Hawaiian Airlines slims down its widebodies to Hawaii
As competition grows, airplane sizes shrink
Hawaiian Airlines' slick and efficient new Airbus A321neo jets have taken off and taken over most of the carrier's flying between California and Hawaii, resulting in mixed reviews from regular fliers to the islands.
Why? Well, for almost 20 years, flying between the Bay Area and Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines meant a spacious ride to paradise on one of the airline’s big, wide double-aisle jets — either the Airbus A330 or Boeing 767.
That changed in January 2019, when Hawaiian operated its final Boeing 767 service between Northern California and the islands, a flight from Sacramento to Honolulu. Most of its A330s are now used on its nonstops to New York or Japan.
The airline retired its fleet of 18 aging 767s last year, replacing them one-for-one with quieter and more fuel efficient single-aisle Airbus A321neos (the “neo” stands for "new engine option”). Hawaiian is expecting its 18th and final A321neo delivery in Spring 2020, an airline spokesman said.
Hawaiian’s 767s, and its A330s are (or were) beloved by frequent fliers because they are comfortable birds. Dual aisles help passengers and flight attendants move around the cabin easily and enjoy a sense of spaciousness.
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With 252 seats onboard, the 767s seldom flew 100 percent full, which increased the likelihood of having an empty seat next to you. Even when planes flew at capacity, the economy cabin seating was arranged 2-3-2 across, so there were fewer fliers stuck in a dreaded middle seat.
Most of that wide body flying went away with the retirement of the fleet, just one of the many changes in 2019 that shook up the California-Hawaii air travel landscape.
Once the domain of two-aisle widebodies, single-aisle planes now dominate the skies between the mainland and Hawaii.
Southwest Airlines, a newcomer to the Hawaii market, operates Boeing 737s exclusively. Alaska Airlines, which has flown to Hawaii since 2007, flies a mix of Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s.
Hawaiian Air continues to operate its A330 widebody jet on one of its two daily San Francisco to Honolulu flights to soak up high demand between SFO and Oahu. Occasionally, the A330 pops up on Hawaiian’s San Francisco to Maui route, which is typically flown with the A321neo. Click here to check out how the lie-flat seat first class experience is like on the big wide A330.
“The bulk of our fleet transition has been completed, but we are always monitoring customer demand and may adjust aircraft type by season,” said Alex Da Silva, a spokesman for Hawaiian.
See Hawaiian's A321neo seat map here on Seatguru.com
On its other Northern California routes, Hawaiian has operated the narrow A321neo exclusively. All Hawaiian flights out of Oakland and San Jose airports now use the 189-passenger jet. There are three cabins on board: 16 first class seats, 44 extra-legroom economy seats, and 129 seats in regular economy class. Seats are arranged 3-3 across in the economy and 2-2 in first class. See more about Hawaiian Air's A321 here.
See the slideshow at the top of this post for a look inside Hawaiian's new A321neo and some of its best and worst seats
When the A321neo made its debut with Hawaiian in 2018, the carrier highlighted its updated modern interiors with bigger overhead bins, power points at each seat, and free in-flight entertainment piped to personal devices.
These narrow-body jets are also cheaper for the airline to operate. A new generation of engines makes the plane more fuel efficient than the 767. Because the A321neo seats fewer passengers, it has opened up new markets for Hawaiian that would not sustain a big bird like the 767 or A330, like Long Beach-Honolulu and Portland, Ore.- Maui.
For travelers who still yearn for a ride in a big wide body jet, you’re not out of luck — although you’ll need to know where to book. In addition to Hawaiian Air's wide body flights out of San Francisco, United Airlines still operates some Boeing 777s from San Francisco to Honolulu and Maui.
At least two departures a day between SFO-Honolulu are on United’s domestic-configured Boeing 777 (with some pretty tight 10-across seating in economy class). On the SFO-Maui route, United typically operates at least one of its daily flights with the same plane, although it varies depending on the season.
During its media day in Chicago in October, United’s President Scott Kirby said that the airline flies more seats between the mainland and the islands than any other carrier, a distinction it has held for decades.
See the slideshow at the top of this post for a look inside Hawaiian's new A321neo-- and its bigger A330.
“We have a great franchise to Hawaii,” Kirby, who will become the airline’s chief executive officer in May 2020, said. “It is very profitable, does really well for us. It’s great for our frequent fliers, it’s great for our customers. We’ve grown it double digit percentages in the last couple years, and we think we compete very well.”
United, Delta and American all operate wide body jets from their respective hubs in the Midwest and East Coast because smaller single-aisle jets do not have the range to fly, say, between Atlanta and Honolulu.
What type of plane do you prefer to fly to Hawaii? Which airline? Why? Tell us in THE COMMENTS.
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Chris McGinnis is SFGATE's senior travel correspondent. You can reach him Twitter or Facebook. Don't miss a shred of important travel news by signing up for his FREE biweekly email updates!
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