You’re sitting by the gate at the airport, watching the clock tick closer to your flight’s boarding time. Suddenly, there’s a *ding* overhead as the PA system comes on. Your stress levels rise. You know what’s coming. “Sorry folks, but departure has been delayed by an hour due to [insert any one of a million reasons / excuses here].”
In the airline world, on-time performance is hard. Airplanes are complex, ground operations are a logistical nightmare, and weather can wreak havoc on even the best-managed carriers. Given all those factors, it’s sometimes surprising how many flights still do leave on time. Most airlines rise and fall in the Department of Transportation’s on-time performance rankings. But over the past fifteen years, one U.S. carrier has kept an iron grip on the top position: Hawaiian Airlines.
We just wrote about our flight from Oakland to Maui on one of the airline’s new Airbus A321neos. After landing, we sat down with Hawaiian’s Head of Neighbor Island Operations Pat Rosa, who discussed what goes into Hawaiian’s on-time performance. Sure, Hawaii’s lack of snowstorms helps (though the islands still deal with their share of bad weather). But there’s plenty more ingredients that go into Hawaiian’s secret sauce for punctuality. Pat also talked about the unique culture within the islands’ home airline, his love for the new A321neo fleet, and his excitement for the airline’s Boeing 787 order.
If you love behind-the-scenes looks at airlines you definitely don’t want to miss this one, so read on!
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!
Alert: a new player has entered the game. At long last, Southwest Airlines is flying to Hawaii. It’s a major milestone for the airline, which has had its eyes on the Hawaii prize for a years. So when the first flight departed Oakland for Honolulu on March 17th, the airline threw a BIG party to celebrate.
There were hula dancers, live musicians, cakes, speeches, and (of course) TONS of Hawaiian shirts. Passengers on the flight — who mostly seemed to be Southwest employees and die-hard fans — got luggage tags and flower leis before taking to the skies. And we got to head out onto the airfield to see the flight off. Read on! We have so many photos, you’ll feel like you were there with us.
At Virgin America’s Newark Airport inaugural celebration this week, I had the opportunity to sit down with CEO David Cush for AirlineReporter.com. While talking about their new Airbus A320 with Sharklets, Cush detailed his airlines future plans for flights to Hawaii.
Jason: â€œYou just took delivery of your first A320 with Sharklets, when do you expect that to enter into service?
Cush: â€œIt should be in about two weeks, letâ€™s call it around April 25th or so.â€
Jason: â€œDo you have any idea which route it will be flying initially?â€
Cush: â€œItâ€™ll be flying some of the longer routes, because of the efficiency, so probably San Francisco-Boston, San Francisco-JFK. We took delivery of that one in Hamburg, and it was a beautiful airplane on the way over. Our chief pilot flew it over, and we actually saw greater than 4 per cent efficiency from Sharklets. So they estimated 3.5, we saw a little bit over 4.
Jason: â€œHow do you estimate that will impact your operations?â€
Cush: â€œWe fly these aircraft kind of at the edge of their performance. When weâ€™re flying Boston to San Francisco, in the winter and into headwinds, thatâ€™s about all that aircraft can do. Now what we got is an airplane that can do that easily without weight restrictions. So itâ€™s not only a fuel efficiency thing, itâ€™s a performance thing.
Jason: â€œI know that JetBlue had taken delivery of the first production retrofit a couple of months ago, and they have been doing that exact route, and they report that they have to make fewer tech stops to refuel. Do you anticipate less stops or was that a problem initially without Sharklets?>
Cush: â€œWe donâ€™t take tech stops. If weâ€™ve got a long flight plan or strong winds, what we do is we basically buy passengers off the airplane. So, rather than inconveniencing everyone, what weâ€™ll do is will find people to buy off, and theyâ€™ll wait for the next one. We take very few tech stops, usually when itâ€™s an unplanned change. But what this will mean is that we will never have to take passengers out of the aircraft again.
Jason: â€œHow often do that [buying passengers off the flight] happen right now?â€
Cush: â€œI would say during the dead of winter, with a bad jet stream, I would say maybe as much of 10 per cent of the flights out of Boston.
Jason: â€œDo you anticipate the impact of Sharklets being able to open any new routes in the future?
Cush: â€œThe main thing is that it lets you do West Coast to Hawaii, and thatâ€™s something you canâ€™t do with the current aircraft. And so weâ€™ll be using Sharklet equipped airplanes in 2015 when we start flying to Hawaii, and we canâ€™t do that without the Sharklets.
Jason: â€œAre there any plans to retrofit current aircraft with Sharklets?â€
Cush: â€œWeâ€™re going to wait and see. You know, thereâ€™s a lot of work you have to do on the wing, a lot of weight you add to the aircraft, which is a little bit of a challenge for us. We like the fuel efficiency, we donâ€™t like the additional weight, so weâ€™re not in a big hurry to do it. I know JetBlue is really blazing that trail, weâ€™ll probably just sit back and see what their experience is, and if itâ€™s good, weâ€™ll probably go ahead and do the same thing.
Jason: â€œAll future deliveries of Airbus aircraft at this point, will they be Sharklet equipped?
Cush: â€œAll of ours will be. Weâ€™re not taking any more airplanes until 2015, and then weâ€™ll take 10 from 2015 to 2016.
This story written by… Jason Rabinowitz, Correspondent.
Jason is a New York City native who has grown up in the shadow of JFK International Airport. A true “avgeek”, he enjoys plane spotting and photography, as well taking any opportunity he can get to fly on an aircraft.