First Look: New Hawaiian Airlines Lie-Flat Premium Cabin

Filed Under: Airline Reviews, Hawaiian

Aloha from Maui!

I flew here in Hawaiian Airlines’ new A330 Business/First Premium Cabin. I’ll have a full review eventually, but I wanted to share some initial photos, and my thoughts on this very unique cabin.

Oh my gosh, the cabin is stunning!

From the wavy backs of the seat consoles to the mood-lighting, to the hints of blue — the design concept is a delicious nod to Mid-Century Hawaiian modernism, but without being overpowering.

New Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business/First cabin

New Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business/First seat

New Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business/First cabin moodlighting

Most importantly for the Hawaii market, the cabin is fun! The 2-2-2 configuration is designed in such a way that feels social. You can talk with your travel companion, or lean across the aisle to chat with another couple.

New Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business/First cabin

The new Hawaiian A330 feels much more like you’re sitting in deck chairs on an ocean liner than the cloistered and stoic privacy of traditional business class cabins.

The seat is puzzling

I have mixed feelings about the new Hawaiian Airlines A330 business class seat. I love the visual details, and the seat angle makes it easy to communicate with your travel companion (which also keeps the overall cabin volume down).

New Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business/First seat

But many aspects of the seat design seem geared around style over substance, and I can’t help feeling like the design wasn’t truly thought through or tested.

The leather edging on the center console is attractive, but seems like it’s going to be difficult to keep clean. The tray tables and IFE stand are already starting to catch, making them even more difficult to store and release.

New Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business/First seat

This is particularly problematic as the tray tables are heavy. They have a push-tension latching system, and it takes effort to get them latched. I was chatting with the crew in the galley during the flight, and they mentioned that their backs are sore after a day with this configuration (the LA-based crews do a direct turn in Maui with this plane presently).

Not good.

The seat also doesn’t have any meaningful small-item storage.

New Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business/First seat

There’s a netted pocket on the ottoman, but it’s a bit far away, and I’m not sure what it could actually hold.

New Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business/First ottoman

There’s a small space near the light controls, but you wouldn’t want to put any small electronics there (though there’s no where else to put them). The iPad cases distributed by the crew don’t even fit there, and thus ended up loose on the floor throughout the cabin.

New Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business/First seat

Loose ipads — not so good

The placement of the controls themselves is also weird, particularly in the window seat. They’re under the hinge of the tray table, and as the window seat tray doesn’t pivot it’s pretty difficult to reach the seat adjustment dial with the tray table extended, and nearly impossible to reach the flight attendant call button.

As my husband remarked, “Oh, that’s perfect placement! You can ring the button to tell the FA you’ve spilled everything, plus whatever else you were going to ask for!”

He’s fun.

On the plus side, the new Hawaiian business class seat has legroom for days. I can’t think of a business class product with a similar amount of foot and leg space.

New Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business/First legroom

Having the seats angled in a “V” enhances the amount of space available for the legs, and the shoulder space was still sufficient.

But there are some misses here as well. At 5’7” I could barely touch my heels to the ottoman when the seat wasn’t reclined. And the seat controls don’t allow the granularity to extend or adjust the leg-rest without reclining the seat.

Only one control for the seats

The shield on the side of the ottoman is also interesting.

It’s completely useless on the window side. On the aisle side, it does a fantastic job of keeping feet out of the aisle and safe from carts. Which is a really cool concept.

New Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business/First ottoman

In practice, however, the height of the shield makes it impossible for the window passenger to exit their seat if the aisle seat is even partially reclined.

New Hawaiian Airlines A330 Business/First aisle access and ottoman

The design of these seats is supposed to allow the window passenger to shimmy between the ottoman and the seat in front, but I don’t know who they tested this with, because I don’t think it’s possible with the aisle seat reclined.

Combined with the height of the shield, the window passenger realistically has to get the aisle passenger to at least scrunch their feet up in order to get out.

A squeeze even when the seat isn’t reclined

I’m a ninja at escaping from window seats without disturbing sleeping aisle passengers (I do it all the time on the AA A321Ts, Qatar 777s, etc.), but I couldn’t do it here. My husband and I traded seats so that he could try, and again – he couldn’t easily step over or past me when the seat was reclined and I was lying on my back with my feet up.

When I switched to my side with my feet parallel to the ottoman he had better success, but that becomes a very narrow use-case. His feet didn’t fit sideways on the ottoman, and he has pretty average proportions at 6’1″ and a size 12.5 shoe. I just don’t think you can plan on having a shorter person in the aisle, much less a side-sleeper.

Interestingly, Hawaiian didn’t bother with the gap between the ottoman and shell on the center section of seats. So they clearly intend for this to count as “aisle access” for the window seats, but I’m not sure how plausible that will be for most travelers.

Bottom line

Ultimately, I don’t think the quirks of the seat are a deal-breaker, or will hurt the ability of Hawaiian to sell out the cabin.

