As travellers continue to flock to Hawaii and the United States, Hawaiian Airlines is preparing for its next big chapter. A suite of factory-fresh Boeing 787 aircraft will bring all-new Business Class and Economy Class experiences to the skies. And it’s a big step up from Hawaiian’s current jets – especially at the pointy end, with far more premium seats on every flight.

The Dreamliners are a project many years in the making. But come November, Hawaiian will finally get its first. I recently caught up with Avi Mannis – Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Hawaiian Airlines – to talk about that dream, and how Hawaiian is making it a reality.

Hawaiian Airlines' Avi Mannis
Avi Mannis has waited a long time to show off Hawaiian Airlines’ fresh new aircraft.

First up: will Hawaiian Airlines’ Boeing 787s fly to Australia?

With brand new aircraft on the way, and one key Australian route for Hawaiian Airlines, we know what you’re thinking. Will these Dreamliners hop onto the airline’s Honolulu-Sydney flights?

‘Australia remains one of our longest standing international markets,’ shares Mannis. ‘And one that I think has performed extremely well since the pandemic. We have an aircraft coming in November and another one in February (2024). So that fleet will start to build.’

Hawaiian Airlines' Boeing 787
Hawaiian Airlines will get its first Dreamliner before the end of the year.

‘We’re delighted with the performance of Sydney, and (we’re) interested in looking at other opportunities in Australia over time. At some point perhaps (the Boeing 787s) might change our thinking about where we fly in Australia and additional destinations, whether that’s Brisbane or somewhere else. But I think in the near term that’s unlikely to be one of the uses of those new aircraft.’

In other words, don’t expect Sydney to be one of Hawaiian Airlines’ first Dreamliner destinations. In fact, it remains to be seen whether the Boeing 787s will ultimately replace the airline’s Airbus A330 fleet, or will complement them to help the carrier expand.

‘We’re keeping our options open,’ Mannis continues. ‘We have 787s coming in, so it gives us some options on whether we take those as growth aircraft or replacement. Right now, I think we still see a lot of opportunity to grow.’

‘Initially, they’ll probably fly to the US mainland as we build up maintenance and crew experience with the aircraft. But over the long term, I think we can see them on many of our international routes that are longer haul.’

Where will Hawaiian’s Dreamliners fly, then?

‘Some of our domestic markets have a lot of premium demand,’ Mannis hints. And Hawaiian Airlines’ Boeing 787s ‘will have a significantly larger business class cabin’ to match. But we have to know, whereabouts will those first Dreamliners fly?

‘Some markets like Los Angeles-Honolulu – which are shorter than the maximum range of the 787, but on which it still performs very efficiently and where there’s a lot of Business Class demand – we will use the 787 as an aircraft in those markets.’

There we go! If you’re flying from Australia to the continental United States via Hawaii, keep your eyes on the Honolulu-LA route. You might just find a Boeing 787 scheduled onto the flight later in the year.

But there’s a twist. When airlines introduce a new type of aircraft, pilots first have to complete a certain number of shorter flights, before being able to command the aircraft on much longer routes. Does that mean we could even see Hawaiian Airlines’ Boeing 787s flying between the Hawaiian islands, such as from Honolulu to Maui?

‘The challenge of flying an aircraft like the 787 inter-island is that it’s so big. It’ll often take longer to board than it does to fly between the islands. And so that’s not terribly efficient, with the amount of ground time that it takes.’ Answer – no, no quick Dreamliner hops.

‘So we do expect to fly that aircraft to the US mainland. And then as we build experience and build the size of the fleet, it’ll go on some of those longer haul markets, and hopefully appear in Australia at some point.’

Hawaiian Airlines’ new Boeing 787 Business Class

Right now, Hawaiian Airlines’ best Business Class seat is on its Airbus A330s. But this cosy 18-seat cabin comes in a 2-2-2 layout. That’s fine if you’re jet-setting as a pair, but many solo travellers have come to expect direct aisle access from every seat.

