The smell was the most surprising. Coming off the AirTrain, heading down the escalators into Terminal 5 at JFK, a trip I’d made dozens of times, was different this time. It was the smell. That’s probably surprising to folks who know me well, as my ability to smell is notoriously impaired. Maybe that’s why it was so surprising to me to be overwhelmed: JFK actually smelled good.
It was the flowers. Hundreds of leis were being handed out throughout the terminal. Ticket agents, customer service personnel and passengers were all enjoying the aloha spirit with the flowers. Seeing guys in reflective safety vests wearing leis was definitely a first for me, but there they were, working out on the tarmac, getting the Airbus A330 ready for her inaugural flight from JFK to Hawaii.
The check-in area for Hawaiian Airlines is at the far end of the terminal from the AirTrain. Nearly everyone I passed in the hall was excited for the new service, smiling and chatting with customers. And wearing leis. The check-in area had a group of hula dancers entertaining the folks in line, as well as plenty of staff to handle the crowds. The self-service check-in kiosks worked for me to get a boarding pass and I was soon through security and headed to gate 14 to check out the pre-flight festivities. I got waylaid in the center atrium area with another bad performing for the inaugural, but I knew the party was at the gate so I didn’t dally.
Speeches were made by representatives from the Port Authority and Hawaiian.
We were also treated to more hula dancing, leis and snacks.
A priest from Hawai’i flew in special for the inaugural as well. He offered a few words of prayer, traditional in the Hawaiian culture, focusing on partnership, trust and friendship.
Then the ceremonial opening of the gate was effected by the CEO of Hawaiian Airlines.
Barely audible above the din of the celebrations, an announcement was made for passengers to start boarding the flight. It was a bit crazed with the total number of passengers trying to get out of the gate area, the celebrations, the hula dancing and everything else. Still, somehow, the folks actually flying to Honolulu found their way through the crowds and started to thin, taking their seats on the wide-body and getting ready for the 11ish hour flight to the islands.
There was one more surprise in store for passengers. Another HA executive joined the aircraft just a few moments before the cabin door was closed and made a most exciting announcement: One lucky passenger was about to be upgraded to celebrate the inaugural route.
It turns out that the winner was actually one of a couple traveling together, moving back to Hawai’i today. Fortunately the company anticipated that such might be the case and had two seats available. The happy couple made their way forward from the back of the cabin into their new seats and then we were ready to fly.
As is traditional, the local fire department offered up a water canon salute to the aircraft and then we made the quick taxi out to runway 31L and the takeoff roll had us airborne shortly thereafter.
Quite a party and a great reason for a celebration.