In today’s flight review, we travel on board Hawaiian Airlines’ overnight service from Sydney, Australia to Honolulu, USA – one of only two overnight services on offer between Australia and the USA. Last year, the island carrier made good on their long promised upgrades for the Business Class cabin, starting to roll out lie-flat seats across their A330 aircraft for the first time – a roll out which will continue across their international network through to the end of the year. So was the upgrade worth the wait? Read on to find out.
Airline: Hawaiian Airlines
Route: Sydney to Honolulu (HA452)
Seat: 2G – Middle Aisle Seat (2-2-2 layout across three rows)
Scheduled Flight Time: 9 hours and 10 minutes.
On Schedule? Slightly late departure but early arrival.
Frequent Flyer Program:
Hawaiian Airlines’ program is called HawaiianMiles. You can read more about it here. They’re also part of the Velocity program, which means you can earn Velocity points and status credits on this flight – though the only other reciprocal benefit they offer is lounge access. Don’t expect to skip the queues with your gold or even platinum status. Also, given the airline’s already generous baggage policy, there’s nothing extra to be gained there either. So, if you plan to be flying often with the airline, it’s definitely best to go into their own HawaiianMiles program.
My Business Class ticket got me into the excellent Qantas business class lounge, though with a Gold or Platinum Velocity you can also get into the SkyTeam Exclusive Lounge if on an economy ticket. The Qantas lounge has self service alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and a readily stocked buffet with fried rice, pasta, soup and a selection of cold salads, as well as ice cream and desserts. They make regular announcements for all flights, including that of Hawaiian Airlines. The flight itself leaves from Gate 9 which is in the recently renovated duty free area – over which the Qantas lounge sits. So it’s as short a walk as you can get to the gate, and Business Class enjoy their own entry.
Check-In and Baggage:
Back at check-in, guests will find just one stand for Business Class and “Premier Club” members, which kept it a slow moving line at first, but with only 18 seats in the class, you’re not going to be waiting long regardless. Once at the counter it was a quick and painless check in. Business Class travellers are provided with Express Path entry, allowing you to skip the majority of the queue in customs, which honestly isn’t needed this time of night – short of any significant backlog from another airline. Plus, now that passport control is almost entirely automated, it’s as painless a process as it’s ever been.
As for baggage, any ticket which originates or ends in Australia will give you the luxury of two 32kg bags, no matter which is remarkable for any airline. Usually you’ll only enjoy 23kg. If you plan to fly with Hawaiian Airlines on Inter-Island flights within Hawaii, make sure to have all the flights on the one ticket to avoid additional baggage fees.
Flying out of Sydney International Airport:
The Honolulu service holds the unique distinction of being one of only two night flight between Australia and the United States, and it’s a stark variation of the normal morning departure. You’ll find a much quieter airport and I was sitting in the lounge less than 40 minutes after arriving at the airport. Also worth noting? Hawaiian have themselves a gate right next to runway, meaning you’ll often be in for a super quick takeoff. It does not come any easier than this to get you in the air.
We had a late departure, so only water was offered to us on our arrival (usually you’ll be greeted with the signature Hawaiian cocktail, the Mai Tai). They come around and ask you to order your meal before you take off, providing you with a menu from the airline’s Executive Chef Chai Chaowasaree, choosing between a steak, a salmon dish and a vegetable pasta, accompanied by either a cheese plate or a forest mushroom soup. I went for the steak and the soup, and I made sure to sneak in an order for a Vodka Lychee Martini, too. A mango cheesecake with pineapple was served as dessert. This was all served about an hour after we hit elevation.
The meal was filling and delicious – though chances are you’re not going to be overly hungry after spending time in the lounge. The adorable salt and pepper shakers added some extra flavour, too. As for breakfast, you have the option to be woken for a full meal about an hour and a half to two hours before landing, or you can skip that for a “light breakfast” 45 minutes prior to landing. In between, they offer snacks (I didn’t get around to asking for today’s selection), and bring you kettle chips alongside mid-flight drink orders.
After a few Mai Tais and a few hours sleep, I was woken up about an hour and 45 minutes before landing with a very welcome hot towel. It wasn’t long before breakfast was served – with passion orange guava juice (a signature of the airline) and hot tea, with an actual teabag and an actual side of milk (can you hear the economy flyer inside me shouting out in celebration?). The meal itself was a cheese and mushroom omelette with potatoes and bacon, a cheese and mushroom muffin and fresh fruit. Like the dinner, it was a delicious mix of food, well plated and presented on a bespoke tray (on top of your own linen-covered table, of course).
The only downside to the Hawaiian Airlines Business Class experience is a lower-quality in-flight entertainment. Rather than an existing screen within your “pod”, you’re provided with an iPad, and some excellent headphones, with a rather clever “telescoping tablet arm” that pops up in your seat. If you don’t want to take their unit, you can put your own tablets in the holder, and I managed to even fit my iPhone in there. If you want to charge it, you’ll find two USB ports in your seat, as well as an international AC adaptor you can use for your own devices, such as a laptop.
The iPad came with 22 new release movies and about as many TV series. Also a series of albums and 5 games. It was a surprisingly small collection, with dozens more movies and TV shows available to passengers in the main cabin. But the large iPad is certainly the superior viewing device. note that some films have been edited for content, so look out for the notice at the start of the film if you.
