Safety First, Comfort Last: New Norm On Hawaii Flights As Airlines Cancel

Safety First, Comfort Last: New Norm On Hawaii Flights As Airlines Cancel

On Sunday, Alaska Airlines canceled 37% of its flights to and from Honolulu, 47% to and from Maui, and 45% to and from Kona. That according to FlightAware. United also canceled a significant number of Hawaii flights, albeit a lower percentage than Alaska. That is to ensure safety while both airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX 9 planes remain grounded.

Alaska Airlines MAX 9

Before the blowout, Alaska had prohibited that plane from Hawaii flights.

Airlines and federal regulators all take the safety of long overwater Hawaii flights very seriously. For that reason, the aircraft with the issue had been banned by Alaska from flying to Hawaii. That occurred after a problem indicated a possible pressurization issue on multiple flights.

With safety as the highest priority, Alaska preemptively stopped flying that particular 737 MAX 9 to Hawaii prior to the airworthiness directive ordering the grounding. According to the NTSB, the airline took that measure so that the plane “could return very quickly to an airport” should any further problems arise.

It isn’t known yet if there is any correlation between the prior pressurization warnings and the emergency door blowout that occurred on Friday. We learned Sunday that in that incident, the cockpit door burst open, the headset came off the first officer entirely, and the captain lost part of her headset. NTSB said that a checklist reference manual also exited the plane.

FAA rules on passenger safety and continued grounding of MAX 9.

Alaska had rapidly conducted its own inspections on at least 18 MAX 9 aircraft and believed they could return the plane to service sooner rather than later. However, regulators erred on the side of caution and passenger safety and did not permit that.

Airlines await news from regulators on exactly what comes next.

Alaska Airlines said Sunday it had received notice from the FAA that additional work might be required on those same aircraft. As a result, Alaska had to cancel at least 170 flights on Sunday, including those to and from Hawaii indicated above.

United Grounds Hawaii 737 MAX 9 Fleet As Safety Concerns Escalate

FAA will first approve a resolution for MAX 9 concerns.

Boeing will issue a special service bulletin related to the 737 MAX 9 issue. That will inform the multiple airlines who fly the MAX 9, including United and Alaska, on what work needs to be performed. This detailed technical document must first be approved by the FAA.

Are 737 MAX the safest planes in the sky?

After two crashes, multiple groundings, and a plethora of other problems, some have said that the MAX planes are now the most carefully scrutinized airliner ever built.

While safety thankfully takes top priority, airline comfort lags miserably.

The FAA, the NTSB, and the airlines, including Alaska and United, prioritize safety. As United says when performing their safety announcements, “While safety is our priority, service is our passion.”

Unfortunately, on Hawaii flights, comfort is not a concern.

While flying to Hawaii is often a thrilling experience, getting there, in economy, and to some degree even in business, is often the worst part of the trip. So what the heck is wrong?

While regulators are fixated on aspects of airline safety following the 737 MAX problem, there’s little concern about the potentially dangerous lack of passenger room on Hawaii flights.

Last summer, two senators urged the administration to review the safety of cramped airline seats. They asked the FAA to conduct new evacuation tests as well. While safety is the primary concern, seat size and comfort are critical to passenger comfort and perhaps safety as well.

The FAA said that previous tests to determine if seat size was related to safety found they were not impediments to evacuation. Others, including airline passenger advocates, call foul and want to see regulation on minimum seat size for evacuation and health concerns, including addressing concerns like deep vein thrombosis (DVT), exacerbated in cramped conditions.

Economy seating has shrunk tremendously over the years.

Since the 1980s, economy seats on airlines have shrunk up to 5 inches in pitch and two inches in width. Low-cost airlines (think Spirit) have gone so far as to reduce pitch two inches further than others.

Sitting in economy remains bearable for even the most discriminating traveler (like BOH editor Jeff), at least for a couple of hours. But when it becomes 5+ hours on flights to and from Hawaii, the narrow, rock-hard, 3-across seats become unfathomable. Economy seats lack much recline, and if they had more, you’d literally be in the lap of the person behind you. There’s just not enough room. On a recent United Airlines Hawaii flight, editors endured seat pitch (distance between the seat in front or behind) of just thirty inches.

Economy seats are scientifically designed and arranged to accommodate the greatest number of passengers possible. The limited legroom seats guarantee profit and discomfort all at once.

Gone are normal airline lavatories.

Airlines are installing what the industry euphemistically calls “compact” lavatories. As a result of deploying these torturously small restrooms, there’s enough room left over for airlines to add up to two more rows of seats in their narrow-body planes. Where possible, airlines are also retrofitting older planes with these.

Ubiquitous narrow-body Hawaii flights exacerbate discomfort.

