Hawaii Service Used to Be So Glamorous United Airlines Offered Its Own ‘The Residence’

Hawaii service used to be something special. That isn’t really true anymore. It’s exciting that Southwest Airlines is on the cusp of flying to Hawaii, especially for holders of the Companion Pass (designated companion flies for just the taxes whether you’re paying for your ticket with points or cash). But the product is going to be standard Southwest — no meals or seat power.

Hawaii service used to feature some of the most glamorous products, even on routes served by the least glamorous of airlines. American Airlines today is run by pre-merger US Airways leadership, which was in turn run by pre-merger America West management. American Airlines CEO Doug Parker joined America West in 1995 as Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Just before Parker’s arrival America West got rid of its ex-KLM Boeing 747-206’s. These were three-cabin aircraft which flew between Honolulu and Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Nagoya, Japan as well as New York JFK and Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Today the most luxurious commercial product in the sky is the Etihad Residence, a three-room suite for up to two passengers which includes a bedroom, living room, and private bathroom with shower. It’s at the front of the first class cabin on Etihad’s Airbus A380s.

But did you know that United Airlines used to offer its own version of the Residence on Boeing 377 Stratocruisers to Hawaii? These aircraft featured a private state room at the very rear of the aircraft.

Three course meals with hot entrees were served in the main cabin. The pre-arrival meal was a buffet with salads, meats, and ice cream served two hours out from Hawaii.

Down a spiral staircase was a lower deck lounge with a refreshment bar and tables.

The private state room, though, is something I never knew existed. There was a door that separated it from the rest of the aircraft for privacy. It was “decorated in rose and grey.” Passengers could dine beside each other, and there were two full-sized berths for sleeping.

This 1950 United Airlines promotional video is truly a world apart.

On arrival flights were met by traditional Hawaiian dancers as passengers disembarked.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Any idea on what that stateroom cost? I’d be curious to compare it (adjusted for inflation) to The Residence and other suites today.

  2. do Not put Hawaii, Luxury, America West and Doug Parker in the Same paragraph… Parker and AW are the epitome of Low Rent/ Cheap Greedy Slumlords

  3. As I understand it, the Stratrocruiser was, by far, the best aircraft of the day because they were pressurized and flew at 32,000 feet. Most aircraft flew at half that altitude and were much bumpier.

    Regardless of aircraft, though, the costs of flying in the ’50s were much, much higher. I’ve seen figures that indicate the fares were about 5x higher than today in constant dollars. And you actually had to pay — no free award tickets with credit cards. 🙂 Flying was also much more dangerous: even though the number of flights were small, you’d typically have half a dozen crashes of US aircraft each year.

    So nostalgia is a wonderful thing, but we are really much, much better off with the largely utilitarian air service of today.


  4. Pan Am originally developed the rear stateroom for its flying boats, the Clippers. These Boeing 314’s were succeeded by the Boeing 377, or the Stratocruiser.

  5. On United, when I started flying to Hawaii In 1971 (37 trips ago) The attendents dressed in Hawaiian garb with leis, Hawaiian music would be played in the cabin while boarding. It was definitely special. Only three years ago that UA stopped doing the “halfway to Hawaii“ guessing game.

  6. My how far they’ve sunk… Newark-to-Honolulu nonstop service featured a filthy old plane and food for purchase when I flew United to Hawaii.

  7. @ Roger. Agreed. Doug Parker is to passengers what Frank Lorenzo was to airline employees. They both set record lows for management style.

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