Flying the Family-Friendly Skies: Hawaiian Airlines With Kids

Flying the Family-Friendly Skies: Hawaiian Airlines With Kids

Last month was our second trip to Hawaii as a family of 4!

We are two adults, one 12 year-old, and one 21 month-old (who completed his 27th flight as a “lap baby” on this trip).

The Flights

We flew San Diego to Honolulu on the one daily Hawaiian Air flight available, which departs in the morning on an Airbus A330.

We did a cheap online bid for the lay-flat first class seats and didn’t get it. They offered it to us again at check-in for over $400 per seat, but we weren’t willing to pay that much for first class because it was a measly 6-hour daytime flight.

Instead we snagged bulkhead seats in premium economy (aka “Extra Comfort”) in the middle of the 2-4-2 seat configuration for $80 each. That worked out great, because we had easy access to the mid-plane galley for when Baby J decided to spend a good portion of the flight throwing up.

After a long layover, we took the 30-minute inter-island flight over to Maui. The island-hopper planes are all Boeing 717s or ATR 42 Turbopros or something similar. There was no reason to upgrade on such a small plane for such a short flight, so we stuck with basic economy.

The one daily direct flight from Maui to San Diego on Hawaiian Air is on an Airbus 321 (a smaller plane than the A330), and again we upgraded to premium economy. Pro tip: first class on HA’s A321 does not have lay-flat beds. Premium economy is a better bang for your buck by far. The homebound flight was just under 5 hours.

The Costs

Our total cost for all flights was $1,234.81. That’s for 3 “adults” and a “lap baby” flying on Saturdays during the peak spring break season.

You can read the full cost breakdown here, including the details of our annoying but ultimately cost-effective struggles with the Hawaiian Air Mastercard and rewards program.

Family Boarding

Families traveling with kids under 2 board right after the first class passengers.

The In-Flight Experience

Hawaiian Air knows their game. The island music is playing as soon as you board, the soap in the bathroom smells like coconut, and the cookies are shaped like pineapples.

The seats in premium economy were perfect for us with our “lap baby” because the cushions were wide and full enough that they made a sort of couch when the armrests were up. Baby J could sit between two of us in this manner and not have to be on anyone’s lap. Sky couch! Super comfy.

There was supposedly some in-flight entertainment available on the Hawaiian Air app (download before you board) but most of it cost extra as far as we could tell. We were locked and loaded with our own phones, tablets, and ipods, so we didn’t need to use it.

The harsh reality is that when flying with a toddler your entertainment often consists of starting at the flight tracker, willing the plane to move faster.

Hawaiian Air serves a hot meal even in coach on flights to and from the mainland, which is much appreciated in contrast to the “pay extra if you want food during domestic flights” attitude on many airlines.

They also served a complimentary rum-punch for adults and tropical juice for the kids an hour before landing.

There was ample diaper-changing space in the lavatories. Our fabulous crew was unfazed by Baby J’s need to puke every 90 minutes over the Pacific (and once right before we parked at our arrival gate). They swooped in like hawks with that anti-stink powder and biohazard bags every time it happened.

The Long Layover at HNL

One of the great things about morning flights from the mainland to Honolulu is that you arrive pretty early in the day. If you’re connecting to another island, you can take as little or as much time as you want between your inbound flight and your connection, since the island-hoppers to the popular airports take off at regular intervals all day.

There are not luggage lockers at HNL anymore, so plan accordingly.

We arrived around 1pm in Honolulu and booked our flight to Maui for 7pm so that we’d have time to show our boys Pearl Harbor.

If you are traveling with older kids or adults, you’ll probably want to spend more time there than we did (reserve your tickets in advance). In our case, a half-day was the perfect amount of time to be there with a toddler.

If you just have one or two things you want to see in the Honolulu area, consider a purposefully long layover to check them off your list. It makes for a very high-energy but very worthwhile travel day.

The Plumeria Lounge

After our day out in Honolulu, we headed back to HNL for our inter-island flight and busted out our Priority Pass to grab snacks at the Plumeria Lounge.

The entrance to the Plumeria Lounge was buried under several layers of airport construction zones, but the inside of the lounge was clean, quiet, and uncrowded.

The lounge offerings would probably not impress you fancy first-class-only world travelers, but it had everything we needed in terms of food and drink and a space to relax.

We were the only family there, and everyone was friendly with the kids. It was an easy 5-minute walk to our gate.

Kid sitting in lounge, looking out window


The short and sweet of it is: If you’re going to Hawaii with your kids, Hawaiian Airlines is a great choice.

Don’t bother getting their credit card. Do upgrade to premium economy for the extra leg room.

Hawaiian Airline’s safety record is excellent, their aircraft are nice, and their prices are competitive. They do a good job with customer service and family-friendliness, and you’ll arrive smelling like guava juice and plumerias.

Bon voyage!

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