentary with my CSR), I could have visited the Air France lounge, but it didn’t open until 11:30am. With that in mind, the plan was to go directly to the gate.
I arrived to the airport a little before 7am for the 8:10am flight. I had checked in the day prior and had a mobile boarding pass on my phone. The check-in was pretty quiet by the time I arrived, and I had no checked bags. I proceeded right to security.
Still, there were people ready to assist anyone with questions, and Logan had self-serve kiosks, as well.
Security, on the other hand, was a disaster. With my Hawaiian flight, a similarly timed Virgin Atlantic flight to London and presumably a few others, the security line could have easily taken an hour had I not been in first class. Bottom line: Give yourself a little extra time if you're taking this flight.
Once I finally cleared security, I had a feeling that there would be festivities at the gate prior to this new service. I walked the five minutes or so from the security checkpoint to the gate, passing long lines at Starbucks a few other airport staples.
On my way to the gate, I caught a glimpse of our chariot in the morning sun. She had arrived just hours before on the first Honolulu-to-Boston service.
I hadn’t been on an inaugural flight before, but it was a blast — by the time I arrived at the gate, festivities were in full swing. There were reporters with their cameras, an array of fresh fruit and coffee and even a brief Hawaiian ceremony to officially open the route.
After grabbing some fruit and snapping photos of the ceremony, I listened as the gate agents announced that the flight would be boarding early, at 7:15am. Being in Boarding Group 1, I made my way to the boarding queue, where airline employees were handing out leis.
Within five minutes, my boarding pass had been scanned, and I had been lei'd (those are real flowers, by the way).
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By the time I got to my seat, the first-class cabin was already filling up. Right away, it was clear that Hawaiian aims to bring its aloha spirit inside the cabin — the color scheme and the airiness of the seats got me in the mood for an island adventure.
The crew announced that at 5,095 miles and a flight time of over 11 hours, this would be the longest-ever regularly scheduled domestic flight in the US, surpassing the airline's New York-JFK route.
Hawaiian Airlines’ first class consists of 18 seats in three rows in a 2-2-2 configuration. I was in Seat 3A, a window seat in the last row of the first-class cabin. I felt this would be a good, private seat. I was right.
Being in the very last row of first class meant I had an extra window behind me, giving me four windows total -- an AvGeek's dream. The other two rows had two or three windows.
The seat itself was clean, but some of the storage areas around it were a bit dirty, with crumbs and scraps from previous flights. It wasn't entirely surprising to me, though. After all, until the airline takes delivery of its snazzy 787s, the A330-200 is Hawaiian Airlines' long-haul workhorse, operating flights from Honolulu to the US, Australia and East Asia.
As much as many premium-cabin travelers would prefer a 1-2-1 configuration (or 1-1-1, for that matter), I could excuse it more on Hawaiian, considering the majority of travelers to and from the island are traveling for leisure and with a companion.
The cabin itself was airy and nice. As TPG's Nick Ellis pointed out in his review of the New York-to-Honolulu flight, you really felt the vacation vibes as soon as you boarded. Plus, there was power and a USB port at each seat, meaning I didn’t have to worry about running out of battery on this long flight. There were no personal air vents, though, and the cabin ended up being pretty warm by the end of the flight.
The seat itself was leather-clad and comfortable. It came with a few amenities (more on that later), including a small pillow that attached to the top of the seat.
There was a small, leather ottoman that became a part of the bed when it lay flat. The footrest had a half wall that didn’t really serve a purpose on window seats but helped with keeping your feet from falling into the aisle if you were seated in an aisle seat. This half wall had another mesh pocket, but it was too small to hold much. If anything, I’d recommend keeping your phone or computer charger here.
The seat, capable of 180-degree lie-flat, employed an intuitive (although somewhat limited) wheel to control its position. Below that was a USB charging port, a flight-attendant call button and reading-light switch. The other charging port was by my feet.
In bed mode, the seat was comfortable. Not the comfiest I’ve been in, but definitely not uncomfortable. At 5 feet, 9 inches, I had no problem. A little more storage space opened up while in lie-flat, but it would've been a little tighter if I'd been a bit wider or much taller than six feet.
Since not everyone flies with a companion, Hawaiian installed privacy dividers that could be raised and lowered. I tried it out when I wanted to get some rest. It was quite effective and added to the overall aesthetic of the cabin, in my opinion.
