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Southwest Airways celebrated its inaugural Hawaiian flight from Oakland, California, to Honolulu, with a blessing, hula dancers and extra.
Sandy Hooper, USA TODAY

 

The Southwest Airways ticket counter agent at Halfway Worldwide Airport in Chicago noticed the “HNL” airport code on my baggage tag and smiled.

“Ooooh, you’re my first one to Hawaii.’’ She waved the tag on the agent subsequent to her. “Look, Honolulu.’’ 

No new Southwest vacation spot has generated as a lot buzz within the airline’s 48-year historical past as its flights to Hawaii, which started March 17 with nonstop service from California.

A month after the flights debuted with fanfare together with hula dancers and free leis, USA TODAY purchased a Southwest ticket to Honolulu to check vacationers’ latest choice to the tropical paradise.

Would the Hawaii flights be completely different than different Southwest flights, apart from being longer than most? Would it not be, as some critics sneer, depressing to fly to Hawaii on a lowly Boeing 737 as an alternative of a wide-body jet, particularly with out assigned seats? Would passengers be famished after the five-hour-plus flight from California given Southwest’s snacks-only meals service?

Extra: Those $49 Southwest tickets to Hawaii sold out quickly

Attending to California on Southwest

The last-minute tickets for a visit final week weren’t as low cost as Southwest’s teaser introductory fares or a few of these nabbed by my seatmates, however at $644 spherical journey, it was greater than affordable throughout spring break because of the brand new competitors.

My Southwest journey to Honolulu from Chicago took three flights, a airplane change and 13 hours, in contrast with a (a lot pricier) 9 1/2 hour nonstop flight on United. 

There’s no straightforward technique to get to Hawaii on Southwest from Chicago or most cities exterior the West Coast given the airline’s preliminary concentrate on nonstop flights from California. (And forget about booking a return ticket with out an in a single day keep in California.)

The routing: Chicago-St. Louis-Oakland-Honolulu. The Chicago-St. Louis leg was 45 minutes, adopted by 4 hours from St. Louis to Oakland.

By the point I arrived at Oakland Worldwide Airport for Southwest’s 5:45 p.m. departure to Honolulu, I’d already taken the equal of an Oakland-Hawaii flight. Alongside the way in which, I’d devoured the turkey membership sandwich I purchased at Halfway plus Southwest’s free pretzels, Oreos and Fritos, two cups of tea with just a few important oil drops (a seatmate frightened I’d get sick from all of the journey) and a can of Weight loss plan Dr. Pepper.

And I had one other 5 hours to go.

Southwest Flight 1935 from Oakland to Honolulu

Southwest’s flights to Hawaii function out of Gates Four and 6 in Terminal 1 as an alternative of the airline’s regular house in Terminal 2 in Oakland, which ends up in a protracted stroll to the gate whether or not you’re connecting from one other Southwest flight or coming from the ticket counter. I checked one bag at no cost.

Gate scene: The standard zoo, with vacationers lining up sooner than mandatory and a snaking line of households within the household boarding line, aka the airline’s flights to and from Orlando. What’s not typical: vacationers snapping selfies in entrance of the departure board flashing Honolulu. The gate bulletins have a bit of Hawaiian taste: “Aloha and welcome. Make your technique to Gate 6 for Southwest Flight 1935. Mahalo.”

Boarding: I checked in for my Southwest flights precisely 24 hours earlier than departure and was thrilled to get a excessive boarding precedence for the Oakland-Honolulu flight. (The airline famously would not assign seats. Seating is first come, first served.)  It was ok to attain seat 16D, an aisle seat within the emergency exit row. Vacationers who don’t like their boarding place should purchase upgraded boarding on the gate when obtainable. The worth was $40 per individual the day of my flight.

Extra: Southwest seat saving drives some passengers crazy

Other than the flight attendant carrying a plumeria flower hair clip, nothing steered this may be something however an atypical Southwest flight. One of many bulletins stood out and steered a doable social gathering environment on some flights to Hawaii, the place the airline sells a coconut rum drink and Hawaiian beer along with its common beverage menu. “Let’s drink and luxuriate in, however don’t over imbibe. Keep in mind there are kids on board.’’

Earlier than takeoff, one of many pilots on the Boeing 737-800 welcomed passengers together with his personal Hawaiian aptitude.

“In 5 hours and one minute we’re going to have you ever in Honolulu,’’ he mentioned. “Aloha.’’

What does Southwest serve on flights to Hawaii?

In-flight meals: Lower than an hour into the flight, Southwest flight attendants handed out the airline’s new snack pack, supplied solely on Hawaii flights.

“Sit again and snack. As a result of we [heart] you,’’ the package deal says.