The new Dreamliner cabin ‘is 1-2-1,’ Mannis proudly shares. ‘There’s the option to lower the partition between the two centre seats to create a sort of suite experience. And for our market, which is a leisure market, we have a lot of couples and a lot of families in Business Class. So we think that’s going to be a very special product. I’m very excited.’

So given that skew towards more leisure flyers than business travellers, how does that influence Hawaiian Airlines’ overall service?

‘It’s something we think about a lot in the design of products,’ Mannis continues. ‘And it’s not even just Business Class, but overall. Our passenger mix is different. We have a lot of families, we have a lot of couples – people who want shared experiences.’

On the current Airbus A330s, ‘there are some options for privacy’ in Business Class. ‘And that was a very deliberate choice. We think a lot about the guest experience – what people are doing.’

‘We’ve got to have a place there to put your Mai Tai, so you can take a picture of your Mai Tai as you’re taking off. And even things as detailed as the cocktail table are things that we think about, because that’s such an integral part of the experience, and being on your way, on vacation.’

Ad – Scroll down to continue reading.Minimum spend, terms & conditions apply.

Hawaiian Airlines’ Economy… and Premium Economy?

On those Airbus A330s, Hawaiian Airlines has two main levels of service – Economy and Business. But for those booking Economy Class, there’s a slightly elevated experience available at an additional charge, known as ‘Extra Comfort’.

Choosing a seat in one of these designated rows provides an array of perks. It begins with priority security screening and priority boarding on the ground. Once on board, these rows offer additional legroom compared to regular Economy. You’re still in an otherwise-standard Economy seat, but you get the Business Class amenity kit, too.

‘We’ll continue to have a lot of that Extra Comfort seating,’ Mannis assures of the Boeing 787. ‘And thus far, we’ve found that we are realising great demand for the Extra Comfort product.’

So with that strong demand for a better-than-Economy journey, might the airline introduce a more formal Premium Economy cabin? After all, that’s exactly what several of the major US carriers have done in recent years, including American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines.

‘We’re not planning to introduce it on the 787,’ Mannis advises. ‘We’ve looked at the international Premium Economy that’s out there. It ends up being a relatively small cabin for the size of our market. And, you know, every transition between a different class of service involves partitions. It takes up real estate that we could otherwise use for seating.’

‘We haven’t wanted to introduce the complexity of another seat product on our aircraft,’ when Hawaiian Airlines already has Extra Comfort. ‘But certainly, as guest needs change or the competitive set continues to evolve, maybe that’s something we look at in the future.’

For a closer look inside Hawaiian Airlines’ new Boeing 787 cabin, watch this five-minute video, featuring Avi Mannis and other Hawaiian Airlines executives. Our article continues below.

The next big step: Hawaiian Airlines’ lounges

With Hawaiian Airlines elevating its inflight experience, what’s happening with its lounges on the ground? After all, in an exclusive Point Hacks interview back in August 2022, Mannis’ colleague Andrew Stanbury tipped that Hawaiian’s overall airport lounge offering was under review.

On that review, ‘we’re still working through it,’ Mannis updates. ‘One of the complexities of our business is we have people travelling on very, very short flights, and we have people travelling on some very, very long flights. There’s no one size fits all solution to that.’

‘It’s already pretty complicated because we’ve got the Premier Clubs, which are small lounges that are really intended for our inter-island commuter travellers. We’ve (also) got The Plumeria Lounge in Honolulu.’

But, there could be something new on the way. ‘I think there’s room in our portfolio for a more flagship lounge product. But it’s something that we have to analyse carefully, and make sure that we’re not creating too much complexity in our product offering for a relatively small airline.’

Hawaiian Airlines is also assessing whether it can make its current lounges larger to satisfy increasing traveller numbers. ‘We’ve seen more demand for lounge access particularly as travel has come back after the pandemic,’ Mannis says. ‘We might look at whether we can either expand capacity or make more opportunities available for people to do things like use Priority Pass to access lounges.’

