Premium Economy Set to Revolutionize Hawaii Flights

Especially in upscale, leisure-focused Hawaii travel, true premium economy class is a pivotal industry driver. Starting in just over a year, United Airlines will further help point the way. They are due to replace their Boeing 757 fleet, some of which still fly to Hawaii, with Airbus 321 planes that will feature a new dedicated premium economy cabin. And that’s merely the beginning.

The genesis of true “premium economy” began three decades ago. That’s when Virgin Atlantic became the first airline to offer such a product. The uptake was slow initially, but now it is gaining much momentum domestically, including to Hawaii.

Airlines that fly to Hawaii that currently offer or plan to provide an actual premium economy product on select flights include:

  • American Airlines
  • Delta Airlines
  • United Airlines

Those who we believe will add true premium economy class include:

  • Hawaiian Airlines

Just what is “premium economy?” Why it’s not about more legroom.

We keep saying “true” because premium economy isn’t United Comfort Plus, Hawaiian Extra Comfort, or Delta Comfort+ with extra legroom seats positioned in the same cabin as economy. Instead, it’s an entirely new and different product with a distinct and separate cabin.

Premium economy, as both a product and its pricing, is positioned directly between economy and business/first classes, both in what’s known as the hard and soft product (both physically and conceptually). This is fast becoming the recognized ideal solution for medium-range flights to and from Hawaii. It provides excellent benefits to both airlines and passengers.

Premium economy amenities include different, wider seats with leg rests, often in a two-across configuration instead of three-across, more attentive service, chef-inspired dining, sleep sets (blankets/pillows), amenity kits, and more.

Why is premium considered economy ideal for Hawaii?

On five-hour or longer flights to Hawaii, more room, larger seats, and better service in a seated (not lie-flat), more intimate, and higher-quality environment is a perfect fit. Your editors were looking at the UAL premium product pictured above, and we both said we would be pleased to have that accommodation on a flight to Hawaii instead of a lie-flat bed. However, on a 10+ hour flight, there becomes more reason for true lie-flat seating.

A recent report from travel analysis firm Cirium, which among things, analyses airline fleets, featured “insights and analysis focused on commercial aircraft configured with cabins marketed as Premium Economy, with a separate cabin to economy class and distinctly different from any ‘economy plus’ or extra-legroom seats.” That report, based on data from July 2022, is embedded below.

How does it price when compared with economy and business class?

We checked on United Airlines, flying from Chicago to Honolulu on their Dreamliner. The cost for Premium Plus was typically positioned about halfway between economy and business. As you see from the lead photo, this looks temptingly comfortable.

There’s demand for premium economy, which will grow exponentially to Hawaii.

US carriers American Airlines and Delta Air Lines each began to operate some aircraft with new dedicated premium economy cabins starting about five years ago. They were followed by United Airlines in 2019.

Widebodies have taken the premium economy lead.

American, Delta, and United now have 346 planes outfitted with an actual premium economy cabin. These are all widebodies.

These new cabins have been achieved by retrofitting older planes and in the delivery of new planes. United itself has 155 planes offering their “Premium Plus.” Most of those were retrofits during aircraft maintenance. Cirium said that in the past couple of years, 102 United widebodies underwent service at their Hong Kong facility when many installations took place.

Now fully 1/4 of all widebodies from these three US airlines feature a true premium economy class product.

Missed Opportunity For Hawaiian Airlines?

Today, Hawaiian says they will not add a premium economy product to their about-to-be-delivered Boeing Dreamliners. We doubt that decision will stick, however.

Why haven’t airlines jumped on premium economy?

Airlines have feared that passengers now choosing business class would instead choose premium economy. That could be true. It depends on the price point, which will evolve as passengers and airlines adopt this new travel method.

Is premium economy for you?

Priced halfway between economy and business class, it is a fascinating proposal. What’s your take?


Leave a Comment

Comment policy:
* No profanity, rudeness, personal attacks, or bullying.
* Hawaii focused only. General comments won't be published.
* No links or UPPER CASE text. English please.
* No duplicate posts or using multiple names.
* Use a real first name, last initial.
* Comments edited/published/responded to at our discretion.
* Beat of Hawaii has no relationship with our commentors.
* 750 character limit.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

28 thoughts on “Premium Economy Set to Revolutionize Hawaii Flights”

  1. Except for added seat space, Hawaiian Air is currently the only airline that offers meals in standard economy and their flight attendants offer excellent service, throughout the aircraft, already.
    Only benefit for adding premium economy on Hawaiian would be added seat space. I understand Hawaiian Air’s hesitancy in joining the Premium Economy hoopla, they already offer premium economy service in standard economy.

  2. Carolyn S.
    LAX to Honolulu three times in 2023. Flew on Hawaiian 1st class and so disappointed that the lie flat seats made it difficult for a 5ft.5ft. person reach the foot rest however better than the Delta first class seats which was the Neo 321 that had no leg rest at all.
    Regretfully, we return with United first class and it was worse with a foot rest, narrow two seats and no access to any movies.
    If you had a cell phone you would be lucky. United meal was the worst.

  3. It is a continuation of the downgrade of aviation. The Megarich now fly in their own planes, True First Class is being replaced by Business First and Premium Economy replaces Business while Basic Economy is at the bottom as ever. So we have cutbacks on the frills and service of the old regime but whilst the comparative fares may look a deal, we are alas paying more for less. Then we have the focus to turn the FFB plans into a financial product and diversify away from air travel. Something tells me some of the heads at airlines will roll when the recession really hits and the loyalists who have been lost by the nickel and diming do not come back to bale them out. Interesting times. Keen to see what the Hawaiian Freight tie up will bring.


Scroll to Top