Hawaiian Airlines says an increasing number of passengers are paying to sit in premium seats on its long-distance flights across the Pacific, especially since it began offering a premium economy section between coach and business class.
“Our premium economy service has been enormously successful,” Hawaiian Airlines CEO Mark Dunkerley said during an appearance at New York’s Wings Club. He added that in both premium economy and business class, the carrier’s paid load factor is virtually the same as it is in its far larger economy class.
That is despite the fact that the airline caters primarily to a leisure clientele, reflecting its long history as Hawaii’s main carrier. However, several trends are driving passenger booking patterns, Dunkerley told Travel Market Report.
First, the carrier has significantly expanded its long-haul route network, adding flights to New Zealand, Australian and other points in the Pacific region.
Second is simply demographics. As baby boomers age, they are more willing to spend extra to sit in comfort on a long-distance trip, he said.
And there is another reason for the airline’s success in getting customers to pay for a premium product. Unlike its legacy airline competitors, the airline has never handed out free upgrades to high-mile fliers. Other airlines have struggled with how to get more paying customers to sit upfront; Delta’s CEO recently admitted that until recently, its paid load factor in first class cabin was around 15 percent, although recent changes in its loyalty programs have boosted that percentage to over 50 percent.
Hawaiian’s premium economy class, which it brands as “extra comfort,” is offered on the airline’s fleet of Airbus A330s. Hawaiian’s other widebody plane, the 767, is being phased out, Dunkerley said, so it wouldn’t make sense to add that newer class of service on those aircraft.
And to further differentiate the two premium products, Hawaii last year began rolling out new lie-flat business class seats on a number of long-haul routes. Most recently, it added the seats on flights from San Francisco to Honolulu and Maui.
The fully reclining seats, configured in a 2-2-2 layout, are part of a larger upgrade of the carrier’s premium class offering, which also features new cuisine and amenity kits. The revamped cabins were already available on flights out of Honolulu to key international destinations, such as Beijing, Tokyo, Sydney, and Auckland, as well as to New York. And this week, Hawaiian Airlines said it will expand its New Zealand service with up to five nonstop flights weekly between Auckland and Honolulu, starting in March. It currently flies three times a week since launching the service in 2013.