Airlines now primarily fly Boeing 737 MAX and Airbus A321neo on most Hawaii routes. While some denser routes to Honolulu and Maui still see widebody planes, anyone who flies much to and from the islands knows these continue to wane. At present, narrow-body aircraft (A321neo) are already flying nonstop for 9+ hours (not to Hawaii thus far). Future narrow-body variants will ensure that even longer flights to Hawaii will use these profitable yet uncomfortable planes.

Do you think the airline industry is adequately pro-safety on Hawaii flights? And what about passenger comfort?

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34 thoughts on “Safety First, Comfort Last: New Norm On Hawaii Flights As Airlines Cancel”

  1. Greed first, profit profit then less comfort. I am dreading the Neo flight to hawaii. I am 6’2 and my legs are longer up around the thigh area so it makes it a nightmare. I originally paid for extra leg room, then lost the flight due to a cancellation, airlines rescheduled my seat, but if I want more leg room out of phx, will have to pay more…nope cant keep forking out the bucks. then Maui says, tip and pay and spend when you get there….just cant do it all anymore.

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  2. We love Hawaii. Haven’t been since Covid. Really want to return for our 20 year anniversary because we were married in Hawaii. But I have injured my back and cannot sit the almost 6 hours from Seattle in a tortuous economy seat. Business class and some premium seats are beyond our budget.

  3. We flew on a MAX (WN3524 LAS-KOA) on July 22 2023. Upon landing we informed the pilots that there was a loose bolt sticking out of the port wing at cruising altitude which retracted upon landing. They showed no interest until we showed them a photo that we took in flight —- then minimal interest. An airplane mechanic acquaintance assured me soon after that the single bolt in our photograph would not pose a risk to the aircraft even if it dislodged at cruising altitude. There would have to be several loose. Now I wonder how many bolts were actually loose on that plane. After watching Downfall on Netflix about the Boeing company I doubt that I will choose to fly on a MAX again unless there is no other option.

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  4. In answer to your question does the airline industry give safety its fair due I’d say no……given the president of Hawaiian and Boeing spokesperson only talk about shareholder comfort. I’m thinking about cancelling my Hawaiian Airline miles card etc. Any suggestions from travelers on booking a wide-body to Hawaii (without having to fly from Europe or Asia?) Mahalo

  5. Love you guys but given the Hawaii Beat cheerleading for Boeing Max planes in connection with Alaska Air acquisition… (and your most recent nod .”Are Max Planes the safest in the sky? (?) Since Hawaii and Alaska are just concerned with the stock holders and not safety …just wondering. The latest from AP apnews.com/view/5f5249d744ea84051064051bk7390.y5h/
    And this from Politico
    “Boeing’s track record, along with the FAA’s safety oversight in recent years, has raised serious, warranted concerns for the flying public.” Sen. J.D. Vance a Commerce Committee member, said the near-catastrophic event raises questions about whether the 737 MAX is safe.”

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  6. Engineers know safety materials, laws of physics, and quantum mechanics unlike business execs who please shareholders first. Let’s remember the space Challenger January failure while actor-President Reagan gave his sad speech when Florida froze overnight as a warning that was ignored. We still can’t land on the moon again either.

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  7. Gone are the lux huge planes like PanAm. Now it’s just a cattle call with lack of civility with farm or ranch dress code, flip flops, and old men in shorts. Sadly, too it’s overweight people who can’t snap seatbelts yet complain of small seats.

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  8. I would like to see an adult-only (21+years) flight to Hawaii, mostly business class seating. Yes, it would cost more but hubby and I always pay more anyway to upgrade for his long legs. Maybe just one flight per month could be available. I wonder how many others would be willing to pay for it?

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    1. Such flights have been proposed numerous times over the years. There are only a handful of markets where this business model works, and they’re almost always heavy business markets like New York – London. Leisure destinations like Hawaii simply don’t have enough people like you and your hubby willing to pay more for added comfort.

      In 2000, American Airlines removed a couple of rows of seats from all its aircraft to launch its “More Room Throughout Coach” concept. It ultimately failed, as people voted with their wallets and simply weren’t willing to pay even a few dollars more for slightly more comfort.

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    2. Aloha,
      There used to be such a craft DebbieG; it was called the Concorde. Only 100 seats, all first class. Because of the big dollar cost of tickets, like Drew808 below says, it mostly catered to a London-New York business clientele. I would suggest that when an air carrier offers $69 or $99 tickets to Hawaii it sets the tone for a plethora of undesirable actions, including a 30 inch seat pitch and “micro lavatories”. Bring your own pretzels please…
      Mahalo

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  9. Our first Alaska flight to Hawaii was great, but that was a almost 20 years ago. We’re loyal Alaska fans and fly with them to Hawaii. While we haven’t been concerned about safety issues the thought is always in the back of my mind, especially flying over the ocean.
    Boeing 737 MAX airplanes: I’ve read the issues lie with Boeing CEO’s more concerned about stock prices than the safety and comfort of aircraft. I hesitate to think that airline passengers are ‘collateral damage’ when it comes to profit over safety standards/quality and money in the pockets of CEO’s, boards, and shareholders.

