Flight Review: A Newbie Flies Hawaiian Airlines First-Class

PHOTO: Hawaiian Airlines

A first-timer’s first-class review.

Is it alright to tell you this is my first time flying first-class? I was a little hesitant because, you see, I work for a travel publication and I thought you might think something like, “Wow, he’s never flown first-class before, that’s awkward,” and you know what? It sort of is. With that said, I decided it would be more impactful if I came clean with you, reader. I’m actually based in the office quite a bit and don’t get to travel nearly as much as you might imagine. So, please [*praise hands emoji*], as you read this, keep in mind that I was excited by the novelty of flying first class, but also vulnerable due to my lack of experience. OK, phew, got that out of the way. Now, let’s break down my adventure.

Departure(s) Perks

Good news for anyone flying first class for the first time in/out of Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) in Hawaii! With some airports, a first-class ticket comes with access to a separate security line. And, with that separate security line comes a lesser wait time. And with that lesser wait time comes a lower blood pressure. While my departing flight from LAX had no such line, HNL does. So when the time came, I arrived at my return flight’s gate with a glow and plenty of time to spare.

The Seat

I don’t mind flying, but, as someone who is 6’2,” any trip longer than five hours can be a little…uncomfortable. With curves designed to depict Hawaii’s ocean waves, the elegant seats in Hawaiian Airlines first class turned out to be an excellent remedy to my typical in-flight discomfort. The 180-degree premium leather lie-flat seat might’ve been stiff initially, but I quickly adjusted after my first Mai Tai cocktail, which was delivered to first class passengers pre-departure. Shortly after takeoff, I tested out the full 180-degree lie-flat seat feature, and I’m happy to report: I fell asleep almost immediately. The seat’s “reclining wheel,” or the reclining controls (and the rest of the remote center), was a little tricky to locate as it was nestled beneath the armrest. Also, the tinted, earth-toned privacy screen—inspired by the Hawaiian rainforests and wooded areas—is a very nice touch, though if the goal was to truly make you feel like you had a little room to yourself, they could’ve stretched the screen a little further horizontally.

The only hitch was with finding a good position to get comfortable whilst enjoying the in-flight entertainment via an iPad, which I’ll get to later. What’s important though is that I, a tall person whose body is normally more-or-less contorted in economy class, had room to fully stretch and get some shuteye. Major points.

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Hawaiian Airlines

The Libations

Is it really necessary to deliver a review on alcohol? Yes, and here’s why: I had the best Mai Tai cocktail ever on this flight. And I’m not just saying that because I felt special getting a cocktail before taking off (I felt really special, though)—it was seriously delicious. Other notable signature drinks on the menu include the Lychee Vodka Martini and the Li Hing Vodka Gimlet, and such Hawaiian-produced libations as Koloa Kaua‘i White Hawaiian Rum and the refreshing Maui Brewing Company’s Bikini Blonde.

The Meal(s)

If you didn’t know, Hawaiian Airlines cares about food. So much so that it’s hired world-renowned chefs that have literally competed on television. The airline’s First Class menu was designed in part by former Top Chef finalist Lee Anne Wong. The offerings, which are “inspired by the culinary traditions of our destination cities and Hawaii,” according to the airline, are mostly pretty tasty.

My departing flight from LAX (to HNL) included one of the two 3-course meals offered on the airline’s North American routes (excluding JFK). My appetizer was a refreshing coconut shrimp and noodle salad, followed by a main course of slow roasted beef with vegetable Israeli couscous, and a pineapple coconut cheesecake for dessert—good stuff. On my return route back to LAX from HNL, the 3-course brunch menu (also designed by Wong) was still fresh, but the offerings were not as unexpected: croissant and fruits to start followed by a potato crusted quiche with zucchini, sweet corn and cheese, which was served with Portuguese-style sausage (quite rich), and the classic pineapple coconut cheesecake for dessert. All in all, Hawaiian Airlines provided a good taste of Hawaiian culture and also something I had personally never experienced before: three meals on one flight.

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Hawaiian Airlines

The Entertainment

The large-format iPad is certainly a unique choice when compared to other domestic airlines’ in-flight entertainment offerings and while I did appreciate it, I also found it to be sort of awkward. To mount the device, there is a retractable in-seat tablet arm, but its movement is limited. Because of this, you can only recline so far before you can no longer comfortably enjoy the entertainment. Alternatively, you could go rogue and remove the device from the arm. However, because it is a large iPad (and the headphones that come with it are also quite large), I found positioning it in the crevices of my nook to be cumbersome, especially when reclined to the full 180-degree lie-flat position. I also thought the selection of entertainment left a little to be desired compared to other domestic airlines. The TV and movie offerings were sparse and only a handful were new releases. Regardless, it’s a slick system that I appreciated.

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Jesse Tabit

The Verdict

I’ll be back! I mean, definitely to the otherworldly-gorgeous Hawaii, but also I will be flying Hawaiian Airlines. What’s neat—and truly unique—about Hawaiian Airlines’ first class is all of the ways it pays homages to the state itself, from the fiber-optic-lit “Constellation Divider” between the cabins that feature the constellation Makali’i to the Hawaiian flowers arranged thoughtfully throughout the lavatory. Other than a few crumbs in crevices and a tad-bit-frustrating IFE, all of the first class offerings were pleasing. If you’re flying to Hawaii this is the flight you want to be on, especially if you’ve never flown first class before.