Review: Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 First Class from Honolulu to San Francisco

Hawaiian Airlines’ first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner might have been one the biggest hyped aviation stories in the western hemisphere this year, with promises of a completely modernized long hauler, with new cabins in economy and business/first class.

The new aircraft type can accommodate 300 passengers, with 34 in first/business class (depending on the route). Those 34 seats are configured in a 1-2-1 layout. In economy, there are 266 seats split between regular economy and “Extra Comfort” in a 3-3-3 layout.

The new configuration has ruffled some feathers given that Hawaiian mostly serves a leisure market, especially those traveling with their partners looking to get away from the day to day of life. The 3-3-3 in economy moves away from 2-4-2 on their A330s, and the paired business class seats in the center face away from each other, taking away from the “romance” of flying to Hawaii. At least that’s what’s being said.

Nonetheless, I think you’ll like this product, and I also share a big mistake I made when booking, so hopefully you can avoid it too.

It’s been a very long time since I’ve done a written flight review, so forgive me for some of the shortcomings.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 Flight Review Stats

  • Airline: Hawaiian Airlines
  • Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
  • Date: April 15, 2024
  • Flight: HA12
  • Registration: N781HA
  • Route: HNL-SFO
  • Departing Airport: Daniel K. Inouye International Airport
  • Arriving Airport: San Francisco International Airport
  • Actual Flight Time: 4 hours 24 minutes
  • Actual Departing Time: 1:44 p.m. (local)
  • Seat: 6J (First Class – Domestic)

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 Booking

I booked this ticket on the day the 787 flights were announced, and of course my options were already limited by the time I got around to completing the purchase. First day demand obviously inflated the price, coming in around $1,100 one-way when I booked. Those rates later ballooned over $2,000, but have since settled to around $850.

United and Alaska also operate non-stop service between the two cities, and while their tickets are cheaper hovering around $600 one-way, you don’t get the benefit of having private, lie-flat seats. I think for the price bump, Hawaiian’s offering is worth paying extra to get something better than the recliner-style seats offered by the competitors.

Avoid seats 6A and 6J if you like having a window view

If you’re concerned about having a view, avoid the window seats in row 6 as the spot for the window is blanked out to accommodate background things like wiring and ducting. Unfortunately, this isn’t indicated when booking, and I ended up drawing the short straw.

I was able to get some outside views via my GoPro, but it’s not much help otherwise.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 Check In

Hawaiian Airlines operates this flight out of Terminal 1, and while there is a dedicated first class line, there are a number of self check-in kiosks. You can also check in via the Hawaiian mobile app. I’ve always been a fan of having a paper boarding pass as a ‘just in case’, so I used the kiosk to print one even though I was already checked in via the app.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 Premier Club Lounge Access

Passengers flying to U.S. cities have access to the Premium Club (located next to gate A18). Unlike their Plumeria Lounge, Premier Club offers nothing more than comfortable seating, and a few snacks and drinks.

During my visit, there were only pretzels, as well as a selection of hot and cold drinks like coffee, tea, sodas, water and juices. There isn’t even a view of the ramp to enjoy while you wait. It’s an OK spot if you’re looking to get some work done or rest your eyes, but that’s about it.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 Inaugural Ceremony and Boarding

I actually flew into O‘ahu on April 11th, and didn’t even realize that Hawaiian’s first 787 (N780HA) was flown in on the same day. Every time I passed the airport, I saw N780HA parked near their maintenance hangar, and thought it was N781HA.

On the 15th, I got to the airport 2 hours before, to still see the 787 parked at the hangar. Panic was setting in as I would have been angered to fly 1/3rd of the globe to fly back to SFO on an old A330. Upon arriving at gate A4 in the newer wing, I was so happy to see N781HA, named ‘Kapuahi’ (a star known as Aldebaran in Western astronomy) parked at the gate. It then clicked that the older 787 was flown in recently, bringing their fleet count to two.

Around the gate area, there was traditional guitar music, hula dancing, and of course the blessing of the flight.

After the ceremony was completed, guests were boarded by groups. Following passengers needing assistance, those in Zone 1 were called (which includes First Class). All customers were given a Hawaiian flower lei (garland), as well as a metal bag tag with the name of the star that the aircraft was named after, in both Hawaiian and English (Kapuahi and Aldebaran), along with the N781HA registration and aircraft type (Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner).

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 Cabin and Seat

Press and influencers were allowed to tour the aircraft prior to general boarding. Here are some photos from that session.

First/Business Class Seats

In the front, there are 34 Leihōkū Suites, which are a customized version of the Adient Aerospace Ascent seat. I’ll get to the full feature set further in the article.

These suites are also installed on Qatar’s 787s, and will soon be coming to American Airlines’ Boeing 787-9s and 777-300ERs Flagship cabins.

Economy Seats

The remaining 266 Collins Aerospace Aspire seats are split between regular economy and “Extra Comfort” seats in a 3-3-3 layout. They feature USB-A and USB-C charging ports, 12-inch seat back IFE screens, and those in one of the 79 Extra Comfort seats have AC power and additional leg room.

The entire cabin is mood lit with various shades of blue, purple and orange. The ceiling also has white LED dots to give the effect of stars in the night sky. I’m sure it’s quite similar to the Rolls-Royce Starlight headliners which uses numerous LED fiber optic strands to give that dotted effect.

The colors are much more pleasing on the eyes versus some other airlines which insist on using a combination of blue mood lighting.