‘We have a lot of people who fly very regularly with us on a short flight and like the Premier Club as a place to stop in and get a cup of coffee. But given that they’re travelling on a 30-40 minute flight, they’re not going to spend an hour in the lounge with that full-service offering.’ It seems, it’s all a bit of a balancing act.

Hawaiian Airlines’ Virgin Australia partnership

Another item on Hawaiian Airlines’ agenda is looking at ways to further its partnership with Virgin Australia. But those plans were initially outlined last year, with no change yet.

‘Those conversations are still ongoing,’ Mannis acknowledges. ‘We’d very much like to find ways to deepen our relationship with our partners in international markets. Australia’s a great example of that.’ But it’s a challenge, ‘given how much bigger some of those loyalty programs are than our own.’

Hawaiian wants to ensure that ‘we don’t, by creating access (to lounges for partner airline elites), overwhelm the capacity of our existing lounges. It’s a relatively small set of lounges.’ But if Hawaiian were to increase space, it could pave the way for partner airline elites to gain access. This could potentially include Velocity Gold and Platinum members.

‘It’s something that we don’t want to do, and then degrade the experience for everybody by not having enough capacity.’ But perhaps, an easier place to start could be opening up priority check-in lanes to partner elites.

‘I think that’s probably an easier thing for us to work through than lounge access, because the capacity’s not as constrained. But we’re excited to talk to partners (about this), including Virgin Australia. It’s very important that the systems are well integrated and that it doesn’t put an undue burden on our frontline employees,’ Mannis says. This hints that procedure-wise, it works best when a member’s status displays on the booking and boarding pass.

‘It’s clearly an interest of ours to deepen the relationship and to improve the experience for Velocity members who travel on us. We’d like to be the carrier of choice for those members when they want to fly to Hawaii. And I would recognise that there’s work we have to do to earn that.’

Hawaiian’s own loyalty program, HawaiianMiles

Many Australian travellers would use Velocity to earn and burn points on Hawaiian Airlines flights. But there’s an alternative – HawaiianMiles. As for its Australian membership, ‘it’s still relatively small.’

‘We do have a base of members who are fairly passionate. They tend to be people who travel to Hawaii on a more regular basis. For them, HawaiianMiles can be a really attractive option because (Sydney-Honolulu) is a long-distance flight. The earn is pretty good on that.’

‘But we know that (HawaiianMiles) isn’t going to be the right choice for everybody, which is why we really value the partnership with Virgin. The goal is really to make sure that when someone’s travelling from Australia to Hawaii, that we’re in their consideration set for the kind of product experience and guest experience that we offer. And we don’t want loyalty programme choice to be an impediment to that.’

Still, other than flying, it’s quite hard to earn points with HawaiianMiles in Australia. Whereas with Velocity, the ability to earn points on the ground – particularly through credit card spend – likely keeps many Hawaiian regulars firmly in the Velocity camp.

‘We’re very open to exploring other points transfer arrangements, and we’ve had some discussions about those,’ Mannis says of Australia. But the goal remains for it ‘to be easy to book rewards with Hawaiian Airlines.’

Notably, HawaiianMiles members can book Hawaiian Airlines reward flights online, 24/7. Velocity members, on the other hand, can only do so by phone, and only during selected hours each day.

‘I don’t think we have any interest in making it hard through partners. It’s just, again, a bit of a technical thing. The integration behind the scenes is hard, but we hope, with our investment in a new reservation system, to be able to make that more seamless with more of our partners over time.’

Also read: How to hack your way to Hawaii with points

Chris Chamberlin travelled to Hawaii as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines.

Stay up to date with the latest news, reviews and guides by subscribing to Point Hacks’ email newsletter.
Hawaiian Airlines dreams big with new Dreamliners was last modified: August 24th, 2023 by Chris Chamberlin