Hawaiian also added a rather clever design feature to the seat that made a big difference in the 2-2-2 configuration. A small space between the ottoman in front of the seat allowed window-seat passengers to pass by anyone seated on the aisle without having to step over them (which typically means straddling them, especially in lie-flat mode). This proved to be hugely helpful in my trips to the bathroom and overhead bins.
There was a small reading light near the headrest that could be turned on and off with the press of a button.
The tray table is quite large and could be accessed with a firm press of the leather panel between the seats. I easily fit my 13-inch MacBook Pro next to a glass of water.
If you’re thinking to yourself, “Where’s the IFE screen?” the answer is that these seats don't actually have one. Instead, Hawaiian uses an expandable stand built into the seat, and passed out iPads loaded with content once we were airborne. It was a bit clunky (more on that later), but the actual stand used to hold it was effective and wasn’t wobbly.
Besides the IFE setup, the only major qualm I had with the seat was the lack of storage space. With just a small area on either side of the seat, a place for shoes and two other small mesh pockets (one right beside you and one by your feet), I didn’t really have much room to put anything other than my phone, some small flexible materials, the amenity kit and the small water bottle that was waiting for me at my seat. On the plus side, the footrest design meant trips to the overhead bin didn't disturb my seatmate, even in bed mode.
There wasn't anywhere to put my carry-on in front of me during takeoff or landing. During the flight, I was able to leave my backpack in front of me without issue.
Lastly, the first-class bathroom was neat, with Hawaiian soaps and a linoleum floor with a tile pattern, plus a few flowers.
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Upon boarding, each first-class seat was already stocked with goodies, including a plush, pink blanket, a mattress pad, a small — I’ll call it a “day” — pillow and a larger one intended for sleeping. Not too shabby for a domestic flight, even a long one.
The day pillow was nifty — it attached to the top of the headrest with an elastic band. I set it up right away, and it was actually comfortable!
The blanket was soft and quite comfy as well.
The larger pillow, bigger than the ones you get in economy but smaller than some of your typical international business-class pillows, was fine but nothing outstanding.
And the mattress pad was attachable to the seat by running the seatbelt through holes on the side.
It was a bit thin but still a notable perk, especially considering plenty of carriers don’t even offer one in international business class.
As I mentioned before, the seat felt a bit narrow, but I slept mostly comfortably until turbulence over the Pacific woke me up.
We were airborne within 15 minutes of pushback. Lucky me, I got a sweet view of Boston on departure.
Takeoff was smooth, and once we cleared 10,000 feet (about five minutes after wheels up), flight attendants came through the cabin and distributed the inflight-entertainment iPads (which, as noted in the previous section, were in lieu of a more traditional seatback screen), over-ear headphones and amenity kits.
Hawaiian Airlines offers amenity kits in multiple classes of service on their long-haul flights (in other words, all flights that aren’t intra-island and to the western United States). I really liked them, and I actually reviewed them way back in late 2016.
Inside were the usual suspects, including moisturizer, a toothbrush, toothpaste, tissues, an eye mask, socks and a comb.
Upon receiving the iPad, I took out the built-in stand and got ready to watch some movies.
The headphones were not spectacular but effective enough. If you’re hard of hearing or just want to ensure higher-quality audio, as always, I’d recommend bringing your own headphones. Just make sure they have a 3.5 mm cord — the iPads didn’t allow any Bluetooth connections.
The IFE iPad was divided into four categories: movies, TV, audio and games.
The movies were sorted by category, including new releases, drama, comedy, kids, A-Z, etc. I counted 48 movies total, including five Japanese films. There were several critically acclaimed new releases like "Green Book", "The Favourite," "Bohemian Rhapsody," "A Star Is Born" and a few others.
Other content was a bit all over the place. There were around a dozen TV shows, but it didn’t seem like there were any complete seasons. The kids section consisted of several animated films like "Moana," "The Incredibles," "Frozen," "Cars" and a couple others.
The selection was decent but not extensive. You’ll probably run out of content on a long-haul round-trip unless you don’t really mind experimenting across genres. The iPad situation was a bit clunky, sure, but it could've been worse. It lacked a map feature, though — for that you had to use the screens in the front of the cabin. Of the three attached to the bulkhead, only one was on. It got the job done, nonetheless.
The iPad holder itself swiveled to allow you to move in and out of your seat. It tilted slightly, as well. That said, it was a little weird to watch in bed mode with the holder above me.
I chose to watch in a mostly reclined mode, so the screen was more at eye level, and only went the full 180 degrees when it came time to sleep.
