Flying between Phoenix, Arizona and Hawaii is in that medium-haul flight range. It’s not quite the convenient flight that it is from the West Coast and it’s not a long-haul flight like it would be to the East Coast of the US.
You’re talking about 5.5 to 6 hours.
So while you could get by with a standard recliner seat, we really wanted to try out Hawaiian Airlines First Class on the A330 from HNL to PHX.
In this review article, I’ll give you the complete review including how we booked it without paying a single dollar and what the experience was like when it came to things like in-flight entertainment and dining.
Table of Contents
Hawaii Trip Overview
This trip came at the end of a 10 night trip to Hawaii where we spent five nights in Oahu and five nights in Kauai.
It was a super fast paced 10 days in which we got very little rest but thoroughly enjoyed the experiences with some hiking, off-roading, hotel-hopping, and all-around exploring.
We were very fortunate that the weather cooperated with us and allowed us to capture a lot of additional content including what you can find in the links below:
- Luau Kalamaku Review (Kilohana Plantation, Kauai)
- Manoa Falls Trail Review and Guide
- Dole Plantation Review (Worth it or Tourist Trap?)
Here are some of the Hawaii hotel reviews from the trip:
- Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort Review
- Marriott’s Kauai Beach Club Review
- Holiday Inn Express Waikiki Review
We used American Express Membership Rewards to book these Hawaiian Airlines tickets.
With the Amex Business Gold Card, I spent 80,751 points per ticket after factoring in the 25% points rebate on business class tickets.
I figured this would make more sense than transferring 80,000 points to Hawaiian Airlines because I’d also earn 4,375 Hawaiian Miles on the flight and would not have to pay the small $5.60 fee.
It also meant I would not be limited to award seats which would make the booking easier for the two of us.
So while I was not in love with cents per point I got (1.25), I still felt pretty good about the booking.
Tip: Use the free app WalletFlo to help you travel the world for free by finding the best travel credit cards and promotions!
Check in at HNL was pretty smooth as there was no line when we arrived.
The first class check in area for flights back to the mainland is in a slightly odd location since it’s not by the main check-in desks.
It’s also in a completely different part of the terminal from inter-island first class flights.
We were checked in by a slightly less than pleasant Hawaiian Airlines agent.
Every staff member that we dealt with during our flight was awesome so this was the only service shortcoming we experienced when on Hawaiian Airlines.
After weighing our bags, we were told to bring our checked bags to TSA.
But right after that a staff member came by to load up our bags onto a cart and to take care of it for us.
The check-in agent also did not mention anything about lounges that we had access to which is usually customary when checking in for business class or first class.
Luckily, I knew we would be headed to the Plumeria Lounge by utilizing Priority Pass.
However, if we were not aware of what lounges we could access it may not have even occurred to us to go to a lounge so check-in agents need to do better letting passengers know what they are entitled to.
We were among the very first to board on the A330 and the boarding process went smoothly and on time.
The A330 First Class cabin
As we entered the forward cabin, it was nice to be greeted by such nice and friendly crew members.
The first class cabin on the A330 is arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration. There are three rows for a total of 18 passengers.
This means that some passengers will not have direct aisle access when they choose a window seat.
With Hawaii being such a big leisure travel destination this is not that big of a deal for lots of passengers and in our case we were flying as a couple so it worked perfectly. It truly does feel like a honeymoon cabin.
If you are flying solo I don’t think a middle seat would be bad because you have direct aisle access and (as you’ll see below) the privacy partition you can raise is pretty big.
Thankfully, the seats are angled from each other which provide you with a decent amount of elbow room between seats — something that some business class seats really lack with similar configurations.
As far as the seat goes, it has some pretty simple functionality.
You’ll find a power outlet and two USB outlets on the side of your seat for easy charging.
The seat control is limited to one wheel control and you simply push it one way to recline and the other way to go back up. Some people will love the simplicity and others will prefer something that gives them a more customized feel.
There was one point where I felt like the control was broken since my seat was not going back up.
Eventually, it did work but it took several attempts so sometimes the seats might be a little tricky, despite the apparent simplicity. Also, I might just be an idiot sometimes.
Directly under the seat control, you have another USB port and the controls for your overhead light and service needs.
You’ll have a little ottoman along with a storage net by your feet.
Usually, an ottoman like this is covered so that your feet don’t slip off the edge so having one uncovered was a little bit different. Those people with longer legs or Jolly Green Giant feet might prefer this type of set up since your feet don’t feel so constricted.
For me, it felt like a perfect fit.
