Hawaiian Airlines traces its origins to Inter-Island Airways which started in 1929 with a single seaplane offering sightseeing flights. Three months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, in 1941 the airline adopted its present name Hawaiian Airlines. Following WWII the airline expanded services to bring holiday makers from the mainland USA. In 1966 the airline added its first jetliners and in 1975 adopted its tropical themed logo which it retains today. In 1994 Hawaiian formed an alliance with American Airlines and adopted AAdvantage as their frequent flyer programme but in 2004 launched their own Hawaiian Miles scheme. Following the downturn in air travel following 9/11 Hawaiian Airlines suffered a serious decline and was forced to enter bankruptcy protection in 2003. In 2004 their main competitor Aloha Airlines also filed for bankruptcy and finally folded in 2008. The demise of Hawaiian’s largest rival has improved their balance sheet and secured their immediate future. Beginning in 2005 Hawaiian expanded its network and in 2008 began flying on some of Aloha’s old routes. In 2011 Hawaiian increased Sydney services to daily and in 2012 began daily flights to New York. Hawaiian Airlines safety record is relatively spotless, a record unmatched by other US legacy carriers. Hawaiian Airlines is owned by Hawaiian Holdings which is majority owned by Ranch Capital, a San Diego investment company.
While Hawaiian Airlines might have a bright and cheerful logo and colour scheme, the holiday atmosphere of the airline does not extend to the attitude of its staff. Flight attendants and pilots had their wages and working conditions drastically reduced in 2005 and remain unhappy about that, and it shows. Most crew have been flying a long time and appear disinterested in their jobs, the airline and its customers. On board service is usually terrible. Staff will do their jobs but do not feel obligated to do anything extra. Call buttons will often go unanswered. Aircraft interiors are old and tired which matches the appearance of the crew.
Hawaiian Airlines operates three networks. Firstly they have an extensive inter-island network connecting Honolulu with practically every airport in Hawaii. Secondly they fly to major cities in the US, particularly California and America’s West Coast and lastly their international network principally serves foreign holiday makers. Hawaiian fly to several Japanese cities, South Korea, Canada, Philippines, Australia, Tahiti and American Samoa. As the US Dollar has dipped in recent years, holidaying in Hawaii has become cheaper so international tourist arrives have increased while domestic US tourist numbers have dropped.
For domestic services Hawaiian is reasonably priced. America’s crowded aviation market is highly competitive and wherever possible Hawaiian match fares of rivals, however on International routes Hawaiian can be pricey considering the inferiority of service. On many routes Hawaiian competes against some truly quality airlines such as Korean Air, Asiana and Japan’s ANA. Hawaii’s popularity with Australians is growing and Hawaiian flies to Sydney uncutting Qantas and Jetstar. It pays to shop around and the chances are paying a little extra will get a better airline than Hawaiian.
International passengers will be served some of the worst free food in the sky today. Hawaiian compete against no-frill carriers and extreme budget cutting shows up in their catering which is comparable to cheap supermarket TV dinners. The airline’s salads are little more than lettuce, cucumber and dressing. Business class meals cannot be compared to the fine dining available on Korean Air or Asiana. Even Hawaiian’s crockery appears cheap. The airline’s coffee has a bad taste in both Coach and Business. Vegetarian meals taste as bad as they look. On short inter-island flights passengers receive a juice and napkin only. However, Hawaiian is one of the only US carriers to provide meals on domestic US flights and passengers can upgrade their meal by paying more, which is worth it for long flights.
Hawaiian Airlines aircraft tend to be old and they have not updated their in-flight entertainment system to match up-market rivals, however their new aircraft will have individual seat back video screens when these aircraft are delivered. They are pay-to-view, activated upon payment. Portable players are currently available for rent but the selection of movies is limited. The portable DVD’s are free in Business Class. Hana Hou is the airline’s dull in-flight magazine which is packed full of advertorial articles.
Hawaiian operate their own check-in counters in Hawaii and use third party ground handling companies elsewhere. Hawaiian constantly change providers as rival contractors undercut each other and Hawaiian switches. Consequently service levels are inconsistent. Checking in is reasonably quick as holiday makers typically pack light and the airlines baggage allowance is generous. Travel Insurance is an excellent idea for travel to Hawaii as America’s low paid baggage handlers often mishandle luggage and bags frequently get lost during flight connections.
Hawaiian is a two class airline with their premium class called Hawaiian Business. The level of service is more comparable to a premium economy. Except for the larger seat, it’s hard to see how it is a genuine Business Class as most aircraft have no entertainment system except portable DVD players and cabin interiors look tired. The hibiscus flower that accompanies drinks and meals is a nice touch but cannot disguise the fact the airline’s premium product is not very premium. The airline has its own Premier Club lounges in Hawaii and use a variety of others overseas ranging from Air New Zealand’s excellent Koru Lounge in Sydney to AA’s Admiral Club in New York.
Most passengers are attracted to Hawaiian by its cheap airfares while some customers book because of the mistaken belief the airline is a fun carrier. For domestic US passengers Hawaiian does offer the best deal as the airline includes a meal, while on international legs superior competitors typically exist. For international tourists an Hawaiian flight can be a bad way to start a romantic holiday to Hawaii, so it pays to shop around. A little extra can get a much better airline.
The airlines loyalty scheme is called Hawaiian Miles and is partnered to many other carriers including American Airlines, US Airways, Japan’s ANA, Korean Air and Virgin Australia. However members of these other frequent flyer plans often complain that their points are never credited to their accounts for the flights they took, so it’s very hit and miss. As Hawaiian Airlines is not a member of Star Alliance, SkyTeam or OneWorld, an Hawaiian Miles card is of little use outside Hawaii.
America’s aviation industry is a tough and a thankless business where profits are typically illusive. Hawaiian emerged from bankruptcy in 2005 after it pruned wages, cut conditions, reduced on-board service and axed many routes. Hawaiian’s bosses believe the way to profitability is by forcing working conditions down and many staff resent their management team. Hawaiian’s corporate body can be underhanded and ruthless.
Hawaiian takes pride in the fact the airline has operated without a finality. The airline has only experienced two significant dramas; one in 1965 and their most recent one in 2000, caused by weather. The airline’s fleet is old by international standards; the average aircraft is 13 years old while the global average is 6.5. Aircraft maintenance is often outsourced, their 767’s being maintained by Air New Zealand Engineering, to the highest standards, for example.
Hawaiian is a disappointing airline that portrays a fun tropical theme but delivers mediocrity.
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