Heads up! This is a vintage airline review. Be sure to read my latest Hawaiian Airlines A330-200 first class review to see what the experience is like today. Basically, it kicks the snot out of what you’re about to read.
Segment 1 0f 2: San Diego to Honolulu
I was pretty excited when I booked this reservation, mainly because I’ve never had the chance to try Hawaiian Airlines first class before. I knew it wasn’t anything special compared to other US airlines, but still. The service on every other Hawaiian Airlines flight I’ve been on has been top notch so I was expecting good things in the front cabin.
But if I’m being totally honest, I would have been excited about this even if I wasn’t flying first class. You don’t have to twist my arm very hard to convince me to go to Hawaii.
San Diego, CA (SAN) – Honolulu, HI (HNL)
Friday, November 6, 2015
Seat: 3H (first class)
I arrived at SAN about three hours before departure, which to most probably seems absurdly early. I wouldn’t disagree, but I like to arrive early to avoid any and all stress. Besides – airports (especially terminal 2 here at SAN) are nice places to hang out and get some work done assuming that things aren’t too busy. Friday mornings aren’t usually busy anyway, and this morning was no exception.
I hung out at the departure gate (51) for a while, then decided to get up and walk around once it started filling up with other passengers. Gate 51 has a very large and wide open seating area, but it fills up fast with Airbus A330 sized loads.
I boarded the aircraft as soon as they called for zone 1 (first class passengers), hoping to be one of the first on the airplane so I could get some unobstructed pics of the first class cabin. It didn’t quite work out that way – the cabin was half full by the time I got onboard so I had to make due with what I had.
The rest of the first class passengers slowly trickled in during the entire boarding process, with the flight attendants coming by and offering a choice of three beverages: guava juice, champagne, or a combination of both. I went with straight guava juice – seemed appropriate and in theme to kick off a trip to the islands!
The window seat next to me remained empty all the way up until the end of the boarding process, and I was actually getting excited about the possibility of moving over into the window seat. That’s what I wanted anyway, but none were available at the time of booking. Alas, it was not meant to be.
A very large (and very friendly) Samoan guy came onboard right at the last moment and claimed it. He later said that he was on his way to visit his family in Samoa, and being the big guy that he is, economy class was simply not an option! He laughed about how uncomfortable flights to Samoa are due to the fact that everyone is (on average) so big…
The flight attendants came through the cabin taking lunch and drink orders, and pushback was right on time. We were off and on our way without delay, and as an added bonus, I discovered that one of the guys I follow on Instagram (@mykingdomphotography) got a great pic of our aircraft rotating out of SAN that morning:
Agriculture forms were distributed just after departure, and I was surprised that hot towels were not. It’s not a big deal to me, but that seems like a fairly standard practice for even domestic US first class service. I should note, however, that the hot towels came after dinner – which makes sense I guess. And boy were they hot. Ouch!
Lunch service, as expected, was great. Not as high-quality as something you’d experience in international first class on an Asian airline, but probably some of the best food I’ve ever had on a domestic US flight. Even the service was top-notch. The flight attendants were super friendly, professional, and most importantly: proactive.
They came through the aisles on a regular basis during all phases of the flight checking up on everyone to make sure their drink glasses were filled and everyone was happy.
I passed the time watching Entourage and then episodes of Big Bang Theory. The movie was so-so, but I’m a pretty huge Big Bang Theory fan so that’s never a bad way to kill time in my book.
The combination of comfortable seats and top-notch flight attendants made the flight go by in the blink of an eye, and we ended up arriving in Honolulu about 30 minutes early. That was great for vacationers like me, but not so great for my seat mate who was already facing a 3 hour layover before his flight to Samoa.
We chatted for a bit as we landed and pulled into the gate, and yeah…I’m not going to lie when I say that it felt great to step off that airplane and feel that warm tropical air.
Segment 2 of 2: Honolulu to San Diego
After 2 fun-filled days frolicking around the island of Oahu, it was time to return to reality.
I grabbed a taxi from the hotel, and was standing curbside at HNL less than 20 minutes later. That might have been the quickest trip to Honolulu International Airport from Waikiki that I’ve ever experienced, which didn’t really do me any favors since I still had over 3 hours before my flight home to SAN.
Honolulu, HI (HNL) – San Diego, CA (SAN)
Sunday, November 8, 2015
Seat: 2C (first class)
I quickly checked into the flight from one of the many kiosks in the main terminal, then wiggled my way through crowds of people to find the end of the security checkpoint queue. It was long.
And there weren’t any first-class priority lanes other than the Precheck line that they seemed to be letting anyone use since things were so busy. But all in all it wasn’t much of a wait, as I was through and into the main terminal in less than 15 minutes.
