In case you’ve never thought about the Boeing 757, we’re airline enthusiasts and never used to. But a few things made us take note and realize how important a role this plane played in Hawaii travel as we know it today. That is why.
757 opened direct routes to neighboring islands.
The 757, affectionately referred to as the “flying pencil” because of its length, was certified for ETOPS-180 in 1992. It is that certification that allowed it to fly to Hawaii. Prior to that, flights to Hawaii were aboard 3- and 4-engine aircraft, followed by the larger twin-engine Boeing 767, which was certified first and began flights to Hawaii in 1989.
There were numerous problems with those larger predecessors, such as the DC-10 (Hawaiian) and the L-1011 (Delta). They were too large to be operated successfully on the neighboring islands of Hawaii except Maui. The same was true for the 767, which as a side note, can also land and take off on the short runway at Lihue Kauai. But it cannot do so at full capacity.
Routes to Kauai and Kona are considered “thin routes” with much less traffic demand than those to Hawaii’s two main airports in Honolulu and Kahului, Maui. A different type of aircraft was needed to fly not only those routes to neighboring islands, but also to serve routes to Hawaii’s two main airports that do not require such large and expensive aircraft to operate.
Three airlines turned Hawaii upside down.
The three companies are all legacies, which, while still important, are not as much in focus as the trio of Alaska, Hawaii and Southwest. The three are American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines. All three became operators of the 757 fleet in Hawaii, and there began a new focus starting in the 1990s on direct flights that bypassed Honolulu. These airlines launched routes that had never made sense before, including from far away. Denver to Kauai and Denver to Kona are two such routes operated by United Airlines, which still uses 757s for them. Many other routes also made sense, such as Delta’s 757 flight from Seattle to Honolulu, which also still flies to this day.
The Boeing 757-200 quickly became the workhorse aircraft in Hawaii.
The plane was very similar to an elongated version of the Boeing 727 that first hit the market in 1982. It features large, powerful engines and has always been highly rated by pilots. Inside, there was the now familiar 2×2 seating in first and 3×3 in economy. United later outfitted the cabin with much more comfortable Polaris business suites. Jeff used to fly back and forth on the United 757 to Kauai and he reports that it was always a very uncomfortable plane for him, both in economy and in the old first class cabins. But it did the job.
The original leather first class seats were weird because you always slid into them. Economy was tight, although tight has since been redefined by the Airbus A321neo fleet operated by American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines. The original first class seats were 20″ wide with 38″ pitch and the economy seats were 17″ wide with anywhere from 31 to 36 inches of pitch. When UAL added Economy Plus, there was 34″ between rows, which helped. The 757 was typically configured for about 200 passengers.
At one time, American Airlines had more of these planes than anyone else. However, they decided to retire the 757-200 fleet in 2019, which was completed in early 2020. Delta and United still operate them today, although plans are in the works to retire them in the not-too-distant future. distant. Truly the end of an era.
Read: Hawaii has the world’s longest overwater flights (without diversion points).
Move over the 757. The arrival of the 737-800 and the Airbus A32x.
American has moved to fly mostly A321s on Hawaii routes, except for those that still fly wide-body planes like the Boeing 777.
Even Delta and United are retiring these aging planes and the end is not far off. It won’t be long until it’s rare to see one in Hawaii.
ETOPS-180 comes on the 737.
In 1999, the Boeing 737 NextGen received ETOPS-180 certification. This meant that on all but the longest 757 routes to Hawaii, the 737 would be a lower-cost replacement. And so it went that the 737 cannibalized most of the 757 routes. However, keep in mind that the 757 can fly nearly 1,000 miles farther than the 737. But when you look at the most sought-after routes to the islands, a 737 can hit almost all targets within an hour or so from the west coast. It is interesting to note that the more extended range 737MAX7 is capable of almost the same distance as the 757.
The 737 is certainly the most successful airliner ever built, with around 5,000 aircraft produced. By comparison, only about 1,000 757s, in two variants, were ever produced.
Hawaiian Air’s fleet prevented direct flights to the island until the A321neo.
Hawaii surprisingly stuck with a model that didn’t allow for direct, thin flights to neighboring islands. Their fleet of DC-10s, which were converted to 767s, and later A330s, were not suitable for these routes. So for many years, Hawaiian allowed other airlines with these 757 and 737 fleets to take that business. And admitted they did.
Enter Alaska Airlines, then Southwest Airlines.
Alaska began flying 737s to Hawaii in 2007. Initially operating from their home base in the Pacific Northwest, they expanded rapidly, with limited competition. They soon began flying to many of the California markets in which they were growing. This model is almost identical to the one deployed by Southwest Airlines, which joined the Hawaii party with their 737-800 and 737MAX fleets starting in 2019.
Realizing that there was no turning back from Hawaii visitors’ desires to fly directly to and from their chosen Hawaiian island, Hawaiian Airlines purchased a fleet of Airbus A321neo narrow-body aircraft, which began arriving in 2018. For For the first time, they have successfully competed on these famous, narrow Hawaiian routes opened for the first time by the Boeing 757.