My celebration of the new JFK-HNL service on Hawaiian Airlines wasn’t limited to just hanging out at the pre-flight festivities at T5. I also booked myself a seat on board and enjoyed the inaugural flight experience. This was my first long-haul experience with Hawaiian and also my first trip on one of their wide-body aircraft. Even without it being an inaugural there was plenty different about it from the inter-island hops.
Considering the excitement and activity associated with the send-off party in the terminal the boarding process was actually reasonably smooth. Not a ton of in-cabin baggage certainly helped with that, as did the large overhead bins on the A330. I quickly stowed my bag and settled in to seat 14J, a bulkhead window seat.
There is a surcharge for the bulkhead seats on board. I was shocked during the check-in process to find that the charge was only $35. I would say they could charge 3-4x that rate and still sell the seats without too much trouble. In talking with one of the flight attendants it turns out that this actually is a new, higher price. Didn’t bother me to get it so cheap, however. The $3.50/hour of no one reclined into me and a bit of extra legroom was well worth it.
The seat was reasonably comfortable, though also a bit firm. I like that for the most part; I know some others prefer softer seats. In chatting with one of the FAs about the situation she suggested that the cushions might all be getting replaced imminently because of their firmness. So it goes.
The headrests are also adjustable. I found that the "wings" on them didn’t really support my head very well, but at least the option is there. Everyone got a pillow and blanket for the flight.
Food & Drink
The service started with a beverage and snack mix. Beer and wine are a paid option, but there are actually options to choose from. This includes half-bottles of wine for folks who don’t think that the minis are sufficient.
About 90 minutes into the flight a meal was offered. There are still complimentary meals available for Hawaiian flights to and from the mainland so I was able to try that out. On this flight it was a breakfast wrap which was, well, interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever had edamamme in a breakfast wrap before so that was interesting. The muffin wasn’t bad, either. That said, they were pretty small and it is a pretty long flight.
There are also meals for purchase. on this flight we had a choice of a chicken caesar salad or a cheeseburger. I also gave the cheeseburger a try. The presentation was much more involved but the taste wasn’t all that much different. My seatmate had the salad and it actually looked pretty good.
Around two hours prior to arrival in Honolulu there was a second meal served. The offering was a turkey sandwich and brownie. I’m pretty sure it was turkey, though the volume bread did make it a bit difficult to know for sure. Tasty enough to get me through the last couple hours until arrival in Honolulu.
In-flight entertainment on the A330 comes in the form of 9" personal, on-demand video screens. There are roughly 20 movies to choose from in the new releases section which isn’t bad at all. Of course, the fact that there is an $8 charge to watch each of them is less cool. There are also a number of TV episodes available for which the charge is normally $7; on this flight it was free to celebrate the inaugural. There are 100+ CDs to listen to, music loops and games, too. And, of course, the ever-present moving map. The system was reasonable overall, both in terms of content selection and performance (it did lag a bit). That said, Charging the full price for each movie watched is not so passenger-friendly. There is free content available but not much to make it a very useful system unless you plan to pay. Or unless (like me) the moving map is enough to keep you amused for several hours. IFE is free in the first class cabin.
Every seat also has a USB plug at it. This can be used to charge a device and also to feed in to the IFE system. I didn’t play with it too much as I didn’t have the correct cable with me, but the option is there.
The cabin has mood lighting, though the effect isn’t really all that amazing during a daylight flight.
The flight crew was wonderfully friendly, though I’d expect nothing less from the promo team assigned to events like this. I also have to say that I really like their uniforms.
Right now the Hawaiian service competes more or less directly with United Airlines‘ daily flight from Newark to Honolulu. I’ve done that trip a few times and if I were running the show at United I’d be reasonably concerned about the new competition. The in-flight experience was better on Hawaiian, at least in coach. The Hawaiian first class product doesn’t compete well, especially with the seat, but coach is notably better on HA.
The timing of the Hawaiian flights is also much more convenient than the United option. Hawaiian’s flight arrives in Honolulu, as their CEO said, "so that [passengers] can be watching the sun set from your hotel room, either in Oahu or a neighbor island, hopefully with a Mai Tai in your hand." Similarly, the eastbound flight arrives early enough that getting in to the office for a full day of work is completely possible. My seat-mate noted that he was able to go straight from the airport to pick up his kids at school. Not too shabby.
The timing of the United flights is a couple hours later and it is much harder to connect or get downtown and settled in before dinner time. Between that and the more comfortable seats and better IFE systems, it would be hard to recommend that a customer take the United flight assuming all else is equal. Oh, and with the JetBlue feed at JFK there are a number of cities on the east coast where the 10am departure time still allows for great connections.
Oh, and because it was an inaugural we all got little gifts, too.
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