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REVIEW: Hawaiian Airlines First Class (Honolulu - Kahului, Oahu)


Even though the five-hour flight over from Los Angeles wasn’t any where near one of the longer flights I’ve ever taken, I still found it necessary to stretch my legs a bit after exiting the plane. I pulled out my camera and went about Honolulu International Airport (HNL) doing some minor plane spotting.

Feeling invigorated and more awake, I slowly meandered through HNL toward the Interisland terminal where Hawaiian Airlines (HA) operates the majority of its traffic between the Hawaiian isles. While I was able to interline my baggage all the way to my final destination, I wasn’t able to get tickets to board my Hawaiian Airlines flights. After entering the terminal I quickly located a transfer desk operated by Hawaiian Airlines staff and collected my boarding pass. The agent working the desk was neither friendly nor unfriendly, performing her job with a robotic quality that was a bit unnerving.

Boarding pass in hand I started to make my way back toward the directory to see if I could locate the Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club lounge since I was flying on a First class ticket I happened to glance down at my boarding pass while walking and noticed that the name printed across it was nothing remotely close to mine. A bit surprised and shocked, I headed back to the desk and pointed out the error to the agent. She became a bit flustered (which was nice, since it required emotion. Hey, you are human!) and quickly fixed the issue. She kept saying, “I have no idea how this happened….!” Trying to save time, I asked her where the lounge was located. “It’s that way….” she said with a half-hearted flick of her wrist.

That’s so helpful and descriptive. Thanks.

Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club Lounge HNL and OGG

Despite the agent’s best attempted to ruin my travel day, I was able to locate the Premier Club lounge a few minutes later.

The abandoned wheelchair partially blocking the path into the lounge should have been my first tip that this experience was going to be sub-par.

I entered the lounge and immediately presented my boarding pass and ID to verify that I was allowed to enjoy the facilities. The lounge agent (or “dragon” as so many frequent flier like to say) was friendly, smiling broadly and invited me to “enjoy the Aloha hospitality”.

The lounge itself was a bit crowded, though there were still plenty of seats available for me. The difficult part about selecting a seat was looking for an open outlet to charge some of my electronics. For me, this is #3 on the list of important airline lounge attributes, directly behind “Good food/beverages” and “good aviation geek views”. Sadly, this lounge seemed to have very few outlets, and the only one that was open was located right next to the big screen TV with pretty much every seat filled around it. So I settled in, plugged my laptop in for a good charge, and made my way around to see what else was on offer.

Wicker furniture and faded flower print for as far as the eye can see….

Overall, the lounge had certainly seen better days. As I looked around, it was clear that this lounge was in desperate need of some attention from Hawaiian Airlines. There didn’t seem to be any concern about the aging quality of the furniture, the beat up cushions, stained carpet, or even the scuffed walls.

The only food offering available was standard aviation snack mix packet, though on my first pass the basket was empty and only refilled about an hour after I entered.

This basket of snack mix was located on a counter along with a self-service soda fountain and a small fridge featuring passion fruit – orange – guava (POG) juice in packaging that can only be described as “elementary school-ish”.

Overall, I was completely unimpressed with HA’s HNL Premier Club lounge. It is, currently, the 2nd worst lounge I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. I’m sure some might find that a bit off-putting. Yes, I’m flying First class and am able to access a private facility with free snacks and drinks away from the hustle and bustle of the terminal. But remember I’m coming at this as an experienced traveler who has visited quite a few airline lounges within the United States and across the globe. When compared to everything else I’ve seen, this one was pretty awful.

The worst lounge I’ve ever been to you might be asking yourself? Oh, well that would be HA’s Kahului (OGG) Premier Club in Maui. I got to experience that gem of an offering on my way back to HNL. To simplify the review, let me show you a few pictures from the OGG lounge and give a short description after:

Oy. What to say about this place?

I suppose one “positive” was that it was much easier to locate than the HNL club. However when I walked up to the doors and pulled on them I discovered that they were locked. I waited a minute thinking someone would hear me struggling with the door and come open it, only to finally realize that there was a key pad on the door and a sign off to the side indicating that one couldn’t enter without the code.

Oh. great. Why didn’t anyone mention this to me when I checked in?

I wandered over to an information desk nearby and asked the staff if they knew the code. Without verifying my ticket, the woman offered me the code and sent me on my way. True to her word, the code worked and I was inside the lounge. No staff in sight, no one to verify my ticket. No one to clean up the messes left by passengers, no one to notice that someone had spilled soda all over the counter. The lounge appears to be completely unstaffed, though I’m sure someone swings by on occasion to check on things.

The lounge itself featured the same beverage (plus a self-service pop machine - a nice touch!) and snack mix offerings as the HNL club. Similarly, the furniture and condition of the lounge was just as antiquated and beat up. The one odd feature of the lounge was a large open tiled area between the food/beverage area and the sitting areas. It was empty, dead space that served no purpose and when you're in the room you notice just how unnecessary the huge gap is.

