Sunday, June 23, 2024

Hawaiian Airlines Has a New Business Class Cabin—and We Tried It Out

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Flying between the mainland and Hawai‘i is finally getting an upgrade—especially for premium leisure travelers.

Honolulu-based Hawaiian Airlines is undergoing a major aircraft refresh with up to 20 new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners—a firm order of 12 planes and an option for 8 more. Those first 12 planes are set to be introduced through 2028. The long-awaited jet first carried passengers between San Francisco (SFO) and Honolulu (HNL) in April, a debut about three years behind schedule thanks to manufacturing delays.

However, it was worth the wait for new business-class suites equipped with doors, extra-large overhead bins throughout all cabins, and the Dreamliner’s now-iconic electronically dimming window shades.

I was seated in business class on Hawaiian’s first Dreamliner flight from Los Angeles (LAX), a 2,500-mile journey across the Pacific. Here’s a rundown of what future fliers can expect.

The new Hawaiian Airlines business class

Hawaiian’s next-generation aircraft is equipped with 266 main cabin seats, 79 of which have extra legroom. However, what’s really exciting awaits passengers in business class.

Here, you’ll find a nine-row business-class cabin with 34 Leihōkū Suites (meaning “lei of stars” in Hawaiian), which is how the airline refers to its newest business-class seats. For the first time, the premium cabin on Hawaiian is set in a 1-2-1 configuration with doors for every seat, allowing direct aisle access from every lie-flat seat. Once the fleet is fully deployed, it’ll become the only carrier consistently offering this type of configuration to Hawai‘i. (While Delta Air Lines flies suites on select aircraft, those planes typically don’t fly domestically.)

Compared to Hawaiian’s previous generation Airbus A330 business class, which is arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration, the Dreamliner’s cabin is significantly more spacious and private. One upside, however, of the A330 setup is how optimal it is for couples.

Thankfully, the new Dreamliner is suited for both pairs and singles (but perhaps not ideal for couples who want a window seat). The window suites offer plenty of privacy for solo travelers while the center suites allow couples to sit close together in the reclined position if the partition is lowered. And while it’s not quite the double bed setup that you might see on select international carriers, it’s pretty darn close to it.

The new Leihōkū Suites are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration—there are a total of 34 in the business-class cabin.

From the moment you step aboard, details that showcase Hawai‘i’s natural beauty abound. Every passenger is greeted at the entryway by gorgeous koa wood paneling, frond-engraved art, and an ocean-colored aqua-green carpet. Then, in business class, there’s the fiber optic ceiling.

According to Avi Mannis, chief marketing officer at Hawaiian Airlines, the ceiling’s twinkling lights are a nod to constellations that guided early Polynesian voyagers. “We want our passengers to feel like they’ve begun their vacation from the moment they step onto our planes,” Mannis told Afar in an interview after the flight landed.

Each of the Adient Aerospace–manufactured business-class seats (a seat also found on Qatar Airways) is equipped with a large adjustable tray table and side cocktail area, an 18-inch in-flight entertainment screen, personal power outlets, and wireless phone charging.

Materials throughout the suite feel high-end with soft-touch surfaces, real wood paneling, and a decorative sconce light giving the compartment a rich glow. While each suite door must stay open for takeoff and landing, at cruising altitude, passengers can manually open and close their door for when they would prefer to have even more seclusion.

Unfortunately, a few technology features seen on other new aircraft are missing, including Bluetooth connectivity to personal headphones and USB-C charging in business class. (Oddly, there is USB-C charging in economy.) For travelers who want to stay connected, the biggest news is the lack of Wi-Fi—for now.

Thankfully, that will be changing in the coming months. Mannis promises fast and free Starlink service by next year. “We wish we had [it] at launch, but certification issues with Boeing means Wi-Fi won’t be a reality on our 787s until late this year or early 2025,” Mannis said. The airline first debuted Wi-Fi on planes in February on the Airbus A321neo aircraft. By the end of 2024, all of Hawaiian’s Airbus A330s should also be equipped with internet.

View of the TV screen and legroom area in Hawaiian Airlines' new business-class seat

In the new business-class seats, Hawaiian Airlines passengers can stretch out and relax while being served a food and beverage menu with numerous island influences.

While the cabin itself is brand new, the in-flight experience and services haven’t changed for the most part—and that’s not a bad thing. Flight attendants offer business-class passengers a predeparture beverage choice of prosecco, POG juice (passion fruit, orange, and guava), or mai tais, while soothing Hawaiian music plays during boarding. The meals include creations from executive chefs Wade Ueoka and Michelle Karr-Ueoka of MW Restaurant in Honolulu. From the Maui Brewing Company beer to the white Hawaiian rum, there are numerous touches to make it feel like you’re already on the islands while at 35,000 feet. “One point of differentiation is our hospitality and service. We’re just a cut above the rest,” Mannis noted.

What’s next for Hawaiian Airlines

For the next several months, these Dreamliners will be deployed on select flights from Los Angeles (LAX) and Phoenix (PHX) to Honolulu (HNL)—the aircraft is no longer flying from San Francisco for the time being. However, as more planes enter the fleet, expect this next-generation aircraft to fly longer distances across the lower 48, including to Asia and to the South Pacific.

Besides factory-fresh Dreamliners, Hawaiian may soon have a new owner in the coming months. In late 2023, Alaska Airlines agreed to purchase the 95-year-old carrier for $1.9 billion. However, the deal hangs in the balance and still needs to be approved by the federal government.

Mannis seemed confident that the sale will go through and once it’s done, it’ll be a boon for travelers. “Now is a really exciting time to get on the Hawaiian bandwagon,” he said. “Not only do we have new planes, but our tie-up with Alaska will mean expanded access to partners within the oneworld Alliance and more ways to earn and redeem miles.”

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