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First Impressions | Onboard Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner

by Staff

Today, Beat of Hawaii stepped onboard the very first Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner, just prior to it entering revenue service. These planes bring to Hawaiian an entirely new and upgraded feeling throughout the plane, far better fuel economy, and by next year, if not sooner, Hawaiian’s Starlink free satellite WiFi. The planes were ordered with aspirations of flying to more distant Hawaii gateways, potentially including Europe, Southeast Asia, and Western Australia.

Stepping off rear door of first new Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner at Honolulu Airport.

It’s unfathomable just how much has changed since then.

To begin with, the first of the new planes is running about three years late. Largely due to Covid, this first Dreamliner, named Kapuahi, has been mothballed for years. A second Dreamliner is expected to arrive sometime later this spring, which is the only other delivery this year. The planes will operate close to home for now, mostly to and from western US cities, before spreading their wings further afield.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner cockpit.

How does this impact the rest of Hawaiian Airlines’ fleet?

Notably, then and now, the new aircraft fleet does not affect Hawaiian Airlines’ existing fleets of A321neo and A330 aircraft.

Hawaiian A321neo at HNL hangar with engine off-wing on 2/23/24.

Unfortunately, the A321 fleet has become somewhat of an albatross around Hawaiian’s neck. That is due to the ongoing, expensive, and extreme engine problems across the entire fleet that continue to plague the airline to this very day.

In the meanwhile, it’s Hawaiian Airline’s twenty-four A330-200 wide-body aircraft that continue to serve as the backbone of its long-range operations, connecting Hawaii with destinations in North America and the Asia Pacific region.

Hawaiian Airlines first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner at HNL on 2/23/24.

The history of the Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner fleet.

The new extra-long-range fleet traces back to 2014, when the airline planned to acquire six Airbus A350-800 aircraft. However, Airbus discontinued those due to a lack of orders and shifted Hawaiian to a less desirable A330-800. That left the airline in a challenging position with limited options and prompted it to reevaluate the next steps.

It appears that Boeing offered Hawaiian a favorable deal to sway the airline back to its long-range aircraft offerings, potentially one-upping Airbus in the process.

Hawaiian Airilnes Dreamliner interiorHawaiian Airilnes Dreamliner interior
Economy seats on Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner.

Dreamliner interior in business and economy.

Two years ago, when the interior of the new fleet was first revealed, it previewed new premium business-class seating. An arguably much-needed premium economy cabin has not been announced, at least thus far. We were told by CEO Peter Ingram today, however, that it isn’t ruled out in the future. The dramatic business class transformation is based on Adient Aerospace’s lie-flat seating. The new seats are arranged in a preferred 1-2-1 configuration, offering direct aisle access and a better level of comfort and privacy compared with the A330.

Hawaiian Airilnes Dreamliner interior, Business class.Hawaiian Airilnes Dreamliner interior, Business class.
Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner business class suites.

The focus of the airline is clearly on these 34 “Leihōkū” suites with privacy doors, which are the very same ones already in use by Qatar Airways. Suites feature 18-inch monitors and wireless chargers pictured above next to a personal storage compartment. The airline says the center suite pairs “privacy or a shared experience with combinable double suites.” These aren’t, however, of the true double-bed type found on some other airlines. These seats face apart from each other, likely due to the great economy of space achieved rather than having them completely side by side. In the photo below, senior vice president Avi Mannis is having a conversation from a suite by turning towards the adjoining passenger.

Hawaiian Airlines Senior Vice President Avi Mannis onboard Dreamliner.Hawaiian Airlines Senior Vice President Avi Mannis onboard Dreamliner.
Hawaiian Air senior vice president Avi Mannis having a conversation in the center section of business class suites.
Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner business suites.

Unlike the A330 lie-flat suites, which, albeit quirky, offer a dedicated amount of space, Dreamliner seats slide forward to achieve the lie-flat position. At that point, a large part of the passenger’s body extends under the console of the row in front.

Hawaiian Airilnes Dreamliner interior, Economy class.Hawaiian Airilnes Dreamliner interior, Economy class.

In economy, passengers will be seated in a 3x3x3 configuration. Hawaiian Airlines is introducing Collins Aerospace’s Aspire seats. These seats are among the industry’s lightest, which in aviation speak, implies less padding.

Our initial observations on spending time onboard the new Hawaiian 787-9 Dreamliner.

We were happy to attend today’s launch event and blessing that was more for employees and their families than anything else. There were also other local and national press representatives in attendance together with Hawaiian Air executives. We were told that well over 1,000 people would tour the aircraft today. It was emotional for some, and one employee walked on and started crying to see this long-awaited project come to fruition.

1. Business class and ambiance onboard Hawaiian Dreamliner.

On walking onboard, the airplane has the distinct smell and feel of a new car. We entered via stairs at the front door within the Hawaiian maintenance hangar facility. That door leads immediately to the 34 business suite section. We were mesmerized by the new suites, as they are so different from the airline’s other first-class products. Sitting in the new suites, however, we couldn’t help but feel the physical similarity of the product to the United Airlines Dreamliner Polaris business class. Business suite dimensions have become largely a function of the aircraft type itself, as are other features, including the remotely controlled Dreamliner windows.

What drew our attention as totally unique are the branding elements, including a star-light-sky ceiling, elegant wood trim in various areas, and other unique design features, such as the galley ceiling pictured below.

Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner design elementsHawaiian Airlines Dreamliner design elements
Hawaiian Dreamliner design elements.

On a less positive note, Jeff found the seat, when slid forward into lie-flat mode, to be restrictive around his feet as pictured. It wasn’t wide enough for his two feet to be side by side with shoes on. That would make sleeping a challenge, given his 6-foot frame.

Uncomfortable foot cubby. Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner business class

2. Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner economy class.

We were very pleased with the comfort and especially the legroom throughout economy class. It felt far more comfortable than on the airline’s A321 and the A330. Legroom was even better in the Extra Comfort seats, the best of which were the two-across bulkhead sets (of which there are only two pairs, pictured below).

Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner Extra Comfort (extra legroom).
Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner Extra Comfort bulkhead seats.

We find that airline seat pitch specifications don’t necessarily relate to comfort. Such is the case here, given that in our experience, these economy seats had more legroom than expected.

Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner economy legroom.

Please let us know if you have any questions or thoughts about the new Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner.

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