Hawaiian Airlines first class review: A330-200 San Diego to Honolulu

Hawaiian Airlines first class review: A330-200 San Diego to Honolulu

One of the best parts about being an airline blogger is flying really interesting airlines to my favorite places on earth. Technically, this is “work” and these are all “business trips”. But let’s be honest here – gathering the content needed for this Hawaiian Airlines first class review was some of the best fun I’ve had in a good long while.

It should be noted that Hawaiian Airlines first class reviews are nothing new to me. There was that really fun A321neo flight to Maui I reviewed last year. Back in 2015, I reviewed the their A330 first class product (both SAN-HNL and HNL-SAN) when they were still flying around with those dreaded old recliner seats.

But this time it’s different. This flight to Honolulu was my first time getting to experience the all new Hawaiian Airlines A330 lie flat first class product, and I could barely contain my excitement. Just another day at the office I suppose…

San Diego, CA (SAN) – Honolulu, HI (HNL)
Wednesday, December 4, 2019
Aircraft: A330-243
Registration: N375HA
Duration: 6 hours 7 minutes
Seat: 3J (first class)

Hawaiian Airlines A33-200 side view
Hawaiian Airlines A330-200 side view illustration by Norebbo.com
ha15 flight track
Our route from SAN to HNL this morning as HA15.

The full video review

Even though I have flown Hawaiian Airlines first class before and I already (kinda) knew what to expect, making my first ever video about the experience was tons of fun. Of course the fact that I was on my way to Hawaii probably had a lot to do with it, but whatever.

This was a really fun edit. I did have a bit of difficulty trying to decide if I was going to go all-in on Hawaiian-themed music for it, but in the end I decided that a more casual and “hip” approach was best. Thankfully, my buds over at Epidemic Sound have an extensive library of YouTube music for any occasion, so finding the perfect tracks for this video was not a problem. As usual.

Full transcript of my Hawaiian Airlines first class video (with pics!)

Hey everyone, it’s Scott from sanspotter.com here, and…uh…yeah. The weather is absolutely abysmal here in San Diego this morning, but I don’t mind. You see, I’m headed out to Hawaii today on Hawaiian airlines flight number 15 to Honolulu and (rumor has it) the weather is a little better out there than it is here.

hawaiian airlines first class check in SAN
Even though I’ve flown Hawaiian Airlines many times in the past, today is the day I get to try their new lie flat first class product on the A330. I am kind of bummed that I don’t have bags to check though, because…did I time my arrival perfectly or what?
snaspotter healthwhich
The first thing I always do immediately after clearing the security checkpoint here at San Diego International Airport is to grab a certain breakfast sandwich from a certain sandwich shop here in Terminal 2 West (even though there’s so much other good food in this airport). All of you OG SANspotter subscribers know exactly the sandwich I speak of….
Hawaiian Airlines A330
Guess what? These are the final days for the Hawaiian Airlines A330 here in San Diego. So sad.

Yup, the A330 that we San Diegan’s know and love being is swapped to the A321neo next month, which (I hate to say it) is enough of a downgrade for me to start considering other airlines (such as Alaska Airlines) for my future travels between San Diego and Hawaii. Unless of course, I start my own airline…

The boarding process for flight 15 to Honolulu

Ok, I suck really hard at math, which is good I guess, because fantasizing about starting an airline offering double-daily A380 service between San Diego and Honolulu made me feel real good inside as they initiated the boarding process. Yeah, it may be a stupid idea, but let me have my fantasy, ok?

Gate 50 san diego airport
Gate 50 SAN. You’d think there would be a lot more smiley faces in the gate area of a flight headed to Hawaii, wouldn’t you?

So this is it. The last time I’ll get to board a Hawaiian Airlines a330 here in San Diego. Unless, of course, they realize that the A321 is too small of an aircraft for this route and they bring the A330 back with their tail tucked between their legs. If they don’t, would any of you be willing to lend me $500 billion to start an airline? I’ll pay you back. I promise.

Hawaiian Airlines A330 lie flat first class seats

Here we go with my first ever experience with the Hawaiian Airlines lie flat first class seats. Well, technically, they are more like business class seats than anything else, but it is what it is.

Hawaiian Airlines first class cabin
Hawaiian Airlines first class cabin with lie flat seats – quite a stark contrast to the old first class configuration!
hawaiian airlines first class seats
I’ll be the first to admit that these aren’t the most attractive lie flat seats I’ve ever seen, but I *am* going to Hawaii today and I am in a better mood than usual, so I’m not complaining. At all.