I’ve said it before, but I love the Honolulu airport. The sense of nostalgia is great here, as the old open air terminal is still standing just as it was before the newer (and more modern) main terminal opened. The old driveways and boarding lanes for the old terminal are still there, just as they used to be, and you can easily imagine how cool it would have been to arrive to this simple open air terminal as opposed to having to go through the hugely modern and soulless terminal that exists now.
I spent the majority of my time walking around, checking out the Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club, and basically feeling bummed that I had to go back home. Hawaii always does this to me. I don’t think I could live on the islands full time, but I would really like to spend extended periods of time here. Sigh. Oh well – time to go home.
I know that I’ve already posted a ton of pics of the Hawaiian Airlines first class recliner seats for the SAN-HNL segment (above) , but I’m going to to it again now simply because I was seated in the center section this time. The feeling was slightly different than before:
Now that I already knew what to expect from Hawaiian Airlines first class (the flight over from SAN was great!), I was able to feel a bit more relaxed as I was getting settled and waiting for the boarding door to close. Well, I tried to relax – the guy next to me in seat 2D was as fidgety as a 3 year old.
He was about my age, but I swear he couldn’t sit still for more than 30 seconds without re-rranging something or sighing heavily and looking around or reading a magazine…or whatever. He was exactly the kind of person I try to avoid contact with on airplanes, because I feel overwhelmingly paranoid that they just want someone to talk to.
I don’t mind quick hello’s and small talk, but other than that I prefer to keep to myself and be as relaxed as possible in my own little world. This guy was truly my nemesis! Lol…
Despite the distraction, I remained focused on my pre-departure guava juice as I perused the dinner menu. I should note that the flight attendants were very proactive so far – they were quite busy welcoming passengers, serving drinks, and taking orders for dinner. Service like that while we are still on the ground is something I definitely like to see!
We pushed back right on time and blasted off the reef runway just a few minutes later. Additional beverages and a light snack were served shortly after take off, and I watched a few TV shows on the personal video display while I waited for lunch to be served.
I was getting pretty hungry at this point – my last meal was an acai bowl from Island Vintage Coffee earlier that morning, and considering it was now shortly after 4pm, my body was more than ready for food.
Just like on the SAN-HNL flight two days earlier, appetizers were served first, followed by the main course, then finished with dessert. The only notable thing about the presentation of the meal was when the main course was served. The flight attendant simply said “here’s lunch…or…dinner…or whatever you want to call it…” as she placed it on my tray.
Not that I was expecting an eloquent presentation of the meal or anything, but her lack of experience came through loud and clear. Not a big deal though – she was very young and obviously new to this, so I didn’t think much of it. She’ll have to polish her game if she wants to work on an Asian or Middle Eastern airline though!
With dinner complete, I spent the rest of the flight watching watched Friends, Louis, Mike and Molly, and a couple other TV sitcoms while my seat mate continued to figit and bounce from one distraction to the next. The flight attendants continued to be proactive throughout the flight making sure that everyone was happy.
Surprisingly, we started our decent into SAN about 30 minutes early – which was a very good thing since we had been scheduled to arrive at 11pm and I had to get up early the next morning and go to work. Having that extra 30 minutes was very much a good thing!
So that wraps up this Hawaii trip report. I had a really great time, though I could have easily spent another day (or 10…or 60) there sitting around and doing absolutely nothing. The flights on Hawaiian Airlines were quite good as well – better than I had been expecting actually, and it was a total bummer when the seatbelt sign was turned off and they turned on the cabin lights once we parked at the gate in San Diego.
Thank you for posting this report. I will also be seated in seat 3H from SFO to HNL in October 2016.
You’re welcome! You’ll definitely enjoy the experience, though by that time they will have already started rolling out their new lie-flat seats in first class. So there is a chance you’ll get to try that either on the outbound or return (or both). Either way, have fun!
Thank you so much for this! Very detailed! I was looking for info (or a photo) on the extra comfort chairs right behind first class and if there was a wall (I hate bulkhead seats with the wall as I’m unable to extend my legs). Looks like just a curtain so looks like a good deal. Thanks again! Hope you enjoyed the islands!
You’re welcome Jason! I’m glad this was helpful to you! One important thing to note about this is that Hawaiian is in the process of rolling out a new first class cabin on their A330’s, so I’m not sure if they put in a wall or not between the two cabins. Chances are you’ll still get the old first class cabin (the one in this review) on flights from the mainland to the islands, but not for much longer. I believe all aircraft will have the new cabins by late this year or early next.
Do you have a recommendation on what side/row/seat of the airplane to sit on for the best views flying into HNL?
Definitely sit on the right side of the aircraft for arrivals into HNL from the mainland. Most of the time, you’ll skirt along the south shore with a great view of Waikiki and Honolulu on the way in.
For departures, I recommend the left side (since most departures from HNL are to the east – and you’ll get another really great view of Waikiki).
Thank you so much! Looking forward to flying into HNL (on the Right side 🙂 for the first time in Sept.
Have really enjoyed your Youtube videos.