By Mike Mangano
Review: Hawaiian Airlines from Sydney to Honolulu
To critique an airline is — in this day and age — synonymous with groaning and bleating about every negative experience of a given flight, and it is true: travel by air has apparently digressed into a mud pit of lost baggage, screaming babies and a general lack of social etiquette which once made flying so romantic. Yet, none of these or any other headaches characterized this writer’s recent series of international flights on Hawaiian Airlines — Hawaii’s flagship carrier.
This month, AirlineGeeks took advantage of the opportunity to review the US airline described by Forbes magazine as “top in reliability for the second year running.” The flights, paid for by this writer himself, offered a chance to verify the truthfulness of that statement, as well as an inside look at the commitment of its staff. The experience made clear that, despite the chaos of the post-pandemic airline industry, an airline can still operate with the golden values that first defined air travel so many years ago.
For the Australian tourist wanting to venture to the warmer waters of Waikiki, a true definition of this writer is Hawaiian Airlines, which offers direct flights from Sydney, Australia to Honolulu. While certainly not the only option, Qantas simply no longer qualifies as a satisfactory option for the traveler who wants to arrive — along with his baggage — at his destination on time.
Sydney’s check-in experience with Hawaiian was far smoother than anticipated. Despite a continuation of delays that have plagued Sydney, Australia’s Airport since earlier this year, the Saturday evening line-up and check-in was straightforward with the biggest bother from those who attempted to push in line and voice frustration over the required contact-tracing paperwork that was to be filled out prior to baggage check-in. Of interest is an apparent absence of online check-in for Sydney departures with Hawaiian Airlines. While it can only be speculated as to why this fact did not result in any real delays throughout the process.
All in all, 30 minutes was all it took to be funneled through the line, drop off the baggage, and head off through security to the gates and, what most look forward to, duty-free shopping. For the avid shopper, many of the retailers were closed due to renovations and revamps. Think Victor Navorski, think The Terminal – this is Sydney Airport. This presented a challenge: what does one do for the two hours prior to boarding? There are several food-court-style restaurants open on a Saturday night, but that hardly makes for an entertaining wait.
Sydney Airport exhibits a scenario familiar to all post-pandemic airports; a thin line of excellent staff hold the fort, but the emphasis is clearly on the ‘thin’.
Fortunately, this intrepid traveler — who doesn’t truly identify as ‘intrepid’— spent his exhaustive hours in the quiet ambiance of the airport’s Plaza Premium Lounge. The House — as it is named— has a truly premium feel, affording guests reasonable views of the apron and a limited but tasty selection of food. The plates are small, and the drinks served match in size. However, in some ways, it’s rather thoughtful; you simply don’t want to spend 10 hours of flying time on 400 return trips to the toilet.
It was mostly a pleasant experience, free from the aforementioned screaming children, and it was nicely crowned with a view of the Airbus I was shortly to board after I took advantage of the toilets in The House. Garnished with L’Occitane soaps and folded hand towels, the restroom bid me farewell with possibly one of the most luxurious toilet breaks experienced by this writer for some time.
Upon arrival at the gate, it was soon apparent that the flight was going to be late. This matter isn’t necessarily all that simple; one delay caused by short-staffed airports earlier this day could have led to a thousand delayed flights in an endless domino effect and is thus not truly reflective of Hawaiian Airlines’ reliability. Remember, too, that this is Sydney Airport.
Upon boarding ‘Iwakelii’ — one of Hawaiian’s Airbus A330-200s — in Sydney, the warm ‘aloha’ of Hawaii is instant and most welcome, especially given that to the surprise of many, Australian winters can be quite cold. This fact now explains why, for those unaware, the land of deserts and beaches also has the largest snow fields in the southern hemisphere. With warm, Hawaiian hospitality and Hawaiian shirts to match, the passenger feels their holiday has begun before he has left the ground.
The cool blue hue of the main cabin seats is inviting, and their comfort matches their clean appearance, with plenty of leg room for the nine-hour flight ahead. On seating, the senses are engaged further by more than just the lighting; a soft soundtrack of Hawaiian music (think ukulele) appeases the passenger, and videos of the musical performances are displayed on the screens in front of each seat. It’s a further slide into a state of relaxation that gives one a taste of what to expect before they’ve even left the gate. In fact, if one listens carefully, you could almost swear a calming sea breeze tingles the skin.
Impeccably presented are also the crew, and the quality of their service follows suit. While service and presentation are always of great importance, it is in the management of passengers that the flight attendant distinguishes their patience and abilities. Much responsibility rests on their shoulders, starting with the role of master baggage handlers.