These seats are very unique though, which is neat because, to me, its one of the things that sets Hawaiian Airlines apart from all the others. So far so good.

hawaiian airlines first class leg room
FYI, the leg room is quite generous – enough so that even window seat passengers have direct aisle access (even when the person in the adjacent seat is in a fully flat position). It won’t be a completely graceful exit to the aisle, but it’s definitely possible with minimal goofy-looking high-stepping involved.
hawaiian airlines first class drinks
Remember what I said earlier about maybe choosing another airline for my next trip to Hawaii? Can I take that back? There’s just something special about being handed a glass of guava juice from an excessively happy person in a floral shirt.
Hawaiian Airlines first class menu
The first class menu. Not surprisingly, Hawaiian Airlines serves authentic Hawaiian cuisine (which is something that no other airline is doing at the moment).

Anyway, this menu is just another thing that made me realize that I’m probably *not* going to go forward with the SANspotter Airways thing. I know for a fact that the food would be terrible on my airline, since I’d have all my money tied up my fleet of A380s.

There was a slight delay pushing off the gate, as we had to wait for a tour group of 50 people to arrive. Honestly, I don’t understand the need to swap the A330 to an A321. This flight is 100% full today, and from what I hear, it goes out full on a daily basis.

Woo hoo! A runway 9 (reverse ops) takeoff at SAN

The weather was absolutely abysmal, which means runway 9 was in use as we pushed off the gate. For those of you who are not familiar with the San Diego Airport, it’s an extremely rare occurrence which only happens a few times a year.

FYI, I’ve only had the opportunity to experience this one other time in my life and that was waaay before I started doing airline reviews. Heeeere we go….

Getting all settled in for the long flight to Honolulu

Is there no better feeling in the world than knowing that you’re officially on your way to Hawaii? Of course we just took off and there’s always the possibility of having to crash land into Tijuana or something, but for now I’m just gonna sit back, relax, and think of island stuff.

Hot towels were passed out within the first 10 minutes of flight, and from there, I proceeded to struggle to figure out how to recline the seat. Turns out that there is a dial in the arm rest that controls seat angle, which is something I would’ve known if I was paying attention to the video demonstration they played just before pushback.

hawaiian airlines first class review
Next, the flight attendants started coming through the aisles handing out huge 12.9” iPads for anyone who wanted to watch TV or movies.

While they were busy passing out the iPads, I had plenty of time to figure out how to configure my seat for said iPad.

hawaiian airlines first class ipad holder
iPad holder successfully deployed. Again, this would have been a lot easier if I was paying attention earlier, but I just gotta say that the satisfaction of figuring things out on my own is a very special feeling.

Hawaiian Airlines first class food

Macadamia nuts were served just before the main meal service. I paired it with a glass of water, and – I know. A Mai Tai would have been the proper choice here, but if there’s one thing that the brief look at the menu earlier taught me, it’s that I needed to pace myself. There’s a ton of very rich food coming…

hawaiian airlines breakfast
Starting things of light with an innocent-looking fruit plate.
hawaiian airlines first class breakfast
Hmmm. You know, if I were king of the world, I would make it illegal to put *anything* on pancakes other than maple syrup. I’m not an overly picky eater or anything, but I sure must have looked like one as I desperately tried to save my pancakes from being drowned in whipped cream.
Hawaiian airlines first class food
See what I mean about all the rich food? My blood sugar levels would have been in deadly territory if I indulged in a Mai Tai earlier, and arriving in Hawaii dead is *not* how I enjoy arriving in Hawaii. This is a pineapple vanilla shortcake by the way. And it was spectacular.

Upon completion of the breakfast service, I tried my best to get footage of me looking cool and sophisticated as I stowed the tray table. Unfortunately, I’m neither cool nor sophisticated, and I failed miserably.

Enjoying the ambiance of Hawaiian Airlines first class

With just about an hour and a half of flying time remaining, I felt an urge to get video footage of that big engine spinning right outside my window. Yup – I was kinda feeling like being “that guy”. You know, the guy who opens the window shade and blinds everyone in the cabin because he needs video footage of the engine. Do I be that guy? Or do I *not* be that guy?

hawaiian airlines first class entertainment
Long story short, I decided not to be that guy. Instead, I focused all my attention on being lazy in this lie flat seat while watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. A pretty good movie – in an awfully good seat. I highly recommend both.

