A Hawaiian airlines plane flying over Hawaii with illustrated details around it

Hawaiian Airlines Encompasses Hawai'i, While Ensuring It Practices Travel Pono

The state's largest carrier introduces flyers to Hawai'i's culture and beauty

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Especially in recent years, airplane travel has strayed farther and farther from the so-called Golden Age of Air Travel, the 1950s and 1960s, when flying was luxurious, pleasurable, and, well, fun. Today, when it comes to air travel, many people might think of tension, cramped quarters, bad food, and crabby passengers instead. Rarely does a passenger consider the beginning of their vacation as the airplane ride. It's typically when they arrive that the fun or relaxation can begin.

Not so for a passenger flying Hawaiian Airlines. Here, passengers are immediately enveloped in the Aloha spirit, feeling like they're already in tropical Hawai'i. I flew Hawaiian Airlines JFK to Honolulu route this summer (the route celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2022). When my family of four and I arrived on board, frazzled and exhausted from our trek to and through the airport, our stress quickly melted away as we found our seats.

Grid of illustrated facts about Hawaiian airlines

Photo: Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines; Illustration: TripSavvy / Julie Bang

The flight attendants greeted us with brightly colored flowers in their hair and uniforms featuring lehua blossom and 'ohe kapala (bamboo stamps) designed by Hilo-based design firm Sig Zane Kaiao and a committee of 40 Hawaiian Airlines employees. Mai tais, POG (pineapple orange guava) juice, and Lion Coffee, featuring an exclusive Hawaiian Airlines Blend that uses beans freshly roasted in Honolulu and blended to optimum flavor for high altitude brewing, were free-flowing. Traditional Hawaiian music soothingly played from the speaker.

And because we had splurged on first class for the 10-hour flight, we were given a canvas pouch designed by Moloka'i-based brand Kealopiko adorned with coral and fern patterns that pay homage to Hawai'i's natural resources. It was filled with amenities to help kickstart our vacation, including socks with a playful Hawaiian Airlines flip-flop design, a packet of Raw Elements USA reef-safe sunscreen, hand and body balm, lip balm, and hydrating mist from the airline's private skincare line Lōli'i.

Soon, we found ourselves watching a gorgeous video about Travel Pono, Hawai'i's initiative to help guests travel responsibly, safely, and respectfully. The airline's video was informative, inspiring, and filled with real-life situations and solutions guests face while visiting the fragile islands. The airline's website also has a detailed Travel Pono page.

When we got hungry, we could check out the Made in Hawaii Snack Sampler from the roving Pau Hana snack cart or enjoy the island-inspired meals created by MW Restaurant executive chefs and desserts made by one of the premier pastry chefs in Hawai'i. We paired our meals with Hawaii-made beer, spirits, and wines selected by Chuck Furuya, Hawaii's first Master Sommelier, who curates the beverage offerings and is an expert on pairing with Pacific Rim cuisine. And it's worth noting that Hawaiian Airlines provides complimentary meals for all guests on transpacific routes, which is certainly not a guarantee in our current airline landscape.

But our experience was not an anomaly.

"No matter where they are seated, Hawaiian Airlines' guests enjoy our highest level of comfort and service rooted in hoʻokipa [authentic Hawaiian hospitality]. Whether on a romantic getaway, family vacation, or business trip, every traveler can kick back and relax with an elevated cabin experience designed with the sights, sounds, smells, and flavors of Hawaiʻi in mind," said Peter Ingram, president and CEO of Hawaiian Airlines, who also noted that 90 percent of the airline's employees call the islands home. "For example, textiles and other materials throughout our Airbus A321neo cabin pay homage to traditional Hawaiian crafts, from bark cloth [kapa] to fishing nets. Guests will discover many details as they experience the cabin, from Hawaiian language used in signage, to unexpected textures, to the custom floor and wall laminates in each lavatory. The full LED mood-lighting system on the aircraft has been programmed to evoke Hawaiʻi's unmatched sunrises and sunsets, enhancing the guest's mood at each stage along their journey."

Beyond helping guests start their vacation early, perhaps, more importantly, is the company's commitment to the environment.

"As a destination carrier, Hawai'i is our mission, but just as importantly, it is home to most of our employees. They understand we have a responsibility to help protect and preserve our Islands' natural resources for future generations of residents and visitors," said Ingram.

In 2021, the airline pledged to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. In April 2022, they launched a carbon calculator on their booking page so customers can easily offset their trip by purchasing carbon credits that protect forests and support local communities. And in June, the airline joined Par Hawaii, the state's largest supplier of energy products, to study the commercial viability of locally produced sustainable aviation fuels to replace all or a percentage of traditional kerosene-based jet fuel with fuel that is made with sustainable feedstocks.

"Integrating sustainable aviation fuel into our operations is by far the most impactful way we can significantly lower our missions in the near term," said Ingram.

They have also committed to reducing single-use plastics on flights by 50 percent by 2025 and eliminating them by 2029. They are currently replacing about 142,000 plastic bottles served onboard annually with aluminum bottles from water company Mananalu.

They are also working on modernizing their aircraft to be more energy efficient. "We are closely monitoring cleaner aircraft technologies," said Ingram. "Earlier this year, we announced a strategic partnership with REGENT to help with the design of the Monarch, a 100-seat electric sea glider for potential application in Hawaiʻi and inter-island travel."

Food served by Hawaiian Airlines

Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines

In the company's annual Corporate Kuleana (Responsibility) Report, they detail their greenhouse gas emissions and gallons of jet fuel consumed, as well as their environmental sustainability strategy, which focuses on decarbonization by committing to using jet fuel derived from more sustainable sources, modernizing their fleet of aircraft, and implementing fuel efficiency initiatives based on their new 2021 routes. They also address energy consumption reduction in their offices, including installing solar panels and detail their waste reduction initiatives and their commitment to sourcing local.

"Food sustainability is another important issue for us and the islands. Local sourcing supports Hawai'i's economy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping of products," said Ingram. "To help support local farmers, this summer, the Hawaiian Airlines Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant to Kako o Oiwi, an agricultural and cultural nonprofit group on Oahu. Funds will be used to build a pack and wash station to process crops and bring products to market."

Hawaiian Airlines is now in its 93rd year of service and will enter its 94th on Nov. 11, the day the airline (then called Inter-Island Airways) was inaugurated into service as Hawaiʻi's first-ever commercial air carrier. Island businessman Stanley C. Kennedy believed that air travel was destined to overtake ships as the primary mode of passenger transportation between the Hawaiian Islands, and he purchased a single-engine Bellanca CH-300 Pacemaker with wooden wings and started selling $5 sightseeing tours of Oahu. In 1941, Inter-Island Airways was renamed Hawaiian Airlines, paving the way for transpacific operations.

Today, Hawaiian Airlines is Hawaii's largest and longest-serving airline, carrying more than 10 million guests annually. It has led all U.S. carriers in on-time performance for the past 18 years (2004-2021), as the U.S. Department of Transportation reported. It might surprise some flyers to learn that Hawaiian Airlines offers approximately 130 daily flights within the Hawaiian Islands, daily nonstop flights between Hawaiʻi and 15 U.S. gateway cities—more than any other airline—as well as service connecting Honolulu and American Samoa, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, and Tahiti.

There is no doubt that Stanley Kennedy would be proud to see how far his little island airline has come. And that it has done its utmost to protect and preserve the beautiful islands of Hawai'i while sharing them with the world.