Fewer Choices To Hawaii As United Joins Herd On New Planes

United Airlines announced buying a large group of new Airbus A321 jets today. 60 more planes will be added to those they already have on order. The point is, they are, in part, replacing their aging fleet of Boeing 757 planes, many of which to this day are still used on Hawaii flights.

As this next purchase occurs, the choices passengers have on Hawaii flights are becoming fewer and more commoditized. We see the date not far in the future when we’ll all be flying either 737 MAX, A321neo or, if we’re lucky, 787 Dreamliner, on most Hawaii flights. That is unless there’s a surprise A220 fleet that pops into the picture at Hawaiian Airlines (hint).

It’s worth noting that in spite of A321 problems with engines needing lengthy repair on both the Hawaiian and Delta fleets, these planes are the darling of the airline industry due to their extreme efficiency. For passengers, however, they are largely uncomfortable, however. See our reviews of Hawaiian Airlines A321 and Delta Air Lines A321.

United Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliner fleets.

Regarding the 787 Dreamliner, United’s order today included 50 more of those, as well as an option for 50 beyond that. That together with their existing 70 aircraft, brings their possible Dreamliner fleet to 170 planes. As you know, at this time, the first of 12 Hawaiian Airlines Dreamliners is being prepared for delivery at any time.

Several weeks ago BOH editors flew from Kauai to Denver on United, and we were aboard a 29 year old Boeing 757-200. That plane, by the way, was one the pilot analogized with a Ferrari. Nonetheless, 29 is getting up there, and with a large and aging fleet of those and other aircraft including Boeing 767, United is quickly updating its order books, for more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly planes that will be making their way to Hawaii.

United Boeing 757 replacement comes at last.

United has been busy buying up planes to in part replace its very old 60-member fleet of Boeing 757 planes. Many of those have been used for Hawaii flights for nearly 30 years.

Recently United bought more 737 MAX planes to update their fleet. Those two orders are a huge part of the company’s Hawaii strategy.

Boeing 757 will largely be remembered fondly.

As the 757’s come to their inevitable replacement time, the “flying pencil” remains highly regarded in the industry. These became Hawaii certified (ETOPS) in 1992. You’ll remember that not long before that, only 3 and 4-engine jets were capable of flying to Hawaii.

Like the 321neo, 757 fit a unique need.

Routes to neighbor islands Kauai and Kona especially were well served by 757 as they are with 321neo. These “thin routes” have less traffic demand than Honolulu and Maui. So whereas a Dreamliner can fit the bill for those bigger airports, a different plane type was and is needed not only on those LIH and KOA routes but also those to the two major Hawaii airports that don’t require such large planes.

Three airlines adored Boeing 757 to Hawaii.

Those were American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines. All three were big time 757 fleets operators to Hawaii. These planes also let them focus on direct flights to bypass Honolulu.

Boeing 757-200 was Hawaii’s workhorse airliner.

United Airlines 757 taxiing at Kona

The plane that will be replaced with the A321neo was akin to a stretched Boeing 727 that first flew in 1982. It had powerful engines and is still highly regarded by pilots. It wasn’t the most comfortable plane, but it got a unique job done.

American Airlines once had more 757s than any other airline. They retired the 757-200 fleet in 2019-2020.

Hawaiian Airlines had no effective direct-to-neighbor island flights until A321.

Hawaiian Airlines A321 grounded due to unavailable parts

Hawaiian had the physical ability to fly to the neighbor islands previously, and the 767 did fly briefly and on a limited basis even into LIH towards the end of its era. It was, however, too much plane for those markets in multiple ways. That was also true of their DC-10 and the subsequent A330. The airline’s reach into the thin neighbor island markets has only been achieved in the past five years with the A321.

Long realizing the need to flying directly to these smaller markets, Hawaiian Airlines became an early adopter of Airbus A321neo narrow-body planes, which started arriving there in 2018. Since then, they have successfully competed on these popular Hawaii routes first opened decades earlier by other airlines decades using the able Boeing 757.

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18 thoughts on “Fewer Choices To Hawaii As United Joins Herd On New Planes”

  1. Does anyone know why Hawaiian Airlines is changing from an Airbus 330 to the newer 321 for the Seattle-Maui route starting in mid-nov?
    Passenger numbers down? Need to move the 330 to HNL route?