Inside: Wheat Thins, a tiny container of white cheddar cheese unfold, Southwest’s signature pretzels, Welch’s fruit snacks, just a few Tic Tacs and a moist wipe. The airline has touted the snack pack and a Milano cookie handed out earlier than touchdown as a extra beneficiant providing for the longer Hawaii flights. However I felt just like the free snacks have been extra plentiful on the shorter however nonetheless prolonged St. Louis-Oakland flight earlier that day. On that flight, passengers had their choose of Fritos, Oreos and Ritz cheese crackers and have been free to take as many as they needed when flight attendants handed by with the snack basket.

Backside line: the Hawaii snack pack is just not going to win any in-flight meals awards or substitute for a meal so passengers ought to eat earlier than their flight or carry meals aboard.

One preflight choice in Oakland, admittedly a splurge: pay $45 for limitless meals and drinks on the Escape lounge close to Southwest’s Hawaii gates. I had free entry by means of my bank card and stuffed up on salami, hummus, greens and couscous.

Southwest’s coconut rum and pineapple orange juice cocktail, which value $7, is a pleasant tropical contact, and the Kona Longboard Island Lager is common. The couple in entrance of me ordered just a few rounds.

“I’ll begin a tab after which we will settle up on the finish,’’ the flight attendant informed them after their second order.

Extra:Southwest Airlines user’s guide

In-flight leisure: Southwest passengers flying to Hawaii, as on all Southwest flights, received’t be bored or go broke shopping for in-flight films. Southwest affords free films (passengers watch on their very own gadgets with their very own headphones), choose TV collection together with “Chopped’’ and “Fixer Higher’’ and stay TV from Dish. 

I watched two films, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,’’ a Judd Apatow rom-com set in Hawaii starring Kristen Bell, Jason Segel, Mila Kunis and Russell Model added for the Hawaii launch, and “Molly’s Recreation.’’

I additionally purchased in-flight Wi-Fi for $eight for the day, and it was surprisingly extra dependable than regular. (You’ll be able to’t stream although.) One other perk: free on the spot messaging by means of apps together with iMessage and WhatsApp.

Consolation: Southwest touts the comparatively beneficiant legroom on its 175-seat Boeing 737-800s and I by no means felt squished on the packed airplane. Flying to Hawaii for 5 hours on one of many airline’s 737s isn’t any completely different than flying coast to coast on the airline, an everyday incidence for me when Southwest supplied nonstop flights between Phoenix and Windfall, Rhode Island, Boston and Hartford, Connecticut. The Hawaii flights aren’t even Southwest’s longest flightsthat title goes to Newark-Oakland. Vacationers who can’t think about spending 5 hours on a Southwest flight don’t know the airline or are used to flying in a premium cabin.

Word that Southwest isn’t the one service flying 737s to Hawaii from California. Alaska Airways does and United Airways was utilizing the brand new 737 Max 9 earlier than these planes have been grounded.

Arrival in Hawaii: Our flight landed in Hawaii simply earlier than eight:30 p.m. native time, which was 1:30 a.m. Chicago time. There is no such thing as a jet bridge connecting the airplane to the terminalso passengers deplane down a ramp and stroll throughout the tarmac to the terminal.  I think about it’s a beautiful introduction to Hawaii when you arrive throughout the day, however it was darkish after we landed. Southwest flights are situated in a distant space of the airport so there was a trek to baggage declare by way of shuttle and the luggage have been very gradual to reach, the one downers throughout a 13-hour journey day. 

Extra: Southwest Hawaii flights: 12 things you need to know

Hawaiian Airways from Honolulu to Phoenix:  Free meal, rum punch and pay-per-view films 

To see how Southwest’s Hawaii flights stack up in opposition to these on the hometown airline, we flew Hawaiian Airways again to the mainland on an Airbus A330 wide-body jet.

I needed to be in Phoenix for Easter so I booked Hawaiian Airways’ 6-hour nonstop flight from Honolulu to Phoenix Sky Harbor Worldwide Airport, an 11 a.m. departure that arrives in Phoenix at eight p.m. native time. I usually suggest Hawaiian to first-time Hawaii guests, even when it prices extra, as a result of it appears like trip as quickly as you board. My youngsters nonetheless discuss in regards to the guava juice they serve.

Hawaiian Flight 35 from Honolulu to Phoenix departed from Gate C1, a protracted stroll or free shuttle experience from examine in. I paid $30 on the skycap examine in for one bag.

Gate scene: The sprawling gate space was filled with most seats stuffed, however it was much less of a zoo than on the Southwest flight, partly as a result of Hawaiian assigns seats. 

Boarding:  The boarding course of was much less private than I bear in mind, with recorded messages calling teams to board. I used to be in Group 5, the final group to board. There was loads of overhead bin house for my keep it up. I used to be in seat 25H, an aisle seat with one seatmate on the two-aisle airplane with a 2-Four-2 seat structure in financial system. I chosen the seat once I purchased the ticket and didn’t need to pay a nasty seat selection fee.

