Getting to New Zealand from the United States is a very limited affair. The only way to get there directly is with Air New Zealand and at some times of the year (around Christmas, especially) capacity becomes limited due to operating only three daily flights (two from LAX, one from SFO).
More recently a new choice was offered to New Zealand; Hawaiian Airlines flying from Honolulu (HNL) to Auckland (AKL). The new flights started in March and they fly three times a week between the two cities.
Using their new Airbus A330-200 aircraft, Hawaiian’s service to the south Pacific allows one-stop service from a number of west coast cities (although all cities, apart from Seattle, require an overnight stay in Honolulu when southbound). After I had flown down to Hawaii from Seattle and spent a brief two hours in the warmth that permeates Honolulu airport, it was time to board another Hawaiian aircraft for my journey to New Zealand.
The average age of Hawaiian’s A330s is less than 2 years old and the interior reflects it. They operate with a two-class configuration with a total of 294 (18 first & 276 economy) seats. The 2-4-2 layout in economy is much more passenger-friendly compared to the 3-4-3 of the Boeing 777s that you may fly with many other airlines. The seats onboard are a slim-line design with 31/32″ of pitch and are actually quite comfortable for an eight-and-a-half-hour flight.
Seat-back AVOD and USB power ports (no normal power points for other devices, though) allows you to charge your phone or tablet so that when you touch down in New Zealand you’re not looking for the first bit of power you can find.
Normally a flight from Los Angeles to New Zealand can be around 12-13 hours (depending on winds) and usually they all depart very late in the evening. Essentially a red eye service as you try to sleep and you end up losing a day due to the International Date Line. Hawaiian’s option is a little bit different.
Our flight left HNL at around 1:30 pm and as we climbed off the famous “Reef Runway” at HNL we turned south, and headed towards the vast openness that is the world’s largest ocean, the Pacific. The first nice part of the departure timing is being able to see the amazing view outside the aircraft. The second is arriving to AKL in the late evening, only losing one day. This flight seems to reduce my jetlag quite a bit versus some other options.
As we climbed to cruising altitude, the crew went about the aircraft setting it up for our medium-haul flight. Being in economy isn’t so bad with Hawaiian Airlines as you get some little touches that other airlines don’t offer.
The first thing the crew handed out was a small amenity kit with earplugs, headphones, and an eye mask. They also passed out a menu for economy, yes you read that right…a menu in economy. Although the menu doubled as a postcard, it explained what was on offer for today’s meals and drinks. It may have been a small gesture, but that can go a long way for the passenger experience.
The first service was a drink of choice and a small bag of “Pau Hana” snack mix. “Pau Hana” means “when work is finished” in Hawaiian and is not only the name of the snack mix, but also the entertainment system and the in-flight snack bar. It seems to be an all-encompassing term that Hawaiians use to describe relaxation.
Then it was time to check out the entertainment system. As I browsed through the options (the system was a little slow to respond at times) the selections were quite extensive, but one thing you have to be mindful of is that it is not all free.
The airline offers limited complimentary in-flight options, so you’re not going to go without entertainment if you do not want to shell out additional money. Of course, the USB charger means that you can watch things via your own device.
Your three choices include an on-demand movie at $8 each, unlimited TV, music and games for $7, and a kids package at $6. By far the best value to me would be the TV package. There is a very extensive selection of TV shows; I counted over 31 episodes of one series alone (Hawaii 5-0, funnily enough) so during your eight-to-nine hour flight you should not run out of things to watch. Like many other airlines, only credit cards are accepted.
After I got my entertainment set up, had my choice of drink, and the small snack mix, I settled in to my seat and we hit our cruise altitude of 38,000ft. Once leveled-off the crew began the first meal service. The lunch was small, fresh, and quite flavorful, which is something not often associated with a seat in economy. Although it was not the amazing seven-course extravaganza like the last time I crossed the Pacific, it was ample enough to keep me satisfied.
Our flight cruised on during the night and I avoided doing any work, choosing to use this as a rest (no sleeping though) flight and that way when we touched down in Auckland late in the evening, I would be tired enough to sleep overnight, refreshed and ready to hit the ground.
The Pau Hana snack bar staffed during the night allowed me to keep hunger at bay, and the constant crew passes through the cabin with water was a great touch as well. I did purchase some snacks while watching a movie and the range is distinctly Hawaiian in flavor, with plenty of local treats. I bought some Macadamia nut treats that were priced reasonably at $7.
Seeing the sunset finally catch up to us after we passed both the Equator and the International Date Line, we were two hours out from Auckland and people started waking up from their naps and were milling about the cabin.
The final meal service was described as “High Tea, Hawaiian Style” and since that was the only description, it felt like a mystery. We had a smattering of turbulence around this point in the flight, so I have a feeling the final service was delayed a little due to the seat belt sign being on, but around 75 minutes out from Auckland the crew came around to serve the “High Tea”.
I was pleasantly surprised to be handed a small treat box and was again offered my beverage of choice. Since this was the final part of my Hawaiian flights I chose that uniquely Hawaiian drink, POG! Passion, Orange and Guava juice, or “POG” as it is known by frequent visitors and is served on all of their flights. This slightly-sweet, yet refreshing drink was an appropriate choice to finish off my Hawaiian experience; it was joined by a few treats from the islands (macadamia short bread and a macadamia chocolate).
As we descended into a rainy Auckland, we were informed that once we landed, the cabin would be sprayed by New Zealand Customs before we could touch any of our bags or even leave our seats, as New Zealand has strict entry requirements for pests and plant life. After enduring a long wait and a spraying that had a very different smell, we were allowed to disembark. Wishing the crew a quick Mahalo, I headed for immigration and my bed at a nearby airport hotel.
When heading to the south Pacific, one of the biggest things you have to combat is jet-lag. The best way to fight it is to reset your body to the local time zone – if that means you touch down at 6am and stay awake till 8pm, then you’re in for a hell of a long day. Hawaiian is a great to help with jetlag, as the daylight flight meant that after we touched down at around 10pm, by the time I made it to the hotel I was ready for a good night’s sleep.
This allowed me to wake up the next morning and actually be rested to explore New Zealand. A flight that has good service, good entertainment options, and gets you to your destination, safely, easily and without much hassle is always a good thing, Hawaiian ticked all those boxes, and then some.