Overall, it was the most miserable lounge I’ve ever been allowed to enjoy. I stuck around solely for the free WiFi access and wasn’t sad to leave at all when my flight back to HNL started boarding.

Hawaiian Airlines Inter-island First Class HNL-OGG-HNL

Similar to the lounges, I’m going to give a run down of my roundtrip travel since the product was exactly the same on both legs.

As I mentioned in my summary of this trip, my award ticket only took me as far as HNL. I needed to book a separate ticket to get to OGG, and when it comes to inter-island flights in Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines is the airline that dominates. I originally booked an economy class seat for the trip between HNL and OGG, but when I was doing online check-in for my HNL-OGG leg I was offered an upgrade to First class for $50. Now, my immediate reaction was to blow past the offer since I’d rarely pay that kind of money to upgrade on such a short flight. My curious nature got the best of me though, and since I was on vacation with some extra cash on hand I decided to give the upgrade a shot to see why Hawaiian Airlines would even bother with a 2 cabin service on such a short flight.

Upgrade paid for and boarding pass in hand, I made my way down to the gate for my HNL-OGG leg to start my adventure with Hawaiian. I’ve flown Hawaiian Airlines on numerous occasions before, but this would be my first time in F. Boarding was announced with the F cabin and Hawiian Airlines elite members invited to come aboard first. Following that, HA boarded this flight based on rows, back to front. I was caught up on my cell phone trying to solidify the logistics of my pick up from the airport when I landed, so I was the last person to board the flight.

I was welcomed aboard by one of the prettiest FAs I’d seen in a long time. My boarding pass was for 1A, but when I rounded the bend I discovered a gentleman had already claimed the seat. I typically enjoy window seats on short flights because I’m a big fan of the amazing views one can get when flying, and Hawaiian inter-island flights are some of the best for interesting views. I decided it wasn’t worth the fight this time though, and plopped myself down into the aisle seat. The First cabin on this inter-island flight consisted of 8 seats, 2-2 spacing in two rows.

The seat itself was comfortable, though nothing markedly different from an economy seat. The lateral space was slightly larger and leg room was ample, but so far I wasn’t seeing the allure of spending $50 more on this seat. The FA swung by and offered me a pre-departure beverage, despite being the last passenger. My water was brought quickly and with a smile.

The captain came on the PA and announced our short flight time and before I knew it we were in the air. By this time I had ascertained that my seat mate was what one of my exs would call a “character”. He kept his iPad out the entire flight, even during take off. He was engrossed in a game of Angry Birds and very loudly lamented his inability to kill all the pigs on the screen. It seemed he believed that the harder he hit the screen with his finger the faster the birds would fly. I spent most of the flight wondering if he was going to poke his finger right through the glass surface of the tablet. All this forceful poking allowed me to take note that he had acrylic press-on nails on each finger, though they weren’t very long at all. He reeked of alcohol, which normally would be a red-flag to FAs, but seemed to be on a first name basis with the FAs on this flight as well as a couple who were seated across the aisle from us, though he wasn’t traveling with them. I’m assuming this familiarity was part of the reason the FAs never asked him to put away the iPad during taxi and landing.

In-flight service from the FAs was a beverage of your choice and the same tired snack mix you’d received in the lounge prior to the flight. I wasn’t expecting much more considering the flight length was so short. In coach the FAs simply walk down the aisle with a box loaded with the POG juice offered in the lounge, so getting a choice of beverage with the snack mix was certainly a step-up, though certainly not $50 worth of a step-up.

I was upgraded on my return flight from OGG to HNL and I was wondering if my experience would be any different. Of course, the answer was no.

The same seat, with the same limited upgrade in space. This time I went with the POG juice instead and sat in the 2nd row of F.

The one thing I will say about Hawaiian Airlines is that their FAs are very friendly and genuinely seem to enjoy their jobs. Despite being in the air for less than an hour, every FA I encountered in the air wore a giant smile and always aimed to make sure the passengers were happy.

My overall impression of Hawaiian Airlines inter-island First: A nice offering for such a short flight, but I’d never actually pay for it. If I was using miles for a premium cabin seat continuing on from the mainland, or if it was given to me for free, I’d certainly be happy with what Hawaiian is offering. As a paying customer, or even as an upgrading customer for $50, I didn’t think it was worth the money. The flight is too short to enjoy the additional space, and the choice of a beverage with snack mix simply doesn’t rise to the level of “good value”. It looks like from now on my inter-island flights in Hawaii will be in the back of the aluminum bus.

I will say that Hawaiian’s FAs made me curious to see what their international premium cabin service is like. I already know the hard product is nowhere near what I’ve come to expect for long haul flights, but I suspect that one day I’ll be giving Hawaiian Airlines a chance to fly me a longer distance in First. Maybe to Japan, South Korea, or Australia?


Country Count: 70/193

Hello! I'm David - world traveler, food aficionado, gay dude, and storyteller.  This is where I share amazing sights, delicious dishes, LGBT travel advice, & my favorite stories!


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