‘Ohana by Hawaiian Takes Us to Our Real Vacation in Lana’i (Trip Report)

Only a few days after arriving in Honolulu, it was time for — as I called it on Twitter — vacation inception. My wife and I left the kids with our friends on O’ahu and we went for a vacation within a vacation: 2 nights on Lana’i. I will be writing up my experience on Lana’i separately, but for now, let’s talk about flights.

Since Lana’i was the only one of the six main Hawaiian islands that I hadn’t visited, it was at the top of my list. (My quick turn to try out ‘Ohana by Hawaiian back in 2014 didn’t count.)

We picked up tickets on ‘Ohana by Hawaiian for $168.16 each roundtrip (or actually, the equivalent in Chase Ultimate Rewards). Then, I was fortunate enough to be offered a deeply-discounted travel agent rate for the Four Seasons Lana’i thanks to being a Four Seasons Preferred Partner. We paid an average of only about $200 a night for the room, about $1,000 less than the going rate.

It didn’t take long for us to learn that North Shore traffic (where we are staying on O’ahu) is bad on weekends and weekday afternoons… and kind of all the time. It’s so bad that I kept a close eye on traffic before our morning flight just to make sure it wouldn’t cause us to miss the flight. Fortunately, things were moving fine, and it took us just under an hour to get to the airport. We arrived about an hour before our flight, but then things took a turn for the worse.

Legend has it that there is an economy parking lot that’s $12 a day, but the legend is just a myth. Apparently, there used to be such a lot near the commuter terminal, but that was razed. It wasn’t clear to me, however, so we kept trying to find it. The tangle of congested and poorly-signed roads at the airport can make for a harrowing experience. We went around the airport twice and never found the lot. Instead, running tight on time, we gave up and parked in the Terminal 1 garage. It’s strange, but there is no longer any long-term parking at the airport, and there don’t really appear to be many private options either.

The terminal 1 garage is really just a byzantine set of ramps with parking spaces that are regularly full. It took a long time for us to get up to the top level where we finally scored a spot near the airport conference center. Side note: I learned there’s an airport conference center on top of the parking garage.

By the time we parked, it was only half an hour before our flight, and I was getting a little anxious, not knowing what security would look like. We walked in on the mauka (toward the mountain, north in this case) side of Terminal 1 and there was a tiny Precheck checkpoint that didn’t have a long line. We headed in there, and when the woman with a large family in front of us overheard me say to my wife that we were cutting it close, she kindly asked if we wanted to go ahead of them. We made it through and walked all the way over to the ‘Ohana gate on the other side… only to find that our airplane wasn’t even there.

The monitors said the inbound would arrive late at 10:30am, but it didn’t. It got there maybe about 10 minutes later, and they were slow to unload. A delay never posted for our flight, but we didn’t even start boarding until after the original departure time.

I asked the gate agent if the flight was full, and she shook her head saying it wasn’t. We headed down to the ramp to board the airplane from the outside.

July 22, 2019
‘Ohana by Hawaiian 634 Lv Honolulu 1051a Arr Lana’i 1125a
Honolulu (HNL): Gate B1, Runway 8R, Depart 16m Late
Lana’i (LNY): Gate 3, Runway 3, Arrive 15m Late
N801HC, ATR 42-500, Standard Ohana colors, ~85% Full
Seat 1D, Coach
Flight Time 20m

As soon as we boarded the ramp in the rear of the aircraft, I asked the flight attendant, Darren, if there was still an ‘ukulele onboard. It was on my first ‘Ohana flight years ago that I learned of this unique feature, and it is what started me off playing the instrument myself. Here’s the photo I took on that flight when I had no idea how to play it at all.

As I explained briefly to Darren, I’d love to get it and tune it up… give it some love and play a few songs. But he curtly said it was sealed up and I couldn’t have it. Well, ok then. Update 8/8: Hawaiian provided an explanation of what happened:

We do place a “tamper seal” on the stored ‘ukulele cases to meet TSA regulations. However, the seal can (and should) be removed whenever our ‘Ohana by Hawaiian guests ask to play the ‘ukulele. The seal allows us to avoid conducting frequent physical inspections of the ‘ukulele and their cases. When the seal is removed, we just need to place a new one after the ‘ukulele is returned and stored prior to arrival. This was an oversight by the crew, so my apologies. But thanks for calling this to our attention.