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  10. Alaska Airlines ignores a cabin pressure warning light three times, and then moves the plane to service over land rather than on the Hawaii run. Hmm, how is this prioritizing safety? They are prioritizing keeping revenue coming from that plane!
    And supposedly there “may” be a connection between the cabin depressurization warning light incidents on the same plane that then lost a section of fuselage. Really? “may” be a connection? That sounds like nothing more than pre-buttle for the pending lawsuits!

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    1. I can assure you the maintenance technicians at Alaska did not ignore the cabin pressure light on that aircraft. Our industry is very strictly regulated by paperwork and doing things by the book. In the past, when that hasn’t happened, it has caused accidents and cost lives. We have a fault isolation manual we follow on all fleet types when these type of things occur. Sometimes, despite hours of troubleshooting, faults can not be duplicated and the aircraft is returned to service. The pressurization issue and the door plug are two unrelated systems and issues

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      1. I’m a retired airline mechanic. I disagree with you. If the plug door is lose. Are not secured bad seal. It would leak causing pressurization problems. And plus there would be a loud air leak noise.. But if there was a loud leak noise. They should of presurized the plane check if there were leaks. I did that many times at AA and then fixed it return it to service

  11. Sardines vs Profit!!! They should have a class of seating uncomfortable economy no leg room, no service and bucket seat as they are not much softer and wider then five gallon bucket anyway. In emergency almost impossible to get out of the small packed row in due time, I feel bad for elderly people cramped into these seats as well as all people it is not a pleasure flying anymore. Remember the days going to Hawaii the excitement on the flight and the Welcome they gave you to start and end your trip?? All good things are no longer what a shame!!!

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  12. From a pilots prospective it doesn’t matter if you’re flying over water or land a plane is either airworthy or not.

    Conversation between Alaska mechanic and flight crew:

    Hey gang we took care of that pesky cabin air pressure warning light covered it with a little piece of black electrical tape shouldn’t bother you anymore.

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    1. I can assure you that didn’t happen. Enough with the misinformation with this incident. Mechanics get the fingers pointed at them quite often, despite them having nothing to do what happened. As what happened with the Alaska aircraft. The door plug and the ongoing issues with the 737 MAX is a Boeing issue and a Boeing issue alone.

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    2. As a retired airline mechanic. That’s not true we take aircraft safety very seriously. We would troubleshoot what the write up is. If it’s a leak presurize the plane and find and fix the leak. If it’s a fault then we would bite check the controllers for faults. Fix are Mel it. If it can go on a mel. But chances if it’s going across the pond. Mel’s would be very limited

  13. I’ve just had to book an unforeseen trip to Oahu for this month. Surprisingly there were some pretty good choices and prices available in widebodies. I’m taking an AA 789 nonstop out of DFW going, and same coming back. Prem Econ going and Business returning together cost less than $1900. Interestingly, both feeder flights to DFW are on 757s from a smaller regional airport. Glad to have some good wide body choices still available.

    Best Regards

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  14. Pressurization issues and then the plug blows out!? Why would anyone even imagine that there could possibly be a correlation between the 2 things, said no one Ever!!

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      1. If your a amt I don’t no how you got your A&p license. But a plug door leak. Can cause the pressurization. To hunt. Because it has to compensate for the leak . To keep the cabin altitude at 8000 feet. Plus that plug will squeel

  15. It’s interesting to see the history of seat sizing on air planes. I have always had a problem with leg cramps and the tight seating on planes just brings it on. I always book an aisle seat so that I can stand up when needed. It seems that passenger comfort is not a goal of airlines especially in economy and main cabin seating. Every additional inch of space means a higher price. If it takes government intervention to end this madness then bring it on.

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  16. It’s not just trips from the mainland to Hawaii that suffer in the comfort department. We’re in Egypt right now and Lufthansa has a problem with their “compact” heads, as well. I’m glad I only had to go #1 in the head in their A740. I’m not sure there would have been enough room in there for adding a second reason to visit the head.

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  17. The market gets what it wants. Price rather than value dictates the majority of ticket purchases to and from Hawaii thus inflation adjusted effective prices and comfort have both fallen substantially.

    I hope that it is the value placed on human life that elevates Safety to position one rather than the law suits. Now if you could sue for having to choose to be uncomfortable….

    Malama pono

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