Amateur Hour at Hawaiian Airlines (Tales From the Field)

Hawaiian has been expanding like crazy lately with flights all over the Pacific, and we’ve had several clients fly on them. While Hawaiian has a great reputation, our clients have had a lot of problems in dealing with them. Even though the airline is growing quickly, it seems like its policies and systems might not be up to the same level of sophistication.

Issue #1 – Anti-Travel Agent Policy
The first issue is with flight bookings themselves. Hawaiian charges travel agents who book through their own reservation systems more than those who book on the website. That in itself isn’t a problem, but it means when we book people, we do it on We put our names in as travel arranger (there’s a spotFrom the Field with Hawaiian for that), and that should let us do what we need to manage a booking.

Unfortunately, that’s not true. Even though we are the travel arranger and have all the credit card information, Hawaiian refuses to allow anyone but the credit card holder to make a change that requires payment. This leave us in the delightful spot of making our clients talk to Hawaiian for something we shouldn’t have to bother them with or paying more for the privilege of having us book in our system. Neither is a customer-friendly option.

Issue #2 – No Special Meals
Last October, a client was flying Hawaiian from Phoenix to Honolulu, spending a night there (since it wasn’t possible to connect the same day), and then going on to Sydney. These clients had paid for First Class the whole way. One of the travelers was vegan and we had entered the request in our system for a vegan meal.

On the flight to Honolulu, the flight attendants told her that Hawaiian didn’t offer special meals at all. She had a piece of fruit. Once she called from Hawai’i, I called Hawaiian to investigate. The call center agent politely informed me that Hawaiian does not offer special meals but my client was welcome to bring her own food onboard. Yes, this is what she told a paying First Class passenger. The next flight to Sydney didn’t even have fruit. With more long distance flights in Hawaiian’s network, it needs to step up.

Issue #3 – Various Tech Problems
I’m not quite sure how Hawaiian’s website works, but it doesn’t generally work very well when it comes to managing travel. On one occasion, a client had different seats showing in the manage reservation area than it showed when they checked in online. The two different systems apparently don’t talk to each other.

On another occasion, seat changes couldn’t be processed and we were told to just try again later. Instead, we called the call center to get it done. After going through several prompts asking and misunderstanding the confirmation number, we were transferred to an agent who asked for the confirmation again. She finally changed the seats for us, so we hoped. The website still showed the old seats.

Issue #4 – Seat Switcheroo
We had two different clients over the holidays who had seats reserved and then came to find that they had been replaced. In both cases, these were families traveling together with their kids put in single seats in random places. The airline refused to help them switch seats to sit with their kids even at the airport. I understand that airlines have the right to switch seats, but there didn’t seem to be any good reason for it here. (There was no aircraft type change and it wasn’t a 767 which has different configurations.) There was no notification either. They just found themselves in trouble when they tried to check in.

Issue #5 – Last Minute Schedule Changes
You would think that holiday travel schedules would be locked in fairly early. People book their Hawai’i holiday flights very early on. But Hawaiian made some schedule changes within a couple months of travel during this time. Even worse, they made the change and didn’t send an email out about it for long after we found out. How do I know? Our client had already had so many problems that they kept checking the reservations on the website religiously.

The schedule changes were caught long before Hawaiian bothered notify anyone and the auto-re-accommodation wasn’t very good. This meant spending a lot of time on the phone with the call center hoping to improve the situation. And when Hawaiian did notify of the changes, they just sent a generic link to the flights without showing the change itself. We had to pull up previous notifications to find out what the changes actually were.

Issue #6 – Not Playing Fair
I saved the best for last. I couldn’t quite believe that any airline would try to play this the way Hawaiian did. One client was booked with a completely legal 55 minute layover in Maui going from Kona to San Jose. Someone who said they were from Hawaiian called us since we were the travel arranger and said that they wanted to do a favor for our client. Since they “only” had 55 minutes, they wanted to move them to an earlier flight from Kona so that they would have more time to connect. Oh, and they were being so kind to offer that without any additional charge.

A quick check of availability showed what was up. The flight they were on was completely full, oversold I’m guessing. The earlier flight had plenty of seats to sell. So Hawaiian was trying to move people to an earlier flight so that nobody had to be bumped. That’s perfectly fine to be proactive like that – in fact, I like it. But if you’re going to do that, don’t pretend you’re doing someone a favor as a way to weasel out of offering compensation.

I honestly thought it was a joke call at first after listening to the message. The person on the phone had a conversation with someone else in the background asking which number we should call back on because they didn’t know. Eventually they gave us a local 808 phone number and asked us to call back and ask for a specific person. We did call back and the agent told us that it was ok if they stayed on their original flights. Gee, thanks. (And yes, they made their connection without any trouble.)

Have any of you flown Hawaiian lately? Had any of these kinds of problems?

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