We took our seats in the next to last row on the left side, row 12, as they got us ready for departure. The gate agent must have a very strange definition of a “not full” flight, because this one only had a handful of seats open. It was filled with laborers and tourists, all going to the same place for very different reasons.

After the safety demonstration, the flight attendant came back and asked those of us in the last two rows if two of us would move forward for weight and balance. The others back there were workers who wanted to stay as close to the exit as possible so they could get off and go to work. My wife and I didn’t care, so we volunteered. At the front, the little lounge area was empty, so we sat on the window facing each other. I took this photo in the same seat I had taken years ago as I strummed the ‘ukulele. This time, my hands were empty.

We took off to the east as usual, and climbed up through the lowest scattered layer of clouds. It was a cloudy day with poor visibility, so we couldn’t see much at all on the way over. We settled just under the overcast cloud deck in smooth skies for our brief cruise. The flight attendant came through with a choice of water or POG juice, and we took the opportunity to toast our mini-vacation.

Moments later, we were descending. It was so hazy and cloudy that we couldn’t even see Maui on our way in.

We landed and, since we were up front, we were the last ones to get off the airplane. The Four Seasons had a van waiting to take us away for our adventure. As I mentioned before, I’ll have much more on the experience on Lana’i in a separate post.

After two glorious nights away, it was time to come back to O’ahu. As we boarded the van at the hotel, one of the staff members was playing Aloha ‘Oe, Queen Lili’uokalani’s famous song which in English means, Farewell to Thee.

We arrived at the airport an hour before our flight, and that seemed entirely excessive. (You may think my lei and hat are entirely excessive as well, but I wore them with pride and appreciated the hard work that went into making them.)

There is nothing beyond security, so we just sat outside on a bench and enjoyed the afternoon. I checked the local timetable on the wall which was surprisingly kept up to date.

Then I pulled up Flightradar24 to find that our airplane hadn’t yet left Honolulu, so I kept tabs to see when it would get in the air. Only when our inbound plane landed did we opt to head through security.

Lana’i does Precheck light where you still need to pull all your stuff out of your bags. They scrutinized everything VERY carefully, far more carefully than you’d think Lana’i departures would require.

By the time we got through, boarding had just begun.

July 24, 2019
‘Ohana by Hawaiian 655 Lv Lana’i 218p Arr Honolulu 250p
Lana’i (LNY): Gate 3, Runway 21, Depart On Time
Honolulu (HNL): Gate B1, Runway 8L, Arrive 5m Late
N805HC, ATR 42-500, Standard Ohana colors, ~50% Full
Seat 11D, Coach
Flight Time 27m

This time we had seats 11C and D, hoping to have a good view of Moloka’i on our way back.

Our flight attendant was again Darren, just as it was on the way out, so I didn’t bother to ask for the ‘ukulele. I already knew his answer.

We started up right on time and headed to the runway, launching to the south over the water. We climbed to the towering height of 8,000 feet and turned toward O’ahu. But then we made an odd left turn out over the water. The pilots came on and apologized, saying that we would have to vector a bit because another plane coming from West Maui had to land before us. I’m not sure why that was the case, but it meant we zigged and zagged a couple times before resuming our course.

We descended fairly early and leveled off at 1,500 feet before we could even see O’ahu. Just after leveling, air traffic control must have told them to speed up, because the props got loud and we picked up speed. It was loud and downright bouncy at 1,500 feet, and it was only slightly unnerving to see the whitecaps dotting the windswept sea not far below us.

Soon, O’ahu came into view. We came nearly straight in, perpendicular to the reef runway, before hanging a right and planting ourselves down on the ground.

Taxi-in was quick, and we almost would have made it on time had we not had to wait for the West Maui flight to unload at the same gate as us.

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