Hawaiian Airlines is amid a period of reinvigoration. The traditionally-leisure carrier is tilting towards the more premium end of the travel market – but without losing that ‘Hawaiian holiday’ focus. It’s a reboot that marks a fresh chapter and a new beginning for Hawaii’s home airline.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the revamped Hawaiian Airlines feels like a completely different experience – and that’s only the beginning. As I sit here aboard Hawaiian’s factory-fresh Boeing 787, it’s clear: the step change from yesteryear is night and day.

To truly appreciate the comparison, I’ve just connected from a flight on Hawaiian’s Airbus A330 from Sydney. And in one word, the new Hawaiian Airlines is nothing short of ‘wow’. Admittedly, I’m very hard to impress. I’ve seen it all. But this is one of those rare times when you take a step back and say, ‘okay, this is quite something’.

One of the people driving that change is Avi Mannis. He’s Hawaiian Airlines’ Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer. We have a chance to catch up in Sydney – and again on board to Honolulu before I saunter onto the newest plane in the Hawaiian fleet. It’s fair to say Mannis is proud of the journey the airline is taking.

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Hawaiian Airlines’ new premium Dreamliner takes off

Until recently, the Airbus A330 was the staple of Hawaiian Airlines’ long-haul fleet. It’s still the aircraft type that appears on flights between Sydney and Honolulu. But there’s a new plane waiting in the wings – Hawaiian Airlines’ shiny new and premium-heavy Boeing 787.

For now, it’s appearing on US domestic routes only, beginning with flights between Honolulu and the US west coast. It initially debuted on Honolulu-San Francisco. Now, it’s appearing on selected services into Los Angeles – as well as Phoenix, where I’m headed today.

‘We knew that this was going to be a big step up for us in terms of product,’ Mannis reflects. ‘The core focus of our business is still leisure, but we’ve seen an evolution in that customer. I think, increasingly – especially post-pandemic – we’re seeing a real move towards premium leisure experiences. People are willing to pay for that calibre of product on their vacation.’

The new Dreamliner has ‘been super well received by our guests. It’s been very well received by our employees as well, and obviously, it’s a real source of pride for them to have a new flagship aircraft flying.’

‘For us, this is really not a change in strategy, but … an evolution towards a more premium expectation from guests. We’re especially excited about that product as we start to deploy it on some of our even longer-haul markets, where we know there’s a lot of premium demand.’ In other words, stay tuned.

There’s a new secret lounge at Honolulu Airport

Not content with a new aircraft alone, Hawaiian Airlines has something else special up its sleeve. And for a leisure airline, it’s something you mightn’t have expected.

‘We opened this little secret lounge called Apartment 1929,’ Mannis hints. The name is a nod to the year Hawaiian Airlines was founded. Interestingly, it’s not a space that can be accessed by First Class ticket or frequent flyer tier. This is something different.

It’s part of Hawaiian’s ‘premium airport service business … (which) you can buy to have a really amazing airport experience in Honolulu (when) arriving, departing, or connecting.’

‘It has a speakeasy feel to it. It’s an unmarked door with a doorbell in Honolulu Airport. It’s a space that you wouldn’t imagine existed behind that door. And then they’ll drive you to your aircraft. Given how expensive a destination Hawaii can be, how premium a destination Hawaii can be, we’re seeing a real demand for that.’

‘And what we find is it’s not just people who are travelling in Business Class who are choosing to upgrade their airport experience. It’s actually people who might be travelling in one of our Extra Comfort seats who want that kind of smooth, seamless airport experience and are willing to pay for that.’

Access to Apartment 1929 comes under the package of Hawaiian Airlines’ new Premium Airport Service. Pricing – which includes access to the private lounge among other travel benefits – starts at US$500 for two people. It’s not cheap, but the whole point is that it’s not for everybody: it’s Hawaiian Airlines’ most premium offering. Yet what’s in store for Hawaiian’s Airbus A330s, the plane that Aussie travellers at large still experience today?

‘The A330 is getting to a point in its lifecycle when it will probably be due for a cabin refresh. And so it’s something that we’re looking at options for now.’ Watch this space – Hawaiian Airlines is just warming up. Stay tuned as we bring you more exclusive stories from this journey.

Also read: Hawaiian Airlines dreams big with new Dreamliners

Feature image courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines. Other photography by Chris Chamberlin, who travelled to Phoenix as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines.

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Hawaiian Airlines’ premium push is taking off was last modified: May 31st, 2024 by Chris Chamberlin