  2. E195-E2 is starting to see longer routes. Simple Flying did an article recently.

    As Porter Airlines (Canada) expands there could be more 2,500 to 3,000 mile trips added to the list.

  3. B757, B737 & A321Neos are by far the most UNcomfortable planes ever created by either Boeing & Airbus!
    I do not understand why are these planes even allowed to fly across the Pacific…..oh wait……cheaper to fly them, no caring about passengers placed on a can of sardines! These planes join the DC-10 which also the worse airplane to fly across the Pacific! These B737 & A321Neos should be used to interisland or short routes within the mainland, not for Trans Pacific Flights. I hope Hawaiian uses it’s B787 Dreamliners wisely, thinking of the comfort of passengers 1st!


    1. I disagree about the 757, except that maybe regular economy is like a can of sardines. United’s Economy Plus is quite nice, and on United’s 757 between Denver and Kauai, First Class has Polaris seating with lie flat seats. Quite comfortable. I for one will be sad when they are retired.

  4. Plane fares are getting ridicuously expensive. Hawaii people like to go mainland, vegas but it is getting too expensive to go twice a year. With hawaiian flying for vacations hawaii instead of
    omni their plane fares are getting out of hand. Now you got to pay extra to be able to choose your seat.

  5. Aloha Rob and Jeff
    Have to correct you…. HA has been flying non stop to OGG and to a lessor degree to KOA from SEA, PDX, SFO LAX and SAN with the DC10, 767 and A330 since they were introduced….
    Before that OGG saw HA L 1011’s and DC-8’s as far back as the 80’s!

    1. Hi John.

      Thanks. Good to hear from you. We update to that point. Just to clarify, Hawaiian had no “effective” reach into the thin markets of KOA and LIH with their wide body planes. They could physically fly there, and even flew to LIH towards the end with the 767, it just was too much plane and the wrong plane for the route. That important goal was only achieved in the past 5 years with the A321.


  6. Gotta correct you here “Hawaiian had no ability to fly to the neighbor islands with its fleet until five years ago. Their fleets of DC-10, 767, and then A330 weren’t suited for these routes”. Hawaiian was using the 330 direct to Maui (vegas comes to mind) as I have flown that. You are correct though, the 321 is much better suited for the “thinner” routes, at least in my (our) point of view.

    1. Hi Dan.

      Thanks. Following John’s comment and yours, we updated the article to reflect that more precisely. Please have a look.


  7. Hawaiian better focus on the old 717’s between islands.

    The 777 was at Kona Airport several times testing? What’s the plan for those?
    More direct island flights should be done from California. No need to go to Honolulu first.

  8. Bring back the SS Lurline … a.k.a. my first trip over in ‘da ’50s …

    You won’t regret the extra days Bruddah’ and Sistah’s … (smiles)

  9. Unfortunately, we fly the A321neo from Ontario. I say unfortunately because the Extra Comfort and First Class seats and fares are better out of LAX. However, LAX is a zoo, so we fly from Ontario. And, we take Hawaiian because it has a non-stop flight. I guess we have to decide what’s worse – LAX or crappy A321 seats.

    BTW, just returned Saturday from 16 days in Waikiki.


  10. Old or new… Can Any of the planes really be considered comfortable? 757, 321, 787, etc. Unless you are sitting up front, you just have to survive until you get there. Bring your entertainment and withdraw into your own private world.

  11. “Regarding the 787 Dreamliner, United’s order today included 50 more of those, as well as an option for 50 beyond that. That together with their existing 70 aircraft, brings their possible Dreamliner fleet to 170 planes.”

    They also placed an order for 100 firm orders and 100 options earlier this year, so now they have 150 firm orders on top of the 70 in service, for a fleet of 220…not including options.

  12. BOH, do you have an idea when United will replace the 757’s on their Den-LIH route? We’re flying to Kauai Feb 5 next year, on a 757, and just for kicks I checked DEN-LIH flights in August 2024, and they still show 757’s. Mahalo

    1. Hawaiian airlines Airbus A330 planes are absolutely ___! They shouldn’t be using it on flights lasting more than 3 hours!!!

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