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Hawaiian Airlines (South Pacific)
by Andreas Rohde

 

N582HAPHOTOS: ANDREAS ROHDE
Boeing 767-300ER N582HA at HNL before operating HA481 to PPT.

Flights: HA481, HA482
Route: Honolulu, Oahu, Hawai‘i (IATA: HNL/ICAO: PHNL)– Papeete-Faa’a, Tahiti (PPT/NTAA)–Honolulu
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Passengers: Andreas & Birgit Rohde


Hawaiian Airlines offers inter-island services, as well as domestic flights to the Mainland USA and long-range trips across the Equator to Tahiti and American Samoa.

We intended to book our flights from Hawaii to Tahiti through Hawaiian’s website. This process required several stages, but was easy. A nice feature was the possibility of seat selection before making payment. This last step, however, was very disappointing, as Hawaiian did not accept our credit card, thus rendering our reservation process a complete waste of time and effort. Hawaiian Airlines accepts credit cards from US, Canadian, and Australian citizens, only, discriminating against all other travellers.

A call to HA’s reservations confirmed that the only option was to book the flights through a travel agency in our home country (Germany). While the flights were available for exactly the same fare, we were each charged an additional $37 service fee, because Hawaiian no longer pays commissions to travel agencies. With a cost of $880 return, the service fee was annoying, but acceptable.

For Hawaiian’s inter-island flights, however, which are as low as $39 one way, we thought a $37 service fee ridiculous. Consequently we booked our connecting flights within Hawai‘i with the competition.

terminal gardens
HNL’s tropical garden, complete with Japanese (pictured), Chinese, and Hawaiian sections, serves as a waiting lounge which is far more comfortable than the air conditioned gate areas.


Check-in

Check-in at Honolulu’s Inter-Island Terminal was friendly, but particularly slow. With only a dozen passengers in front of us and three positions open, it still took 40 minutes until we held our boarding passes in our hands.

Despite the flight leaving from a concourse of the main terminal building, we passed through security at the Inter-Island Terminal, which considerably accelerated the process because of much shorter lines. With more than an hour to spare, we visited the open-air tropical garden, which we consider one of the nicest airport waiting lounges in the world.

Boarding

With most of the local passengers obviously knowing each other, the boarding process was more like a social affair and therefore leisurely. Nevertheless, we pushed back on time. The 767-300 was in a C18Y241 layout with standard 2-3-2 seating in economy. Apparently, the aircraft was equipped with new seats with thinner-than-usual seatbacks, which offered more legroom and thus more comfort. Generally, the entire cabin left a good impression, as it was clean and well maintained.

In-Flight

Immediately after takeoff, the crew pointed out places of interest, such as Waikiki Beach and the Diamond Head Crater, which was a thoughtful gesture for those seated by a window. While this announcement was made only in English, all other cabin PAs were also made in French.

Cabin service started with the distribution of entry and customs forms for French Polynesia, followed by an aperitif service of drinks, with a pack of pretzels. Beer, wine, and spirits, however, had to be purchased for $5 each. Dinner options this evening were pasta with tomato sauce or chicken with noodles and vegetables, each served with salad with Feta cheese dressing, a bread roll and butter, as well as Oreo cookies for dessert. The meal service was complemented by a second round of drinks. Coffee and tea were served separately after the meal, albeit only on the right-hand side of the aircraft; the unfortunate passengers on the left were forgotten.

After the meal, the cabin lights were dimmed and the main feature movie shown on the monitors. The necessary headphones had already been sold after takeoff, for another $5 apiece. They also enabled reception of ten music programs. Much more interesting was the view outside, as we gently curved around some giant cumulonimbus clouds set ablaze by the last sunrays of the day offering a natural drama of stunning beauty. After the setting sun brought an end to this theater of color, we gave our attention to Hawaiian’s in-flight magazine, ‘Hana Hou’. While quite comprehensive, for our taste it contained too much advertising.

clouds

En route to PPT, huge CBs reflect the fading sunlight providing a drama of light and color.

The crew concluded their service with the distribution of water.
Unfortunately, darkness prevailed for the remainder of the flight, but once descent had been initiated the light cloud cover gave way to an unobstructed view of the ocean, with the vista of a gleaming white moon reflected on the surface of the sea, occasionally outlining islands like gemstones on a black mirror surface. Much too soon, the flaps extended as we circled around the island of Moorea while lining up for the final approach to Tahiti. This night approach held a fascination of its own and culminated with the ocean spray of the breakwaters over the coral reefs glimmering in the moonlight, a few seconds before a soft touchdown at Faa’a International Airport.

After having covered 2,730mi (4,395km) in a flight time of 5hr 20min, we were welcomed with flowers, distributed to all arriving passengers, before passing through immigration and customs, which took no longer than 15 minutes, including baggage delivery.

Back to Hawai‘i

Check-in for our return from Tahiti started three hours before departure and was handled by Air Tahiti Nui. In contrast to Honolulu, the process was well organized and fast, and the agents were professional and friendly. Beyond security, the international waiting lounge offered only very limited shopping and refreshment opportunities, but was ventilated by fresh air, far more pleasant than air conditioning.

Unlike check-in, however, the boarding process was rather chaotic. All announcements were made too late and ‘pre-boarding’ was called five minutes after general boarding had started. At the edge of the ramp, a second, US-security, checkpoint had been set up, where everybody had to completely unpack their hand baggage. This caused a considerable delay in boarding.

After standing in line on the hot and humid ramp for almost 15 minutes, the cabin crew welcomed us aboard with an almost deep-frozen cabin, which was far from comfortable, especially as we had to wait another 20 minutes until the last passenger had passed security. Despite several complaints from passengers, the cabin remained uncomfortably cold throughout the entire flight.

The 767-300 featured the same seating configuration as the previous one, but the seats were less comfortable, with much thicker seatbacks, providing noticeably less legroom.

seating

Once airborne, with a 17-minute delay, passenger care again started with the sale of headphones and the distribution of US entry forms. Thereafter followed an extremely hurried service. Instead of the expected hot meal, we received a snack-pack, containing only a ham and cheese croissant, a pack of potato chips, and Oreo cookies. The parallel drink service was rushed through the cabin so fast that when we wanted to order a coffee in addition to our first drink, the flight attendant was already talking to the passengers behind us. So all we received during the first four hours of the flight was a single glass of water plus a snack. No sooner had we finished our ‘meal’, the cabin lights were dimmed and the crew disappeared into the galley areas. And then, it was movie time.

Having fallen asleep, we were woken insensitively, one hour before landing, by the cabin lights turned on maximum intensity and a less-than-friendly announcement. There was another beverage service, but no food items, although a little snack would have been welcome at 0500 local.

Flight HA482 arrived at HNL exactly on time. Despite there being only two flights arriving at this time, immigration took 25 minutes. When we finally arrived at the baggage claim our bags were already waiting for us.


Overall impression

Obviously, Hawaiian Airlines lacks a consistency in service standards. While the first flight was a pleasing experience in almost every respect, the return was disappointing. With the cabin crew flying roundtrip, it was more than obvious that they were tired and service was no longer a top priority.

We also disliked being served by a flight attendant who was chewing gum while talking to his passengers.

The most disturbing aspect of the return flight, however, was the extremely uncomfortable cabin temperature. We did not understand why the crew forced their charges to huddle under blankets and in winter jackets while travelling between tropical islands.

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