MIAMI— Hawaiian Airlines is upping the game in its premium cabin, adding flat beds to the business class cabin on its fleet of more than 20 Airbus A330 aircraft. The new seats are from the relatively young manufacturer Optimares and Hawaiian appears to be the first customer choosing the company’s business class seats for deployment.
The upgraded product features 76-inch long beds and, while not truly direct aisle access, a cutout for window seat passengers to use which should preclude neighbor-hopping in most cases.
It is an innovative design which addresses cabin density challenges and premium seating demand for long-haul flights. Hawaiian has long been known for top-notch service on board but a sub-par business class hard product, especially on the longer, international routes on which the carrier faces competition from foreign carriers. The retrofit will begin in Q2 2016 and the carrier expects to have it completed by September 2017. And while some may begrudge the 2-2-2 layout and its reduced privacy for travelers the company sees the offering as a good thing for its markets. In a statement Hawaiian notes that the seats are “ideally suited for couples and families traveling to the beautiful Hawaiian islands.”
The cabin revamp will extend further back into the plane as well. The company is removing 16 seats in total from each plane and converting a number of economy class seats into Extra Comfort rows. Hawaiian offers extra leg room in these rows plus power outlets, expanded complimentary entertainment on the in-seat IFE system, a pillow & blanket and an amenity kit for these passengers. It is a step short of a true Premium Economy product but the upgraded space and amenities make it very close. And the significant increase of seats in that section (40->56) offers many more ancillary upsell opportunities for the company. At the same time the slight reduction in in total capacity on board should help sustain RASM and Yield numbers for Hawaiian, even as it faces challenges on foreign currency fronts. For the regular economy class cabin the seat pitch will remain at 31″ so those not paying to upgrade will not have any worse an experience than is offered today.
One interesting theoretical downgrade to the product is a removal of the in-seat IFE system in the forward cabin. The new seats will offer a tablet holder device and passengers will be given carrier-owned tablets to use during their flights (or can bring their own). But the new seats do not have an embedded system. This could raise some interesting challenges with respect to content selection and system reliability, though it also certainly saves on weight and eases the new seat manufacturing and certification process.
This cabin retrofit project looks to be a win for the company and its passengers. Upgrading the product in multiple cabins on board without taking away from the low end is a rare accomplishment, one Hawaiian is poised to realize.