Right plane, right size, right mission. Hit the trifecta and — if you’re an airplane — you’ve earned a fruitful career in your airline’s fleet. Hawaiian Airlines has been flying for a mind-blowing 90 years, and for most if its recent past it’s had two sides to its fleet: big double-aisle aircraft like the Airbus A330 and Boeing 767 (recently retired) for long-haul flights to the Hawaiian islands, and smaller single-aisle planes for short hops between the islands.
But over the past few years, led by the U.S. legacy airlines, Alaska, and (most recently) Southwest, we’ve seen an explosion of a new middle market: extended-operations-certified narrow-body (AKA single-aisle) planes connecting the West Coast and the Hawaiian Islands. A lot of those flights hit secondary markets other than Honolulu, like Maui, Kauai, and the big island.
Hawaiian Airlines wanted to get in on that game, and they picked the Airbus A321neo to do it. The fuel-efficient next-gen narrowbody kicked off service with Hawaiian in early 2018, featuring a new premium cabin seat designed for medium-haul flights. And on a recent flight from Oakland to Maui, we put Hawaiian’s newest plane and seat to the test.
Read on as we say aloha to the Hawaiian Airlines A321neo!
Loyal readers will recall our 2017 review of Saga Premium (which, at the the time, was called Saga Class) on Icelandair’s venerable 757-200s.
Since then, Icelandair has added several Boeing 737 MAX 8 jets to their fleet (they ordered a total of 16 of the MAX in both the -8 and -9 variants), using them on routes to U.S. destinations on the east coast and upper midwest, along with several European routes.
I flew SEA-KEF on a 757, then returned via Chicago on a 737 MAX 8, as Seattle is, unfortunately, beyond the working range of the MAX 8.
So, two years on, what was it like to fly Saga? Candidly, I was a fan of the last trip, so the memory still felt fairly fresh. My outbound flight was on TF-FIR, aka VatnajÃ¶kull, aka 80 years of Aviation, aka the glacier livery.
This AvGeek was stoked at the opportunity to fly on VatnajÃ¶kull, even though it was parked at a corner gate between two diagonal jetways at SEA, making photos pretty much impossible that day. IMHO, it’s the one of prettiest planes in the sky today, tied for that honor with Icelandair’s Hekla Aurora livery on TF-FIU.
The outbound flight from SEA to KEF was as good as the last time – I was in seat 1A for this flight, which is in a bulkhead row. The seats themselves are the same as we reviewed in 2017. They feel even more dated now, especially when compared to contemporary options even on some domestic US carriers, but they’re still very comfortable and offer a generous amount of recline.
Iâ€™m not a particularly frequent flier. In fact, aside from a brief job hunting period in 2015 that saw me leaving SEA for a different destination each week for three weeks straight, I havenâ€™t flown on commercial airliners more than twice a year ever. With that in mind, it was an interesting contrast when I booked my Delta Air Lines tickets for PAX South (a video game fan convention) with a route of FSD-MSP-ATL-SAT in economy to get there, and SAT-MSP-FSD in first class on the way home.
My trip planning had been determined by two main factors. The first was that the outbound routing gave me two legs on the MD-90. I love the DC-9 aircraft family, and will happily grab any opportunity to fly on them, particularly as theyâ€™re becoming increasingly rare in the fleets of major carriers. The second factor was my returning connection. When I booked my flight, I was only going to have a forty-five-minute layover in Minneapolis. I hoped that booking myself into seat 1A would ensure that I could make my connection, no matter how many terminals apart my two flights were.
Icelandair’s SkjaldbreiÃ°ur at SEA, being loaded for KEF – Photo: Francis Zera | AirlineReporter
Let’s just start by saying that, yes, I saw the aurora on the flight, and, yes, it was awesome.
Saga Class is Icelandairâ€™s top-tier cabin service, and is roughly equivalent to business class on other airlines. Check-in and boarding were a breeze. When boarding the aircraft, the 22 Saga-class passengers turn left toward the front of the plane, making it very easy to forget that you donâ€™t have the whole plane to yourself. The accompanying checked-baggage allowance seemed quite generous: two 70-lb. bags per person.
Icelandair shares a lounge with several other smaller airlines in Seattle-Tacoma International Airportâ€™s international terminal (SEA). The lounge is comfortable and clean, if a bitÂ uninspired, but a fine place to wait for your flight. The hot-food options were welcome, and on the day I was there most of the dishes were Asian themed, which are a personal favorite.
The aircraft for the flight to Reykjavik was TF-LLX, aka SkjaldbreiÃ°ur, a 757-200 whichÂ hadnâ€™t yet been through Icelandairâ€™s cabin refresh program. The interior was a tiny bit worn around the edges and had old-style IFE screens, but it was still all very comfortable and clean.Â Icelandair names its aircraft after Icelandic volcanoes, and, withÂ about 130 of the things in the country, it doesn’t appear that they’llÂ run out of names anytime soon.