I’m not sure how well the cabin will hold up to heavy use, and I do wish airlines and seat vendors would test new products with people who actually travel (hey guys: we’re available!!).

The overall concept is delightfully lovely though. And Hawaiian should absolutely be applauded for their out of the box design.

There is nothing else like this in the air, and the cabin invokes feelings of sailing and relaxation — a perfect introduction to Hawaii.

What do you think of the new Hawaiian A330?

Enjoy this review? Check out hundreds of other reports on airlines, hotels, and airport lounges worldwide!
  1. Bravo–one of the most thorough and thoughtful seat reviews posted. I can only dream that you’re doing a review of the Andaz Maui while there.

  2. Interesting review and I look forward to the full account. Hawaiian island air service is such a unique travel experience, not transcontinental or international business – but an animal in and of itself. I didn’t realize Hawaiian finnaly had introduced their new design.

  3. I will only fly Hawaiian again if that is the only option and if an inter-island swimming is to far for me. They have the rudest personnel working for them and the word “customer service” has no translation into Hawaiian language.

  4. Do we know what routes feature the new business class? and/or when a certain route will receive the new J?

  5. Hi Tiffany,excellent report. I’ve sent you a linkedin request, as I am one of those teams that designs brand new business class seats (from another company). I had offered Ben the opportunity to come and visit our studio to review a new un-launched seat a few months back (I may have got the wrong email, as I never heard back).

    We are available too, so I’d love to hear from you and the team.

  6. @ Will P @ Mileage Man @ SLAB — It’s not *officially* flying any particular route, but in practice is currently doing one daily turn between LAX and OGG. It’s been HA33 & HA34, but look at the economy seatmap to be sure — the new plane doesn’t have a row 13.

  7. Flying to Seoul on Hawaiian Air in December, hopefully the plane will be configured with the new seats.

  8. Hawaiian needed to do something with their long haul product, they want to expand into more international routes they needed to do something. I think the new product is step forward, but not enough, the IFE is horrible, and I hope they revamped the meals they serve too.

  9. Absolutely form over function. It’s like there was a concerted effort to do something “new” but with minimal thought as to why the tried-and-true methods exist. What’s especially disconcerting is all the moving parts for the IFE. The fact that iPads have to be distributed is laughable in itself. That’s wasted effort and time for the FAs, presumably additional hardware costs for the airline, and then there’s the “tablet holder” arm that looks like some sort of Goldbergian contraption that you mentioned is already starting to fail.

    In all, this looks horribly conceived and even worse in practice.

  10. I like the colors and the style but the reality is a 2x2x2 business-class product for longhaul flights on U.S.-flagged airlines isn’t competitive. For flights to Hawaii, it’s fine, I suppose, because the majority of passengers–on any airline–are leisure travelers. Still, it isn’t competitive with Hawaiian’s goal of regional growth within Asia and the Pacific. I also agree with Tiffany that I don’t understand why more airlines don’t actually test the designs out. It’s just not airlines. Some of the hotel renovations were clearly never field tested beyond a computer module.

  11. How about the padding/comfort of the seat. Do you think it would be a comfortable bed on the longer haul flights? It looks kind of thin.

  12. Hi. Glad to see your post. Second guessing what Ben’s horrible news was… Glad to see you are ok. When/where will you be speaking again?

  13. Wife and i were thinking of getting these seats instead of the Extra Comfort seats. Any couples feel like that divider was too much of a barrier between you and your loved one?

  14. Thanks Tiffany. Looks like that bamboo looking glass divider can be removed, but what about that white piece right behind it?

  15. @ Glenn — Nope, but you’ll still be plenty close, more so than in other business class seats. The Hawaiian version is rather horrible for individual travelers seeking privacy, so sounds like it would be ideal for a couple.

  16. @Tiffany: Was looking for reviews of Hawaiian’s lie-flat. Did you ever end up writing a review for this trip?

  17. @ keitherson — I have it mostly drafted, but haven’t finished/published it yet. I need an intern…

    But more than happy to answer any questions in the meantime, of course!

  18. Tiffany, did you happen to notice if the distance from the end of the seat to the beginning of the ottoman was shorter in the side bulkhead seats as opposed to other seats? This is a deal breaker for my wife who is 5’4″ and wants to sit straight with her legs stretched out for eating and watching movies. She was apoplectic on an old US Air plane (*now AA) from CDG to CLT where she couldn’t stretch out (without putting the seat back to get the footrest to come up).

  19. @ Norman Soloman — The seats seemed the same regardless of row, so I don’t think you’d have a shorter span in the bulkhead.

    I don’t think any other option to Hawaii is going to be better though.

  20. How did you book this flight? 40k or 80k one way? I’m looking for saver and it’s nearly impossible. There’s plenty of 80k one way though… Any suggestions on how to find the saver seats? Thanks.

  21. Hey Tiffany – where did your husband get those shoes? They are great and he and I wear the same shoe size.

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