The Journey Home, Part 2: Sydney Airport and Hawaiian Airlines SYD to HNL in Business Class

Hawaiian Flt. 452 Sydney to Honolulu
A330 Business Class
Sched. Dep. 9:20 PM Actual Dep. 9:24 PM
Sched. Arr. 10:05AM Actual Arr. 10:43 AM

My Qantas flight from Melbourne landed in the Qantas Domestic terminal at Sydney, and I had to wait about 15 minutes for the transfer bus to the International terminal. I had read some mixed information online, some of which suggested you needed to transferring to a Qantas flight to use the free airside shuttle bus, and some of which said all that mattered was you were coming from a Qantas flight. I didn’t even have my Hawaiian boarding pass yet, so I just showed my inbound boarding stub and when asked said I was connecting to Honolulu, and was waved onto the bus.

Although I didn’t have to exit the secure area at the domestic terminal, the bus traveled along the highway and dropped us off at the main, pre-security check-in area of the international terminal (T1). I made my way over to the Hawaiian counters, which were pretty empty, as it was less than 2 hours before scheduled departure at this point – about 7:30 pm. Check-in was fairly simple, but the agent crossed out the check-in time of 8:20 on the boarding pass and wrote in 8:10 – then told me I really needed to be at the gate by 8:00 (80 minutes before scheduled departure) due to the “extra security.” (Hawaiian uses Dnata contract staff at Sydney, but they still wear Hawaiian shirts and flowers in their hair.) He also handed me an “ExpressPath” pass for immigration and customs, and a pass for the Air New Zealand lounge.Theoretically, that left me 30 minutes for immigration and customs and security, plus any comfort stops I wanted to make. I got to immigration quickly through the ExpressPath, only to be told I didn’t have a departure card, which Hawaiian was supposed to have given me. He gave me an extra one to fill out, and in the meantime I got stuck behind a rowdy group of French teens. ExpressPath security was no faster than the regular security line, and I was finally emptied out into the duty free shop that leads to the gates.

Hawaiian uses the Air New Zealand lounge, but Sydney T1 also has a new American Express lounge, run by Plaza Premium, which is similar to the Centurion lounges in the States, but smaller and not as fancy. As an AmEx Platinum cardholder, I had access to that, so I wanted to check it out. Unfortunately it was on the complete opposite end of the terminal, and, in retrospect, I would’ve been better off just sticking with the Air New Zealand lounge. The check-in agent was extremely polite, but in a slow way and oddly with limited English skills, explaining every single thing, “With your card, you have unlimited access for you and two guests.” Great. “Inside, if you would like a drink, ask the server at the bar.” Fantastic.

American Express Lounge Sydney

American Express Lounge Sydney

IMG_3880 IMG_3882I got through and the lounge was pretty attractive, though small, and empty. There was lots of seating, with power outlets all around. The staffed bar was pretty full, but no Centurion-style fancy cocktail menu. There were four hot serving dishes: penne pasta with vegetables, tandoori chicken (spicy!), some fish, and potato leek soup. There were also some meat pies, desserts, and cold salads.I charged my phone for about 2 minutes, had some chicken and half a glass of not very good chardonnay, and headed back out.

American Express Lounge SYD food

American Express Lounge SYD food

I had some Australian dollars left I wanted to spend, and I figured maybe I would pop into the Air New Zealand lounge. It struck me as a little ridiculous that I needed to be at the gate 80 minutes before departure time, so I figured I would be safe if I got to the gate at the scheduled 60 minutes boarding time.

Temporary Air New Zealand Lounge, SYD

Temporary Air New Zealand Lounge, SYD

Money spent, I headed on the 10 minute or so walk to the Hawaiian gate, which was right above the Air New Zealand lounge. Air New Zealand had a temporary lounge it was using while they renovated their main lounge, but the temporary lounge was fine. It wasn’t that big and was a little dark, but had plenty of seating with new furniture with tons of outlets. There was a self-serve bar, a hot dog cart, and a broader food range than the Amex lounge, with carved ham, steamed vegetables, roast sweet potatoes, some soup, a range of New Zealand cheeses, savory and sweet freshly baked scones, muffins, and cookies, salads, and some finger sandwiches. I had an egg salad mini wrap, a cookie, and a Coke Zero, changed into a clean shirt (my Qantas pajama top) and headed to the gate.IMG_3885 IMG_3884

Air New Zealand lounge food spread

Air New Zealand lounge food spread

I was really annoyed that Hawaiian insisted on such an early arrival at the gate, and didn’t post any delays, because, sure enough, I got through the gate – with no security check other than a passport/boarding pass check– at 8:10 – 10 minutes after I was advised to be there, only to find an empty gate area and a crew that had not boarded. Sigh. The gate area slowly filled up – with a lot of families and other Australian tourists.

Scheduled boarding time at the Gate...

Scheduled boarding time at the Gate…

The first announcement addressing the delay wasn’t until 8:50, saying that boarding was expected to begin in 10 minutes. Not cool, Hawaiian. I wouldn’t have had to rush at all, and could have even had the shower I wanted – since none would be available in Hawaii. We finally boarded at 9:05 – 45 minutes after the scheduled boarding time of 8:20. Once onboard, though, it was a fairly pleasant experience, with traditional Hawaiian music being played.