A wonder that remains for the wisest to understand: the fiasco of carry-on luggage. Although Hawaiian provides signage specifying the dimensions of what is acceptable carry-on (ie. not a piano), I stood in awe that passengers would still attempt to bring such baggage on the aircraft. While this writer, and many a passenger, surely fume at the hold-ups that oversized and overweight carry-on luggage cause, Hawaiian’s humble flight attendants showed no such frustration.
With smiling faces, they accelerated the boarding process by lifting up those ‘pianos’ and storing them safely in the overhead lockers. More importantly, they managed to keep those lockers shut when some attempted to access their bags during taxi. The friendly disposition and demeanor of the attendants do more than settle the issues; they keep the entire aircraft in order.
Despite a late departure, the cabin’s atmosphere remained calm and relaxed. By the time the aircraft settled at cruising altitude, most passengers found themselves immersed in an extensive library of in-flight entertainment, including a broad range of “avgeek” favorites that ventured into such classics as Apollo 13. The supplied earphones provided a reasonably adequate quality of sound, but at times a small movement of the cord resulted in some crackling. The biggest issue, at least for this Airline Geek, was the failure to launch the in-flight mapping system, but this was soon forgotten when I found First Man was in the film library.
Seated in the ‘main cabin’, a less brutal name for the economy, I realized that I had been seated in equally the best and worst seats — next to the restroom. Ideal for the traveler who drinks far too much coffee like myself, it happens to be the most popular location for all other passengers. This could have been disruptive for more reasons than just crowding around this shrine; that mystical room has been known to produce odors that are less than appetizing. For Hawaiian, however, this was clearly not an acceptable option.
During all hours of the night flight, flight attendants continued to clean all aspects of the aircraft cabin – including the restrooms. While those mystical rooms shone brightly and with fragrant air, not a single passenger was left with any waste in their seating area. This hygienic – and hospitable – airline clearly isn’t relaxed in customer service.
To be in the business of people, they’ve got to feel their best interests are safe in your hands. Nothing should be more important than that. Hawaiian has accomplished this business.
A paraphrase from the legendary Montgomery, it has real application with any customer-focused business. The flight attendants on board were engaging and genuinely friendly, and this reflects the customer-first business model Hawaiian has created. Easy to laugh with, it was a matter of humor for one attendant when I explained my usual airline of choice is Emirates. When discussing that this reviewer would be, well, reviewing the flight, he joked that this would be like a budget airline. But Hawaiian isn’t, nor does it feel like one.
For the most part, sleep was on the agenda. With a sleeping mask decorated to look like aviators, sleeping is a real possibility on Hawaiian’s international flights. The seats recline to a comfortable angle, and the leg room provided in the standard economy is well and truly enough for comfort.
It was only on the descent that the cabin windows were opened, and the contrast from a dark Sydney night to a dreamy blue Pacific ocean was most welcome. Of all destinations this writer has flown to, the descent into Hawaii is certainly one of the most picturesque. The dramatic mountains of green, white-capped ocean waves and a view of historical locations (primarily Pearl Harbor) make the arrival in Honolulu an exciting and memorable experience.
Despite a strong crosswind, the landing was smooth, and thus the taxi to the gates began. And then it stopped; the taxi to the gate was paused until that gate was available. The words “brief wait” caused an immediate stir among those seated around me, but to quote Chuck Yeager – and every other pilot known to mankind – any landing is a good landing.
The fact that all would soon walk calmly off this flight meant that the flight had been very good indeed. And soon enough the chaos of those who remove seatbelts before landing reared its ugly head, but again, Hawaiian’s flight crew demonstrated why their customer service is world-class. Their soft skills are something to be witnessed.
To say that Hawaiian Airlines is reliable is, you guessed it, quite a reliable statement. Reliability is clearly a core value of this airline. Despite delays in Sydney, the flight still arrived on time. Baggage turns up where it should – at your destination. Passengers are truly cared for, and the staff proved they can be relied upon (a mid-flight medical emergency highlighted that).
While certainly not the only option for travel between Australia and Hawaii, it is the most unique. It truly isn’t a Hawaiian holiday with the flagship airline of Hawaii. From the livery to the very name of each aircraft, Hawaiian Airlines manages to encapsulate all there is to love about its home and package it into one fine airline.
Additionally, as the reader shall yet find out in the next article in this saga, the culture of safety and employee satisfaction runs deeper than the casual passenger may realize.