Seat 6J

Hawaiian’s premium seats are customized Adient Aerospace Ascent seats which are modular, full lie-flat business class suites.

The black leather seats have a blue trim around the adjustable head rest, and along the right side arm rest. The seat itself has a very grippy 3-point harness system. To the right side is a small storage bin which I managed to fit quite a few items in comfortably. The port for the headset is also located inside this cubby area.

To the right on the bin is a wireless charger. If your phone has the capability, simply slide it behind the band and it will charge. Just below is the pop-out remote controller for the IFE system, as well as an AC power port.

As mentioned above, 6A and 6J have no windows as they are used to accommodate cabling and ducting behind the panel.

Credit: Bradley Wint/Gate Checked

The light near the wall can be adjusted by tapping on the circular button on the top, and is used to change the brightness or turn it on/off entirely. There is also a reading light just above the wireless charging unit and can be opened by pushing on the upper section of the tab.

The seat controls are within easy reach just below the arm rest, with modes for full lie flat, reclined and full upright. The foot rest can also be controlled independently.

Even though I stayed reclined for most of the flight, the footwell has ample space and didn’t feel tight even when fully extended into the lie flat position (coming from someone who is six feet tall). This should work well especially once these birds start to operate on longer haul routes.

The left side also has an adjustable arm rest which can be raised or lowered to three different positions.

There is also a privacy door which is unlocked above 10,000 feet.

Even with the door opened, the suites are positioned in such a way where you can’t see those sitting around you unless you stand up. For those sitting in the middle section, there is a divider which can be lowered or raised for privacy.

Overall, these seats are very comfortable and had enough width to wiggle around. Even in the full lie flat position, it did not feel tight like some other herringbone configurations, and I’m sure I would have gotten good sleep if I were traveling on a longer flight.

The recline position is also quite comfortable. Not all suite style seats seem to get this right as you’re sometimes required to use additional props like pillows to make the recline mode feel less awkward.

As for this missing window, from eye level, this is as much of a view as you’ll get from this seat.

Here’s something fun I noticed. The seat numbers have the Hawaiian text equivalent labeled next to them.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 Amenities

For this relatively short flight, we had access to a Noho Home blanket and pillow, along with a headset.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 Food and Drinks

During boarding, first class passengers were offered a number of alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks. I ordered a Mai Tai, but looking back, I’m not sure I got that. Nonetheless it was a good starter.

Besides my pre-departure drink, I always default to having a coffee.

Aside from the papaya salad and cake, I had the beef brisket. For the Caribbean folks out there, it’s basically a Sunday beef stew with potato and steamed carrots. Here is the full menu.

Overall, the meal was very tasty, and I especially liked the rainbow cake. The only small complaint was that the beef might have been cooked a little too long as it crumbled too easily when I tried to put it on my fork. There’s soft and there is too soft, and this was on the too soft side of things.

I didn’t get the macadamia nuts, but they did include what I assume is a taro bread roll.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 In Flight Entertainment

The in flight entertainment system is pretty snappy, and offers a host of movies, TV shows, music, video games and a flight tracker. Hawaiian 787s were supposed to offer SpaceX satellite Wi-Fi but that wasn’t the case on the flight.

I’m not sure if the hardware was not installed yet, or if there was a technical limitation, but hopefully this is something that will eventually come to future flights.

It would have been very interesting to see how the low earth orbit service performed on a flight with 300 people.

Obligatory Lav Pics

I’m not sure about the rest of the aircraft, but there was unfortunately no window in the forward lavatory. In terms of space, they’re definitely bigger than the tiny MAX 8 bathrooms, but it was not overly expansive either. One cool feature is the touchless motion sensor flush button.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 On Board Service

Hawaiian’s crew got top marks for this flight. Besides the usual smiles and service, they chatted with all the passengers in first class which made the experience a bit more personal.

Based on my inbound flight on their A330, I’m willing to bet that their great service was not a one-off for this launch, but rather something that is displayed across the Hawaiian brand.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787-9 Conclusion

Given that this was Hawaiian’s very first commercial 787 flight, I expected nothing but a good experience. So said, so done.

Their hard product is very good. With a deep footwell, a roomy seat, and decent storage for small items, I think they did well with this suite selection. Their overall color selection was also on point, with good mood lighting that are much easier on the eyes. The combination definitely puts you in that tropical mood, and this is coming from someone who lives in the Caribbean.

Add that to the tasty food, and friendly and attentive service, I can say this is definitely the way to go if you’re flying to Hawaii. Yes, you’ll have to pay a bit more, but if the prices remain reasonable, it’s hard to justify flying on a narrow body with recliner-style seats just to save a few bucks. That’s unless you’re chasing points and status.

Even though there was a good selection of TV shows and movies, it’s a shame that Starlink service was not implemented yet, but hopefully it’s added soon enough. However, this did not sully the mood as there was plenty to enjoy otherwise.

The Boeing 787-9 itself will always been an amazing aircraft to fly on. With its quieter interior, modern design and lowered cabin altitude, it definitely makes for an enjoyable flight.

Prior to Hawaiian’s launch, the biggest complaint was that the seats were not configured with the leisure market in mind, especially that many travelers heading to the tropical island chain tends to fly with their partner. On the A330s, the first/business class cabins were set up in a 2-2-2 config, while economy was 2-4-2.

Yes, the new layout cuts into this experience, but in my opinion, it should not be the defining moment of a trip.

Featured image: Bradley Wint/Gate Checked

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