You have a decent amount of storage underneath the seat in front of you and as mentioned you also have some storage space in the netting on the side.
There’s not that much space under the seat in front of you. There was no way my backpack was going to fit in that space and you can take a look at the image below to get a sense of how limited the storage space is.
If you have any kind of normal sized backpack/carry-on bag you’ll most likely have to store it above.
One of the knocks of Hawaiian Airlines First Class is that they don’t offer TV screens.
At first, this was an extremely odd concept to me to have a lie-flat first class product with no TV monitors. To be frank, it was a bit of a turn off.
However, it’s actually not as bad as you might think.
Instead of TV monitors, they will bring you out large tablets that you can use to pull up movies, TV shows, etc. These tablets rest on a little stand that pops out.
You basically push down on a little circular button between the seats and a rod extends out that allows you to display your tablet or other device.
You can swivel it but it does not stay which is kind of a drawback, especially whenever you are lying down.
Brad decided to just use his phone for his entertainment needs.
However, I wanted to give the tablet a try so I went with that.
They’ll give you your tablet and also a pair of somewhat decent headphones if you opt-in.
It took about 15 minutes for them to bring out the tablets so you do lose a bit of in-flight entertainment time in the beginning although it’s not that bad.
They had a pretty decent selection of movies and I felt almost obligated to watch Disney’s Jungle Cruise since we were just at the Luau Kalamaku which was used as the train station in the movie.
Here’s a look that gives a good contrast of how the tablet compares to using an iPhone 13 Pro Max.
They also had a decent selection of TV shows and other things you could try like Hawaiian music and games.
The only real drawback of the tablet experience is that they don’t bring them out until after you are up in the air and they take them back before you descend so it cuts down on your overall in-flight entertainment time.
When it comes time for dining it’s pretty easy to pop out your tray, which is thankfully much more sturdy than the tray used in inter-island first class.
As they came around with the tray table cloth, they also passed out the tablets.
They first brought out some crunchy macadamia nuts and I went with a sparkling club soda to kick things off.
Brad decided to try out one of the signature drinks: the mai tai. It’s worth noting that they did not do pre-departure drinks on this flight but that might change after the pandemic maybe?
I really enjoyed the dining experience on this first class flight.
We decided to try each of the main course options which included a fine herb ravioli with roasted pepper and balsamic sauce and also wine braised chicken with olive tapenade and Negi Panisse.
I liked the ravioli but some of the pieces were a little bit undercooked.
Brad really enjoyed the chicken dish, although it had way too many mushrooms for me.
The rolls and desert were both on point.
They had a few snacks you could grab at any time during the flight and I tried out the Maui Style potato chips and this little pineapple shaped cookie which was very good.
I really can’t say enough nice things about the crew. They offered exceptional and friendly service throughout the entire flight and I was highly impressed by them.
They issued each of us a blanket and a pillow for the flight.
If you’re taking a longer flight you may be issued more extensive bedding amenities like a bedding pad and perhaps thicker blankets. But you also might have to ask for that.
Being limited to a pillow and a blanket on a flight of this duration seems pretty standard because I’ve flown short international first class flights and received similar “bare-bones” treatment.
Without any additional bedding, it’s not the most comfortable experience in the fully reclined position but given the duration of the flight it’s enough to get you by and a hell of a lot better than being in economy so….
As for the privacy shade, I feel like it would do a pretty good job if you needed your own privacy from a stranger.
Here’s a look at the privacy you would have.
If you’re wondering what it looks like without direct aisle access here’s a picture of my perspective with Brad having his feet propped up.
If the person next to you pulls their legs up a little bit you should be able to get by relatively easy but again if you’re flying solo, a middle seat might just be better.
I took a second to check out the lavatory which was a pretty standard one although it seemed a little bit more spacious and had a few Hawaiian accents to it.
I really had no idea what to expect with Hawaiian Airlines First Class on the A330. All things considered, I’d say I was pleasantly surprised. The level of service was better than I expected and probably the biggest thing that stuck out to me.
Dealing with the tablet for in-flight entertainment was not a major issue at all and the only thing that bothered me was that you lose out on some time when taking off and landing so you have to time up your movies.
Dining was good but not great and I enjoyed having the lie-flat seat although I’m not sure it was the most comfortable when lying down. Maybe that was due to minimal bedding or maybe it was due to the seat I’m not sure.
But overall, I was definitely pleased with the flight and would happily fly again.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and creator of the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned full-time travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in major publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, US News, and Business Insider. Find his full bio here.