As you arrive on board, you’ll enjoy warm colours and wind swept design meant to represent the tropical paradise that serves as your destination, plenty of relaxing Island music (featuring plenty of ukulele, naturally), and the crew bring around a hot towel prior to takeoff. For this evening flight, it’s a sure way to push you into a state of relaxation. The crew also come around to put your mattress cover over your seat, to ensure you can get to sleep as soon as you hit elevation – if you so wish. While you wait, a footrest built into the “pod” allows you to spread your legs out on take off.
If you don’t know your neighbour, you can also throw up a privacy divider (after take off), though as I didn’t have a neighbour it wasn’t necessary for this flight. Sitting in the middle is definitely the way to go as a solo traveller, as the 2-2-2 layout doesn’t give window seat holders direct aisle access. The cabin, which only has 18 seats, has maintained the 2-2-2 layout, rather than the ever popular 1-2-1 layout, as its destination – Honolulu – is popular for couples and families, rather than solo business travellers. It also allows them to fit more people into the cabin!
The seats themselves are exceptionally comfortable whether laying flat or sitting upright – made ever more so by the mattress cover and a pillow which fits comfortably around the seat, at a position that suits you. A thick blanket and a larger pillow will also help with your slumber when you are ready to lay flat, a feature that opens itself up via a swivel button in the pod, and you have a 76-inch bed to enjoy.
At 20.5 inches wide, the seat is on the narrower side of the business class bed offerings (Singapore Airlines offer up to 34 inches, though that’s hardly a fair point of comparison) – designed as such to facilitate the six seats per row – but it’s as comfortable as any flat bed I’ve ever slept on, and I had a great sleep when I was finally able to turn down the Mai Tais and stop my Netflix binge (which I was enjoying on my own device).
In Flight Amenities:
Business class travellers will enjoy an amenities kit with socks (that look like “flip flops”), toothbrush and toothpaste, pen, lip balm, ear plugs and comb. Elsewhere you’ll find yourself some slippers. The dedicated bathroom for business class travellers sits right next to the cockpit, so there’s noting extra in terms of size, but you’ll enjoy some extra toiletries and flowers.
If you’re not flying business class, splash out for the Extra Comfort seats, and try to get into the front of the cabin, as the first two rows enjoy their own private section, right behind business class.
Flying Business Class often provides a skewed view of an airlines’ customer service, because they are expected to go above and beyond for their highest paying flyers – but not all airlines are equal, even in this respect. Hawaiian Airlines’ crew could not have been more helpful or accommodating, from my time at check in (I had a couple of slightly complicated booking related enquiries to make), to my time landing in Honolulu.
Arriving at Honolulu International Airport:
The crew bring out maps of the island shortly before landing and show a few promotional videos, offering important information about arriving in Honolulu and filling out your forms.
Once I landed, customs didn’t take too long (it’s a far easier experience than what you’ll find at LAX), and there was quick and delivery of bags, which I had in my hands less than 30 minutes after disembarking. From there it was a bit of a walk to get out of the terminal – but you spend part of that time outdoors, which is nice – a rarity for any major airport. Don’t expect readily available plugs and USB ports though. It looks like it’s been a long while since they’ve upgraded the terminal – though posters around the airport confirmed they were undergoing upgrades through 2021. It’s fair to say the impact is minimum we speak, but expect plenty of improvements in the years to come. Hopefully it doesn’t lose any of its charm in the process.
If you’re heading into Honolulu, there are readily available shuttle buses to rental cars, taxis and ubers, and everything is clearly signposted.
Connections to Mainland USA:
If you’re not staying in Hawaii, chances are you’re connecting onto another flight that will take you to mainland USA, with the airline offering excellent connection services to destinations across the USA, including Los Angeles, Portland, New York, Las Vegas, Seattle, Chicago and more. In many cases, it can be a quicker and easier alternative to connecting via Los Angeles due to the faster moving airport, and the convenience of the transfers – as well as the consistency of the flights themselves. The opportunity to spend some time in Hawaii en route doesn’t hurt, either. Most flights will get you in pretty late in the evening, too, which will help keep jetlag at bay – allowing you to head straight to sleep on arrival!
After you pick up your bags, you’ll drop it off to a transit desk before you exit the baggage claim area. From there it’s a long walk to go back through security and board your next plane, but at least you don’t have to worry about anything bar your carry on.
Firstly, I have to talk about the convenience of the flight time itself. If you’re staying in Hawaii, your night flight delivers you to Honolulu mid-morning, which is much preferred to the 6am arrival of most direct flights to Los Angeles – on a flight which left in the first place mid-morning, making sleep a difficult commodity. If you’re connecting through to the West Coast mainland USA, as I was, you’ll also likely land in the late evening and be able to head straight to bed – another incentive. If you need a flight to help fight jetlag, this is the one.
The only downside to this argument is the shorter flight time – you’re just not going to be able to get the lengthy sleeps that the far longer flight direct to Los Angeles will offer. But it’s a small price to pay for what is as easy a flight as you’re going to get between our two countries.
And if you’re flying business class, with the exception of the lack of direct aisle access for those on the window seat, this is as good as any lay-flat service you’ll find across the pacific. And you’ll find it’s quite affordable compared to other airlines. The seats are brand new, comfortable and you’d have to be a pretty bad flyer not to get a good night’s sleep on board. Pair that up with excellent service, great food and some superb cocktails you won’t find anywhere else, and it’s clear there’s no better way to travel to Hawaii.
To book yourself on a flight with Hawaiian Airlines, head to their official website.
The writer travelled on this service as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines. The headline and final photo have been provided by Hawaiian Airlines. Other photos by the author.