The iPad I received had no problem lasting the entirety of the flight, though I noticed that my seatmate’s needed a charge. The cabin crew was quick to deliver him a charger. It seemed easy, given the charging port to the side of the seat. With another USB charging slot, he could have also charged his personal device if he needed to, as well.
Hawaiian's A330s aren't equipped with Wi-Fi, which is a bummer for business travelers and really anyone who would like to get some work done on such a long flight, but most people go to Hawaii to relax, and being disconnected for about 11 hours was a pretty great feeling, not gonna lie.
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Right after taking my seat after boarding, the flight attendants came around, introduced themselves and handed out a choice of beverages: mai tais, prosecco, water or juice. Even though it wasn’t even 8am, I couldn’t refuse a mai tai, which came in a real glass.
Soon after, as the rest of the cabin was still boarding, the head flight attendant introduced herself, passed around menus and explained the meal service.
There would be two meals on the flight: The first, a brunch after takeoff, and the second around three hours prior to landing in Honolulu.
A few minutes later, a different flight attendant introduced herself to me and my seatmate, asked us what we wanted to be called (in case we preferred a nickname, I imagine) and took our drink order, to be served prior to the first meal. I asked for a hot tea. Passengers also received The Boston Globe to peruse throughout the flight.
By 8am, our predeparture drinks had been collected. We pushed back right on time at 8:10am, and five minutes later we were on our way to Runway 33L. (Naturally, I was listening via LiveATC.net). Meanwhile, they played a brief video on the seat and its various functions.
Some 35 minutes after taking off right on time (Hawaiian is good at being on time), we got our beverage service. My tea came with macadamia nuts.
About 50 minutes later, we received our first meal, consisting of two courses. The first, a croissant with fruit, was delicious. I also ordered a coffee (knowing full well onboard coffee isn't the best)
The second course was a mushroom-and-sundried-tomato quiche with a side of slices of sausage. The sausage was good, but the quiche was mushy.
Throughout the service, the flight attendants were attentive and constantly checked in to see if we needed anything else.
About two hours into the flight, the meal service had ended, the plates had been collected, and the flight attendants closed all the windows. Notably, they weren’t strict with the few who wanted to keep it open.
20 minutes later, our flight attendant asked us (by name, of course) if we wanted any Hawaiian-made chips or coconut cookies. I asked for a cookie, sat back, reclined and passed the time until halfway over the Pacific, when the next meal came out. There was no Wi-Fi on the aircraft, so there was plenty of time to just relax and and enjoy the flight. In the interim, the flight attendants were constantly walking around to see if anyone needed anything to drink.
With about three and a half hours left in our flight, cabin crew came around again with tablecloths for the tray tables and a hot washcloth. I love a hot washcloth, especially after sleeping. I also got some more tea.
I had the chicken for the main meal, and asked for a mai tai as well as some more breakfast tea. Soon after, the appetizer course, the smoked-salmon poke, came out with a warm roll. The poke was not great, but the roll was delicious.
The chicken dish that came in place of the brisket actually proved to be the best food on the flight, served with rice and Brussels sprouts. The chicken breast was breaded in rice crackers and came with a honey-shoyu sauce. It wasn't until after arriving in Hawaii that I realized this was a more typical Hawaiian-style dish, but regardless it was excellent.
A little while after, the friendly flight attendant offered a chocolate cake with optional whipped cream, and coffee, tea or a dessert liquor.
About an hour before landing, we were handed a Hawaiian declarations form, though no one ended up collecting them. They also distributed a map of Oahu.
We passed by some of the other Hawaiian islands on descent into HNL, providing breathtaking views.
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Without a doubt, the strongest part of this flight was the service. Flight attendants called each passenger by name throughout the flight, and were more than willing to help out with any requests. About 15 minutes prior to touchdown, they came through and thanked everybody in first class individually. We even chatted briefly about mai tais (naturally) and traveling to Hawaii, as I had never been before this trip. That may have been deliberate on the inaugural, but the airline's culture clearly shone through. Overall, the food service was a bit on the slow side, but, honestly, props to the crew for not being too speedy, since it was a long daytime flight with no need to rush.
Hawaiian Airlines offers a solid, but not revolutionary, premium-cabin experience. A very strong crew provided excellent service, and the airline uses a clever design to make 2-2-2 seats work. But, the IFE and ground experience didn’t shine as much.
Given that this is the only means to reach Honolulu nonstop from Boston, and that it is a domestic flight, it could be far, far worse. And given the weaker competition on East Coast-to-Hawaii nonstops (looking at you, United), I’d happily fly Hawaiian on this long-haul again.
All photos by the author.