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 was an exciting development when Southwest Airlines added the state to its route map, 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 standard Southwest — no meals or seat power — and the journey relatively long.

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.

In recent years the most luxurious commercial product in the sky has been 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. Circa 1975 my grandparents took my brother and me to Hawaii to spend the summer in an apartment they were housesitting for friends. The roundtrip fare was over $400 and I recall my travel-savvy grandmother inquiring about full-fare coach, which was $20 more. It was the same seat, she discovered, but a plussed-up meal — she didn’t think was worth the added expense (smart call).

    It was our first flight ever, on Western Airlines, and one of the things I recall was the tropical punch they served out of a volcano loaded with dry ice. The volcano sat atop a cart and was wheeled down the aisle shortly after takeoff. I think rum (or something) was spiked on request — for a kid, this was the coolest thing.

    I only flew the airline a few times, but Western was a fairly large carrier on the west coast; at one time Western briefly had London-Anchorage-Honolulu service! The airline merged with Delta sometime in the mid-80s, at a point when Delta was barely known in the west.

    Western Airlines — the oh-oh-oh-nly way to fly! My favorite airline tag line.

  2. As a child I got to fly on a United 747 in First from Honolulu to LA. I remember the entire upstairs was a lounge with some couch-like seats, tables and a buffet. During the flight the captain hosted a trivia game over the PA – who could calculate the exact halfway time of the flight. The winner got a bottle of wine.

    The Hawaii flights all seemed so much of an event back then.

  3. AA now flies Oasis equipped planes with no seat back entertainment. A joke of a product and my next flight I’m going to rough it in main cabin extra.

  4. Well, before ETOPS, thou must have 3 or more engines to fly to Hawaii. Kind of a guarantee of a widebody jet (since 727s didn’t have the range).

  5. In the 1980’s Ward Air on a 747 from Victoria, BC to Hololulu. The upper deck was lounge seating and anyone could use it. Also, had an open bar. Good times!!!!

  6. I suspect it has something to do with other destinations that are more exotic and luxurious than Hawaii opening up. Hawaii but especially Honolulu strikes me as a place that has been milking it since the 60s. It’s a big city on an island. Too much concrete, too much development, a ridiculously expensive product for the quality offered. Maybe there are vestiges of the old Hawaii left on other islands but I think Hawaii is just a vastly overrated place. I’ve been there a dozen or more times for work. I would never spend my own money going there.

  7. @FNT Delta Diamond, SHhhhhh. Don’t tell people about Hawaii otherwise, they will all go to the really good places and ruin those. Waikiki is the most awesome place on the planet. Everyone should go.

  8. It was also a 10-11 hour flight from SFO to HNL (looking at old PanAm stratocruiser flight times). It’s half that nowadays.

  9. When I was 6 or 7 (1st grade at least), we flew one of United’s early 747 from Chicago to Hawaii and then island hopped. It was an awesome trip. I still have the menu’s and even the safety card from Hawaiian airlines. Since then we’ve flown a TWA 747, TWA 767, an AA 767 and a AA A321Neo (the last one we flew 1st class), very different experiences from that first trip for sure. Still anyway you get to Hawaii, it’s still a magical trip.

  10. My Oldies singing group, The Fleetwoods spent a week in Honolulu at the Alcoa Theater with The Champs and some other people. Flew from Seattle on a Constellation both ways. I’m pretty sure it was Western. This was in 1959. Leg room,China, Ashtrays, Art Deco in the sky. The Hula girls putting the leis around our necks was wonderful.

  11. 1965 PIT to ORD to SFO to HNL. Prop to ORD, 707 to LA and then to HNL. FC all the way as NON-REV FAMILY. Meal was PRIME RIB cut in front of you in aisle at seat to serve. Linens, silverware, glass. Arrival in HNL to outside stairs and greeted with Leis.

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