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When passengers step into Hawaiian Airlines’ new Boeing 787 business class cabin, they’ll find themselves enveloped in a little slice of Hawai’i to either begin their holiday right on the tarmac or extend their vacation just that little bit longer.
From the middle ‘Cabana Suites’ to Koa wood-patterned flooring and wall panels to ceiling-mounted LED lights depicting the constellations of the night sky, Hawaiian Airlines’ 787 business class is both inspired by and reflects the carrier’s island home and Polynesian heritage.
The new premium suites – and yes, they all come with privacy doors – will be branded as Leihoku Class, with Leihoku meaning ‘garland of stars’, and they’ll debut on Hawaiian Airlines’ first Boeing 787-9, due in November 2023.
The dreamy Dreamliners will begin flying to the US West Coast in March 2024, Hawaiian Airlines’ exec Avi Mannis tells Executive Traveller.
“We will get a second 787 in early 2024 and be ready to put the two aircraft into commercial service late in the first quarter.”
“When we put it into commercial service initially it will most likely be flying to one of our West Coast cities, and then as we grow the fleet and build our experience, we’ll start to put it on some of our longer-haul routes.”
Hawaiian Airlines will be flying four Boeing 787s by the end of 2024, with the rest of the 12-strong order arriving across 2025-2027; the Dreamliners will be dedicated to major trans-Pacific routes spearing out from Honolulu.
They’ll each be crowned by 34 flatbed business class suites based on the Ascent design from Adient Aerospace, which adopts a 1-2-1 layout (compared the current 2-2-2 of Hawaiian’s Airbus A330 jets) with the following passenger-pleasing traits
- privacy doors for all suites
- sliding privacy panels in the paired middle ‘Cabana Suites’
- an 18-inch HD video screen
- AC, USB and wireless device charging
The paired Cabana Suites in the middle of each business class row are “a really important feature for Hawaiian Airline passengers who are usually celebrating a vacation or special occasion while they're visiting the island,” explains Adient Aerospace’s Stephanie Faulk.
“There’s a privacy divider, so if a traveller is by themselves they can put up the divider, but the (panel) does lower down – there’s two buttons that need to be pushed simultaneously in order for that to fully lower flat – so it allows for couples that are travelling together to have a full suite that feels like one harmonious cabana instead of two separate suites.”
However, while those coupled activities including “watching a movie together or having a meal together,” the outwards-angle of the seats means they don’t become a proper double bed.
Travellers will eventually, although not from the get-go, enjoy free high-speed WiFi provided by the Starlink network developed by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, with the satellite kit being progressively installed on the Boeing 787 Dreamliners, Airbus A330 and A321neo jets.
Hawaiian Airlines began developing its Boeing 787 business class in 2017, Mannis says, with the intent that the first Dreamliner would arrive in 2021 (as with airlines around the world, that timeline became an early casualty of the Covid pandemic).
The carrier began working with Adient Aerospace – a joint venture between Boeing and automotive seat-maker Adient – on a concept for the firm’s first twin-aisle business class seat, dubbed Ascent, and quickly became almost a design partner in the process.
“We were very much involved in the process,” Mannis recounts,“and I like to think there’s some of our DNA in the production seat that exists today.”
“You get in there first and you have a lot more influence in what becomes that baseline core design that is offered going forward to other customers,” agrees Adient’s Faulk.
As it happens, however, Qatar Airways was the first airline to fly the Ascent on its new wave of Boeing 787-9s in mid-2021 – and apart from the usual “branding” customisations in colour, finish and materials made by any airline, there’s no practical difference between the Qatar Airways and Hawaiian Airlines seats, Faulk confirmed to Executive Traveller.
That’s by no means a bad thing, as anybody who has flown on the newer Qatar Airways 787s can attest – the thoughtfully-designed seat sports most of the mod cons except for wireless Bluetooth streaming, which was still being refined during Ascent’s final stages of development.
Hawaiian’s 787 business class features some island-influenced aesthetic choices “which give a unique Hawaiian feel to the seat,” says Loreto Julian, from Seattle-based design consultants Teague.
Julian helped refine not just the seat but the Dreamliner’s entire cabin: the colours, the materials, the LED lighting patterns and of course the “simulated cabin sky” in business class, where passengers “will gaze up at a luminous star compass ceiling evoking the constellations that guided Polynesian voyagers at night.”
“If you’re going on vacation, going to Hawai’i, as soon as you cross the threshold (of the 787 entryway) you're really brought into Hawaii and this welcoming environment.”
By the same token, the 787 can be “your last memory of your vacation… I might be going back home to Seattle and our rainy weather, but I’m still being transported from Hawai’i in that (vacation) environment.”
The entry of the 787 plays a large part in this, explains Julian, himself a native of Hawai’i.
“The most obvious thing in the world to do is to put a giant airline logo and brand panels at that door, and we very much didn't want to do that,” Julian reflects.
Instead, there are “curved wooden slats that really create more of a hospitality atmosphere than a sort of a corporate airline space.”
“Being Hawaiian, one of the things that is important is being able to welcome your guests, whether that's at your home, at the hotel or whatever… so for the entry we created this really nice welcoming environment.”
Those slats and the flooring are made from a composite with the same red storied pattern as the native Hawaiian Koa tree, originally used to craft everything from outrigger canoes to surfboards and later guitars and ukuleles.
Even the flooring of the lavatories is “inspired by shimmering black volcanic sand”, while laminates and fabrics throughout the cabin “reflect the forms of native plants.”
While Hawaiian Airlines’ Airbus A330s won’t be upgraded with these new suites, these hardy workhorses will continue to feature “on our larger US mainland markets and some of our international markets,” Mannis tells Executive Traveller.
“The 787 is a slightly larger aircraft and it’s got a much bigger business class cabin, so we can use the 787 in markets that are a little larger or have more premium demand.”
But the overall larger twin-aisle fleet will also let the A330 become “a really good sort of ‘pathfinder’ aircraft” for launching new routes, Mannis expects.
“As we're starting up new markets, it's got plenty of range and a product that we're very happy with.”