When I booked a last-minute trip to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines, I was initially excited. I'd flown Hawaiian some years ago and found the spirit of aloha apparent as soon as one got on board. Not any more.

Based on our recent flight, their current marketing statement, "You're not a passenger, you're a guest" is nothing more than hype. While the flight attendants used to greet passengers with a warm "Aloha!" and make friendly conversation with passengers during the flight, they're no different today than any other airline.

King Kamehameha
They hurry through their duties, renting headphones and other audio/visual equipment, distributing food and drink, then disappearing behind curtains to gossip or read their pulp novels until it's time to land.

It's all very sad.

Their previous positioning statement, conveying the impression that your trip to the islands began the moment you came aboard, used to be pretty accurate. The F/As were friendly, the in-cabin audio system played Hawaiian music to get you in an island frame of mind, and other facets of the flight were equally authentic.

Now, the food is unremarkable and anything but Hawaiian. The complimentary meal on our flight over was an enchilada; how Hawaiian is that? (ANSWER: it's not!)

Our return flight featured a choice of the enchilada or a turkey sandwich. The airline offers "upgraded" meals for a fee, but neither proffered entree on our flights had anything to do with the islands.


Finally, there's the reservation process itself. I booked our flights two days before departure and as a result could not select my seats at the time of booking; instead, I had to wait until arriving at the airport to learn where my wife and I would be sitting. However, I couldn't book my seats home either, and no one could answer what I thought was a basic question: How far in advance to I have to book my flight to choose my own seats?

On the flight home, "upgraded" seats in either exit rows or on bulkheads were offered for $25 each. As the fee included early boarding (giving us early access to increasingly-scarce overhead storage space), extra legroom and free (though extremely uncomfortable) headsets, I opted for "exit row" seats only to find upon boarding that the seats were on a bulkhead. Not what I asked for or what I purchased, and another in a series of disappointments.

The bottom line, then, is this: If Hawaiian goes where you want to go when you want to go at a competitive price, fine. Otherwise, they're no different than any other U.S. airline, so don't go out of your way to fly them. And as I've been saying for some time, the U.S. airline industry is an industry begging to be re-regulated.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.

Photo by Carl Dombek
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