We're Flying United From Hawaii. Should This News Concern Us?

Flying United To Hawaii? This FAA News May Concern You.

We are flying from Hawaii and back in a few weeks on United Airlines. However, this week’s news, reported first by FlightGlobal, has definitely caught our attention. The reason is, we are scheduled to fly twice on these airplanes. Given how fortunate Beat of Hawaii is to have so many aviation industry folk reading, we ask whether we should be concerned or not?

FAA requires inspection for frame cracks on older 757 plane wings used on Hawaii flights.

A highly regarded plane with a great history in Hawaii flights has come under scrutiny. The Federal Aviation Administration said it will now require that Boeing 757 aircraft be inspected after airlines found cracks on 757 airplane wings.

Mitigating the seriousness of the issue, the FAA said that at this time, it will not have an immediate effect but instead they will propose an airworthiness directive. This all came to light last year when it was revealed in a Boeing service alert.

The FAA has received a report indicating an operator of model 757-200 airplanes found cracks on the left side and right side in the station 1640 frame web between stringer S-14 and S-15, during maintenance. One crack initiated at a corrosion pit in the open liner hole and propagated by fatigue.

Federal Aviation Administration

The FAA said further that some of these “liner holes… on some airplanes were not plugged, creating a stress concentration around the unplugged hole, which could lead to cracks.”

How old are these planes?

The two aircraft that the FAA reported issues were found on included one that had flown some 30k flights (cycles), while the other had 40k cycles. In checking recent United Boeing 757 Hawaii flights, we found planes with ages varying from 23 to nearly 29 years.

The FAA order applies to all 757 aircraft (both models, 200 and 300) and it is accepting input through August. This order followed other rules related to possible cracks in the same area on these same planes in both 2018 and 2020.

Other unrelated issues related to the United 757 fleet included a mid-Pacific diversion due to a rudder flight control issue in May. In June there was another 757 diversion from Hawaii to the mainland.

The titan of Hawaii flights no longer: Boeing 757.

The Boeing 757 has an iconic role in Hawaii travel.

The long, thin “flying pencil” has been certified for Hawaii flights for over 30 years. And the plane was responsible for direct flights opening, to the Big Island and Kauai in particular, as well as to Honolulu and Maui. Routes to neighbor island airports are too light in traffic to warrant a Boeing 767, and the runway at Lihue would need to be longer in order to support full 767 flights.

American Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines have flown 757 aircraft to Hawaii. Among Hawaii routes still served by the venerable old plane are United Airlines’ Denver to Kauai and Denver to Kona flights. Other Hawaii routes that previously used the planes included Delta flights, which the new Delta Airlines A321neo fleet has recently replaced .

What made this Hawaii plane unique?

The 757 is similar to the no longer seen Boeing 727. It has two powerful wing-mounted engines and is a plane well liked by pilots. The cabin is a familiar 2×2 in business/first and 3×3 in economy. United has upgraded its 757 fleet with lie-flat Polaris business seating. Editor Jeff said about the United 757 that he’s flown on both into and out of Hawaii hundreds of times: It was always a very uncomfortable plane, both in economy and in the older first-class cabins. But it got the job done.”

American stopped flying the Boeing 757 to Hawaii in 2020.

American had more 757’s in their fleet than any other airline until they retired them in early 2020. Delta now holds that title. Delta and United both still operate them, although Delta stopped flying them to and from Hawaii, and both will retire them entirely in the near future. These are being replaced by both the Airbus A321 as well as Boeing 737 MAX variants. Previously, 737 Next Generation planes had replaced them on shorter mainland to Hawaii flights, leaving only longer routes to the 757. Boeing 757 can travel about 1,000 miles further than the older 737s, while the longest range 737 MAX7 is capable of roughy the same distance as the 757.

Watch a United 757 take off, including the big engine roar.

Flightglobal.

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20 thoughts on “Flying United To Hawaii? This FAA News May Concern You.”

  1. Hi, I flew from sfo to ogg a few years ago on united. I think I paid a little bit more for the ticket. But what I got was a seat that was spectacular. It had a footrest in front of me and the trays came out of the armrest as well as plenty of places to plug in my devices. I have never gotten on another one of these aircraft and I wonder which one it was? Can you help me? Thank you very much I like reading your articles!

    1. You may have flown on one of the last of the last of United’s retiring fleet of B-747-400’s as UAL flew them daily from SFO to OGG as recently as 2017 … or as BoH said, a B-777 ???

      The “WHALE”, as my airline called it, was one of the best planes ever made for 4-5+++ hour flights, especially when heading out “across the pond”.

  2. Someone suggested that flights greater than 3-4 hours “over the Pacific” should have airplanes “younger” than 25 years in service??

    Then standby to pay 2-3 x your current ticket price (or more) to achieve that end. New airplanes are expensive and it makes no operational or financial sense for an airline to adhere to those limitations. Nor should they, as it would only help drive them out of business and not contribute anything to overall safety records.

    I regularly flew 20-25+ year old B-747s (and newer ones, too) across the Pacific and around the world full of passengers and cargo. I wouldn’t trade them for any other airplane for those type of routes. I flew two of our “oldest” B-747s to the Gulf when we flew CRAF and moved troops and their gear — some of our Country’s finest young men and women, BTW — in and out of the theater during Desert Storm and its aftermath.

    All those aircraft were capable, maintained and kept up to modern standards (required by the FAA and the competition), were powerful, safe, and always got the job done — if we — the people who build, fly, and maintain those airplanes — were doing our job. And we did, I can assure you.

