Flying to Hawaii stinks but do it anyways

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One of the least glamorous ways to fly has to be flying from the West Coast to Hawaii. Don’t get me wrong, I think Hawaii is one of the most beautiful places on earth and I would take this flight any day of the week. Moreso than any other destination, Hollywood has a tendency to portray flights to Hawaii as glamorous. Guests are often sipping Mai Tais and receiving leis on arrival. Unfortunately the real truth of these flights is the exact opposite.

The route is relatively short from the West Coast at around 5 hours and requires an overwater technology installation on the aircraft which is surely costly so airlines end up using their 757s that appear to have been outfitted with the technology 30 years ago. I have taken the route 5+ times on American and United.  Every single plane has looked like an all-passenger brawl broke out on the previous flight. Seats are ripped up, the entertainment system is grainy and the audio system has one volume setting of Total Ear Drum Destruction. The most recent highlight was a huge rip in the Emergency Exit door (The inside seal, not the outside seal, thankfully).  I generally go economy using Avios but if you want to go First, be ready for disappointment there too.  You’ll be in a recliner that shares the same wear as the rest of the plane.

As far as service goes, you are technically on a domestic flight so you won’t receive any food or alcohol in Economy. Given the flight length, I have found a high percentage of passengers end up purchasing some food or a beer to pass the time if nothing else. I perused the American Airlines Cafe on my last flight and found this gourmet salad for 10 USD with a “Recipe designed by Marcus Samuelsson”.


I have to ask…what recipe did Marcus design on this salad? The salad is romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese and cold chicken with no seasoning in a plastic container.  I might think twice before putting my name on Caesar Salad that you couldn’t possibly customize.

The bottom line

Flights from the West Coast to Hawaii are about as un-glamorous as air travel gets so set your expectations low. Expect a lengthy flight on planes that are exclusively the oldest in the fleet, no food service, and a lei-less arrival. All that being said, Hawaii is worth every moment of suffering so suck it up and do it anyways!





Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or suggestions expressed on this site are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed.

About alex

Alex loves to travel and does so a lot. Logging 100,000 flight miles each year over the past 4 years, Alex uses points and miles to power his passion. Alex is continuously striving to experience the far reaches of the globe. In his day job, Alex is a Management Consultant frequently on the road advising Technology organizations. I love thinking about, reading about, and talking about all things travel. Feel free to reach me at

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  1. A TSA scanner break down delaying the flight 90 minutes (with no in plane service) combined with an inattentive mother and her seat kicking sprog can enhance your experience.

  2. Why don’t you try out Alaska. They only had ow equipped jets for about 5 years. So much newer. Or Hawaiian. Also on both Alaska and Hawaiian you get a free Mai Tai and even a free meal on hawaiian. choose a better airline and the flight will be more glamorous. Not to mention Hawaiian uses their new a330 lax-hnl.

  3. On the contrary, flying Hawaiian isn’t too shabby at all. The hard and soft products for economy are more far greater in quality and value for your currency than the United/American – especially if you want to “get into the Hawaiian feel.” Sure, availability is limited to a smaller set of cities so positioning might be a factor, but if you’ve not flown Hawaiian, I would give it a go – at the very least, as a business comparison to your aforementioned five times prior.

  4. I have to agree – why limit yourself to a crappy product. If you fly AS or HA you will enjoy yourself much more.

  5. That AS 738 may be from this millenium but it has no seat recline at all, in F or C, no power at any seats, and no IFE. The Gogo wife ends soon after takeoff too. UA does operate some international configured widebodies from SFO.

  6. If you think flying from the west coast to Hawaii isn’t glamorous, try it from the midwest with 2 stops each direction!

  7. We flew Delta’s Atlanta to HNL direct. 9 hours in the economy sucks, but two meals and no stops was tolerable (I’m a “just get us there ASAP” person…).

  8. Had miles on UA so purposely chose to fly SFO – OGG and return because of the 767 we would be on. Econ is bad enough but not having a neighbor was nice. That made it worth less than awesome connection times.

    I need to try Hawaiian, their Vegas flight looks appealing.

  9. 3-class international 772 operated UA724 HNL-SFO yesterday. Very comfortable in C and F, even if it’s the barcolounger C.

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