These lie flat seats are pretty comfy when fully flat, and I know that I could sleep like a baby in one of these on a long flight down to Australia or something.

Hawaiian airlines first class snack
Sweet Maui onion potato chips for all just prior to landing.
flying over hawaii
Not only is it always exciting to get the first glimpse of the Hawaiian Islands after a long flight from the mainland, I was especially happy since the chances of ditching in the ocean and getting eaten by hungry ocean beasts was greatly diminished at this point. If we go down, I want to hit a rock. Not water.
SANspotter hawaiian airlines first class review
On a serious note, this flight has convinced me (once again) that Hawaiian Airlines first class is hands down the best way to and from the Hawaiian Islands – no matter what type of aircraft it is.

Sure, there are no lie flat seats on the A321s, but Hawaiian Airlines cabin service is so hard to beat that I’d personally choose that nonstop A321 out of San Diego instead of connecting at LAX or SFO to a United or Delta flight with lie flat seats. Really.

Arrival in Honolulu

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Honolulu!

arrival into honolulu
It’s over all ready? Hawaiian Airlines first class is so good that I’m rather bummed that it’s just about over.
Hawaiian airlines a330 HNL
It’s really hard to appreciate this pic without gentle island breezes blowing through your hair. Trust me – it was good to be standing there after a long flight from the mainland (and I don’t even have hair). If anything, it made me feel sorry for anyone having to make a short layover in Honolulu today. 

Wanna see more? Then do stay tuned for my next post, which is a full review of Hawaiian Airlines Extra Comfort (premium economy) on the flight back to San Diego from Honolulu.

Pros and cons of Hawaiian Airlines first class

As you might imagine, Hawaiian Airlines first class is really good. However, it’s not perfect and there were a few things about it that I didn’t particularly care for. Here’s a direct comparison of all the things that I liked and didn’t like about this particular experience:


  • The lie flat seats are very comfortable
  • The fact that they even offer a lie flat seating option is remarkable enough considering that that Alaska Airlines (one of their main competitors) does not. To see how they compare, do be sure to read my Alaska Airlines vs Hawaiian Airlines writeup.
  • Cabin crews are exceptional – very proactive and welcoming
  • High-quality food


  • The seats have limited privacy compared to what other airlines offer. A good example of this contrast can be seen in my United Airlines vs Hawaiian Airlines comparison.
  • Relatively small food portions
  • Video entertainment is via individual iPads (no in-seat video screens)
  • I personally find the cabin humidity levels to be lower on the A330 than they are on competing aircraft (such as the Boeing 777). If you’ve got delicate sinuses like I do, I highly recommend reading my A330 vs 777 comparison to read about more of my thoughts on this.

For the record, there was more that I liked about it then I didn’t. A better way of saying the same thing is that I consider Hawaiian Airlines first class to be the best domestic US first class product at the moment.It’s that good.

How much did I pay for this flight?

With so much competition on the SAN-HNL route, it’s no surprise that Hawaiian Airlines first class can be purchased relatively cheaply. I paid just $819 for this segment, which is an absolute steal considering the high levels of service that Hawaiian Airlines cabin crews provide. You also get a fully lie flat seat, so to me it’s a total no-brainer at this price.

(It should be noted that I was sponsored by Surfshark for this video, which helped to offset my out of pocket costs.)

To sweeten the deal, I purchased this ticket with my American Express Platinum card, which gives me 5 points for every dollar spent on airfare. That means I earned 2,268 Hawaiian Miles + 4,095 Amex Membership Rewards points, for a total of 6,363 points.

How I pay for all my travel expenses
The American Express Platinum Card
  • 100,000 welcome points (woo-hoo!)
  • Earn 5x points on flights and prepaid hotels
  • $200 hotel credit + $200 airline fee credit + $155 Walmart credit + $240 digital entertainment credit (and much more)
  • Transfer points to a wide variety of global airline and hotel partners
Sign me up!
Note: I may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Note that Membership Rewards points can be transferred to a wide variety of airlines at a 1:1 ratio, so I’m pretty happy with the amount of points I earned on this segment considering that I have no status on Hawaiian Airlines at all.

Comments (6)

  1. Camden Food & Co

    January 2, 2020
    • SANspotter

      January 3, 2020
  2. Andrew

    February 5, 2020
    • SANspotter

      February 5, 2020
  3. Albert

    March 17, 2020
    • SANspotter

      March 17, 2020

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