Airline Review

Factory Fresh: Hawaiian Airlines 787 Leihoku Suites First Class


Tom Goward | 28/04/2024

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78/ 100

Flight Hacks expert rating

As the home airline of Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines embodies the spirit of the islands. The relaxed domestic First Class experience puts me into holiday mode from the first “aloha” at boarding. Plus, flying on a factory-fresh jet is always fun.

  • 9/ 20
    Ground Experience
  • 18/ 20
    Seat & Cabin
  • 18/ 20
    Crew & Service
  • 16/ 20
    Food & Beverage
  • 17/ 20
    Overall Value


  • Brilliant cabin crew
  • Excellent onboard dining
  • Closing privacy door


  • Disgusting “lounge” experience
  • Short and narrow bed

I was beyond excited to step onboard Hawaiian Airlines’ first Boeing 787 just five days after its inaugural flight. Even more thrilling was the fact I would be sitting up front, to experience Hawaiian’s all-new domestic First Class.

The innovative Leihoku Suites was a product I had been looking forward to flying since it was unveiled last year. The airline’s first direct aisle access suite was bound to impress, fitted with all the optional extras including closing doors, wireless charging and even a starlit ceiling.

Despite offering what I found to be a seamless experience, Hawaiian Airlines is often overlooked for journeys to the US mainland, with direct services often favoured by passengers. But because Hawaii is part of the United States, I was able to clear immigration and stretch my legs in Honolulu, before continuing onto the domestic leg to San Francisco.

Additionally, Hawaiian is partnered with Virgin Australia, allowing travellers to cash in Velocity Points for flights, or earn those points and Status Credits on cash fares. The airline’s own HawaiianMiles program also offers competitive redemptions and is an American Express transfer partner.

Hawaiian Airlines Ground Experience In Honolulu

I had arrived aboard Hawaiian’s older Airbus A330 Business, with a 90-minute connection on the ground in Honolulu. Knowing how painfully slow US immigration can be for visitors, I was a little concerned. But with just four people in the queue, worrying was a wasted effort. Apparently, Hawaiian immigration is one of the fastest in the States.

Being checked all the way from Sydney to San Francisco, it was a short walk to Terminal 1, where Hawaiian’s inter-island and US mainland flights depart. Security was a breeze here, with a dedicated lane for First and Business guests.

Hawaiian Premier Club Honolulu

Hawaiian Airlines grants First Class passengers access to their Premier Club in Honolulu. To call this a lounge is quite a stretch, as this windowless shoebox doesn’t even have food, unless you count pretzels as a meal. The space is more of a waiting room with self-serve coffee and soft drinks.

Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club Honolulu

It felt like Hawaiian found an empty room in the basement, slapped a ‘premier’ sign on the front and installed a coffee machine. The premier waiting room was by far the worst lounge I’ve ever visited, so I left immediately and visited an airport cafe.

Hawaiian Airlines Leihoku Suites First Class

Hawaiian Airlines is the launch customer for the Adient Aerospace Ascent seat, which the airline is calling Leihoku Suites, meaning ‘garland of stars’. There are 34 suites up front, sold as First Class on domestic flights, and Business Class on international journeys.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787 Leihoku Suites Domestic First Class

Everyone has direct aisle access thanks to the 1-2-1 layout, and as is becoming the new standard, each suite has sliding doors for added privacy. The tall suite walls make the aisles feel narrower than normal, which can make overhead bin access a challenge if you tend to overpack like me. But it’s a trade-off I happily accept once settled into my seat, 1A, a bulkhead at the front of the plane.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787 Leihoku Suites Domestic First Class Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787 Leihoku Suites Domestic First Class

Seat controls are located in the side console, including a do-not-disturb function so you can sleep soundly with the door closed. A plastic marble surface offers enough space for a laptop, and a second lower level has a non-slip surface for drinks.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787 Leihoku Suites Domestic First Class

There’s a small cupboard for headphones and personal items, with a lamp and reading light adjacent. AC and USB-A charging can be found below, plus a nifty wireless charging pocket that works well.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787 Leihoku Suites Domestic First Class

Although this was a short daytime flight, I was still tired from the uncomfortable sleeping situation on my previous Hawaiian redeye and decided to test out the bed. No mattress pad was provided on this domestic leg, just a blanket and pillow which were thin, itchy and probably the same ones offered in economy.