Hawaiian uses the same A330s on most of its long and mid-haul routes, with the front called “Business” on international flights, and “First” on domestic flights. The seats are arranged in three rows with a 2-2-2 layout. Reviews online suggested I take the bulkhead seat, as it wouldn’t have anyone in front of me, and the center section, since it meant no one would be climbing over me and I wouldn’t be climbing over anyone. The seats on Hawaiian’s A330 have been refreshed, but are still recliners– basically the same seat I flew on my Qantas domestic legs, but with a lot more legroom. Although a fancy lie-flat seat would have been nice, I knew I probably would be able to sleep, as the seats aren’t that different from the Ethiopian recliner seat I flew from Addis Ababa to Paris last year, although with a 10 hour flight time, the Hawaiian trip was a little longer.

Hawaiian A330 First Class

Hawaiian A330 International Business Class

The seats had both USB ports and regular electrical power.On the seat was a small pillow and a fancy, comfy blanket, and a very basic amenity kit — probably the most basic case I’ve ever seen, as it was just a cheap mesh pouch. Inside, though, were ear plugs, lip balm, moisturizer, a wet towel, toothbrush and paste, eye mask, and earbuds in a carrying case. In lieu of socks, there were slippers, which barely fit on my size 12 feet. Most exciting for me was a pen, which I had been thinking to myself I was seeing in fewer and fewer kits.

Hawaiian Airlines International Business Class amenity kit

Hawaiian Airlines International Business Class amenity kit

A very pleasant flight attendant came over and introduced herself and presented a menu, telling me to select one appetizer and one entree- which was different from reports I had seen online, which suggested there was more of a tasting menu. The options weren’t super attractive- cheese plate or carrot soup for the first course, and pork filet, snapper, or ravioli as main. I wasn’t that hungry so that was fine. I figured I could pick at whatever I got. The menu said the “Na Pua signature cocktail” would be served pre-departure, but it wasn’t – perhaps due to the delay. IMG_3890

Hawaiian SYD-HNL Business Class menu

Hawaiian SYD-HNL Business Class menu

Boarding was pretty quick, and we made up for most of the delay, and were airborne by 9:40. The cabin had 17 of 18 seats filled, and there were 210 passengers in 276 seats in coach, which was a 2-4-2 layout.

The crew was definitely on the older side, though the cheap and dated Hawaiian uniforms don’t help anyone look good. . . except for one young Hawaiian hottie who probably couldn’t look bad if he tried. But they were fantastic, constantly refilling drinks, smiling at passengers, and chatting just the right amount.

It took a long time for the seatbelt sign to go off, but the crew got moving anyway shortly after takeoff. Hot towels were distributed followed cocktails, as well as bigger headphones to supplement the earbuds in the amenity kit. The seatbelt sign finally came off, so I popped into the bathroom to get into my Qantas PJs. Just as my carrot soup arrived, the in-flight entertainment system successfully rebooted. It had about 50 movies– a mix of American and Japanese — but only a few were from the past year or so. There were also about 25 television titles, some of which had multiple episodes and some of which didn’t. I watched the one episode of Brooklyn Nine Nine as I ate my meal.

Carrot Soup appetizer

Carrot Soup appetizer

For my main, I went with the snapper. The fish was plated beautifully, but not particularly good. The fish itself was fine, but the tomato sauce was an odd complement. After that, there was a mango mousse which was pretty good, as I watched two episodes of Upper Middle Bogan, an Australian sitcom which was quite funny.

Hawaiian Business snapper main course

Hawaiian Business snapper main course

Mango cheesecake

Mango cheesecake

I didn’t have a good game plan for the rest of my journey. I couldn’t really sleep on an East Coast schedule, as it was just about morning at home and I couldn’t stay up for another 14 hours. So I figured I’d at least try for Hawaii time – 21 hours behind, which would mean sleep on both my red eyes, and then fighting to stay awake for the last leg from Vegas to DC. And perhaps a nap on my Honolulu layover.

I slept for about 4.5 hours. The seat was fine enough, but it was really cold and a bit turbulent. There was a snack station set up in the galley with bottles of water, juice, macadamia nut cookies, and chips. I went to the bathroom and slept for another hour or so, and an hour and 45 minutes out of Honolulu it was time for breakfast. Breakfast was an omelet, potatoes au gratin, ham steak, a pastry, and fruit. The omelet was actually one of the best omelets I’ve ever had on a plane. The rest was mediocre. After a few episodes of American Dad, we were landing in Honolulu, about 40 minutes late, ready to experience my second Friday. Aloha! My 12 hours in Hawaii was beginning…

Hawaiian SYD-HNL breakfast

Hawaiian SYD-HNL breakfast

Was Hawaiian business class the most luxurious? No. But it was comfortable, and the service was warmer than on many far fancier flights I’ve been on. It’s a fine option for using miles to go to Australia (though probably the least desirable option using AA miles of Qantas, AA, Air Tahiti Nui, and Fiji Airways).

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