The Hawaii touches have been all over the place: a fuschia flower stamped on my boarding cross, Hawaiian shirts on the flight attendants and seat-back screens giving passengers a digital tour of the islands throughout the security briefing.

“Once you’re right here with us, you’re in Hawaii,’’ the narrator says.  

In-flight meals: Right here’s the place Hawaiian actually stands out from Southwest and different opponents.  The airline nonetheless serves free meals in financial system class to the astonishment of many passengers lengthy used to paying for meals or bringing their very own. One Hawaiian passenger informed me she hadn’t had a free meal on a airplane for the reason that 1980s.

About 90 minutes into the flight, after a snack cart promoting treats together with $three Snickers bars and $Four Pringles handed by, Hawaiian flight attendants delivered heat rooster pesto sandwiches from Pau Hana Café and a bag of Hawaiian-brand candy maui onion potato chips. They known as it a “mild meal.’’ I known as it a tasty cash saver. Sandwiches offered from a stand close to the departure gate have been going for almost $10.

The airline adopted up with a complimentary chocolate coated macadamia nut and, earlier than touchdown, a free glass of rum punch and Pau Hana snack combine.

In-flight leisure: Right here’s the place Hawaiian falls brief in contrast with Southwest and different opponents. It’s not the lineup of films (“A Star is Born’’ and “Bohemian Rhapsody’’ are on the listing) or TV reveals (you catch the primary season of Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’’), it’s the fee.

In an period of an growing quantity of free leisure on main U.S. airways, Hawaiian nonetheless prices for films on most flights. I paid $7.99 to look at Melissa McCarthy in  “Can You Ever Forgive Me?’’ Films are free on Hawaiian’s flights from Boston and New York to Hawaii, its longest flights from the mainland.

One other shortfall: Hawaiian doesn’t provide in-flight web service. Six hours may be the longest daytime digital detox I’ve had for the reason that introduction of Wi-Fi, however I survived.

Consolation: In contrast to Southwest, Hawaiian affords quite a lot of seating choices on its Hawaii flights relying in your journey fashion and finances. On the 278-seat A330, there are 18 lie-flat seats in First Class and 68 “Further Consolation’’ seats with 5 additional inches of legroom and precedence boarding. The going price for every once I booked my $329 one-way financial system class ticket: $1,500 for top notch and $409 for Further Consolation. Not precisely within the work finances.

After I purchased my ticket, I used to be repeatedly supplied, by way of e-mail, the prospect to bid on an improve to top notch. Vacationers choose the worth and are notified if the bid is profitable 48 hours earlier than departure. I put in just a few hundred , as a check, and Hawaiian’s meter displaying the likelihood of acceptance swung left to “poor.”

The excellent news for passengers like me caught at the back of the airplane: Hawaiian doesn’t make you squeeze into its seats. It touts a 31 inch seat pitch, a typical measure of legroom, on the airplane I used to be on, versus 32 inches on Southwest. Discounter Spirit Airline’s typical seat pitch, by comparability, is 28 inches. As on Southwest, I wasn’t stretched out, to make certain, and my seatmate was loads shut, however I wasn’t uncomfortable or counting the minutes till the flight was over.

So who wins in a Southwest Airways vs. Hawaiian Airways battle? 

It comes all the way down to cash. If the costs are related, I’d go along with Hawaiian for a extra distinctive expertise and unmatchable introduction to Hawaii for newbies.

And I don’t simply imply the ticket worth. Don’t neglect to incorporate baggage charges when including up the prices of a Hawaiian flight. The airline prices $30 for the primary bag and $40 for the second bag on flights between the mainland U.S. and Hawaii. A household of 4 checking one bag a bit would pay an additional $240 roundtrip or $560 spherical journey with two luggage a bit. That would purchase a variety of Mai Tais, macadamia nuts or put a dent in the price of a luau.

If Southwest prevails on worth (its subsequent main sale is in early June), e book it with out hesitation, even with a layover or two. Hate the considered boarding such a protracted flight with out seat assignments? Fork over $25 a seat, every method, for the airline’s EarlyBird boarding

Clara Goodman, 25, and her husband, Van, flew Southwest from Phoenix to Honolulu by way of Oakland final week for a final hurrah earlier than she begins faculty to change into a doctor assistant. They scored two spherical journey tickets for $550 when Southwest put the Hawaii flights on sale in early March. Each had flown Southwest beforehand and have been pleasantly shocked by the snack pack however general discovered the brand new Hawaii flights to be extra generic than they have been anticipating, no completely different than a Phoenix-Baltimore flight that they had been on. However they weren’t complaining. As Clara mentioned, “When all is alleged and completed, it’s only a airplane experience and it’s low cost, so who cares, actually?” 

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