I did manage to sleep well, but would’ve benefited from a slightly longer bed. Like most reverse herringbone layouts, your feet will be squashed into a small box.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787 Leihoku Suites Domestic First Class

During the cruise, the ceiling is illuminated with a blue starry sky.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787 Leihoku Suites Domestic First Class

Onboard Dining – Hawaiian Airlines First Class

Hawaiian offers a signature Mai Tai onboard, which I’d definitely recommend, with orange juice and Flor Prosecco also available as welcome drinks on the ground. Once the seatbelt sign was switched off, another Mai Tai was in order, with a prompt dish of local Hawaiian macadamia nuts also served.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787 Leihoku Suites Domestic First Class

The meal itself took just under two hours to arrive, quite poor considering meal orders were taken on the ground, the cabin was half empty and I was in the first row. A Grilled Papaya Salad and warm Taro Roll came alongside my meal, with only two choices beyond this for a main item. I had the Roasted Kabocha, a pumpkin salad dish that was rather tasty.

Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 787 Leihoku Suites Domestic First Class

There was a dessert option, but I couldn’t be bothered waiting another two hours.

Entertainment, Service & Amenities – Hawaiian Airlines First Class

Hawaiian Airlines is slowly rolling out high-speed Starlink internet across its A321 and A330 jets, with the 787 to follow. Why airlines prefer taking aircraft out of service to add Wi-Fi instead of installing it on their jets before delivery still confuses me.

Seatback entertainment is pretty good, with enough movies and TV to keep me entertained. The screen is sharp and bright, but for some reason, Hawaiian disabled every screen around ten minutes before touchdown. I found that quite frustrating, as the AvGeek inside me needs to be watching the approach path and flight statistics.

Hawaiian Airlines Crew

On many premium flights, the crew can make or break the experience. I’m happy to report that my Hawaiian crew were delightful. They were joyful and talkative, whilst also ensuring everyone was catered for.

Just before our descent, chocolate macadamia nut cookies were offered with a final drinks service. The crew asked if I enjoyed the cookies on my previous leg, and when I mentioned they weren’t offered, replied “Ooh someone was slacking! But not me,” and gave me an entire handful.

How I Booked Hawaiian Airlines First Class

I booked this flight from Honolulu to San Francisco as part of a longer journey originating in Sydney. With Hawaiian being a Velocity partner, the full trip cost me 104,000 Velocity Points plus a $127.28 AUD payment to cover the taxes. Thats’s pretty good for a ticket that sells for upwards of $6,500 AUD one-way.

TIP: Score 100,000 Velocity Points + two free flights with the Amex Velocity Platinum! Ends 15th May 2024.

Hawaiian Airlines SYD-HNL-SFO Route Map

I’m not sure why, but Velocity is still yet to allow Hawaiian Airlines redemptions online, instead directing customers to phone their membership contact centre for bookings. This can make it a challenge to find award space, and sometimes requires a few calls. The good news is that the phone-in booking fee is waived, seeing members can’t actually redeem online.

My tip is to check premium availability with JetBlue TrueBlue or American AAdvantage before calling Velocity. That’s because Hawaiian Airlines generally releases award space to each of its partners at the same time, meaning JetBlue redemptions are typically also available through Velocity.

If you don’t have enough Velocity Points, you could transfer to HawaiianMiles a flexible rewards program such as American Express. From Honolulu to San Francisco, it’s 40,000 miles for a Saver Award.

Flight Details

  • Airline: Hawaiian Airlines (HA)
  • Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
  • Registration: N781HA
  • Route: HNL-SFO
  • Scheduled Duration: 4h50m
  • Seat: 1A

Tom Goward

Chief Operating Officer & Aviation Nerd at Flight Hacks

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