    Side note: my first trip as a boy when my family moved to the Islands was on SS Lurline — at the time, she was 23 years old and the voyage (a Great adventure for a young boy) took 5 days. Today, an aircraft on the same route takes 5-6 hours, depending on many factors …

    Personally? I’ll take the B-747 if they’d let me back in a “window seat” up front … in the cockpit, that is … (smiles).

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    1. Hi Dickie_D.

      Thanks for sharing your vast experience with us! Do you know John W? It seems you two have a lot in common.

      Aloha.

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      1. A’ole pilikia … but no, I don’t know the gent — JohnW. He seems like da’ kine Bruddah’ I’d like to sit with at Roy’s Ko’Olina or somewhere else and join in a cold beer or two … and maybe some sushi to make it “right” …

        We could swap “sea stories and lies” … always good times.

        Mahalo nui, nui loa for your webpage — it’s always mo’ bettah …

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        1. Hi DICKIE_D.

          If you two would like to be in touch, let us know and we’ll gladly facilitate that.

          Aloha.

          1
          1. Sure … feel free. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll just put a Menehune curse on him … before he puts one on me. (smiles)

          2. Talk to you soon Dickie!…we may well have crossed paths somewhere ( 4 years retired myself).. that said I’m just boarding a plane to the mainland
            Johnw

  3. Thank you for the information.
    I will fly United to Hawaii this October. I am super concerned. I will check the type of plane.
    Last year I returned Kona to Denver by United. Had no problem. I usually fly American to Hawaii.

  4. From a non aviation professional: Does United have plans to retire these older 757’s? Is there a required age to retire an aircraft?

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  5. Just a little information for y’all! All airlines are required to keep their planes up to FAA specifications! Yes, it is getting up there in years, but remember, Air Force 2 is a 757, the Air Force still flies the Boeing 707 in many versions, which is quite a bit older than the 757 and has been in service since 1957. Lest we forget the C-130 which has been in service since 1954. All of these must meet the same specifications to maintain airworthiness! Long live the 757!

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  6. You said: “Given how fortunate Beat of Hawaii is to have so many aviation industry folk reading, we ask whether we should be concerned or not?”

    IMO, no, you should not be concerned. It is my considered professional opinion that you have nothing to worry about. This is coming from a 28,000 flight hour retired pilot, former instructor and FAA certified check airman with 25+ years of airline experience and type ratings in the B-747, A-330, DC-10, B-757, and B-737. I also have 20+ years (some concurrent w/ commercial aviation) of US Naval Aviation experience, flying both carrier and land-based aircraft.

    From what I read, this particular AD was issued in a Jan 2022 service alert from Boeing — that’s 1 1/2 years ago. This follows FAA issued rules from 2018 and 2020 to “address potential cracks in the same fuselage area – section 1640 – of 757s.” So this has been “on the radar” for some time.

    In other words — this is “old news” and happens on a regular basis in the aviation business, whether in commercial, military, or private aircraft. Professional pilots and mechanics know that as aircraft in the inventory age and need additional “TLC” to keep flying safely, AD’s and increased periodic inspections of the airframe might be necessary.

    It’s a good thing (smiles and apologies to Martha Stewart) that someone is watching out for you …

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  7. Personally, any airplane used to fly to Hawaii that’s over 25 yrs old, to me….It Is Too Old to fly across the Pacific. Also, B757-200 or 300 are among the most uncomfortable planes with single aisles…..uncomfortable as or worse than the B537s! To me, no airline should use these planes for flight greater than 3 hour flights and Hawai’i is at least 5 and 6 hours or more from any destination on the West Coast or close to it. B757s & B737s should not be used to fly to Hawai’i at all!!! But, it is cheaper on gas for airlines, so that’s the main reason! Not cool at all!

    Aloha

    Xavier

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    1. I’m not sure what you think happens to an airplane after 3 hours of flight? A 3 hour flight is ok but not a 4 hour flight? If a plane is safe it’s safe. I agree with Dicki D. A well maintained aircraft that is heavily scrutinized by maintenance is very safe. FWIW of all the flying to Hawaii, the aircraft with the most fatal accidents per flight hour flown is also the newest…the 737 max

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  8. We always fly United. Maybe we .at consider their partner airlines next time we fly to Honolulu to visit family

  9. One-way flight from KOA to HNL — would you recommend Hawaiian or Southwest? Which is most dependable for leaving when it’s scheduled? Other factors to consider?

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    1. That’s easy. HA is based in Hawaii and their inter island fleet is based here. It’s the more reliable carrier. That doesn’t mean SWA is bad, but their inter island operation is a satellite operation that depends on the arrival of their planes coming from the mainland. When they have a problem on the mainland it can’t effect the Hawaii flying. Also HA is dispatched and crewed by employees who live here and know Hawaii much better. That makes a difference.

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      1. Whoops I said “can’t” when I meant “can” effect their inter island ops. Not only can mainland issues with SWA’s route system effect their inter island flights, their lack of operational knowledge about Hawaii does too. For instance during the last volcanic eruption HA operated safely and efficiently because they knew the Hilo and Kona flights were unaffected by it. SWA’s mainland dispatchers didn’t know what was going on and cancelled all their flights. HA’s local knowledge pays off in numerous ways. My own personal bias is you are supporting the local economy and over 7000 HA employees that live in Hawaii when you fly Hawaiian. SWA takes their inter island revenues out of state. I like the competition keeping HA on their toes but SWA is no Aloha Airlines for sure.

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