The United Airlines ‘Halfway To Hawaii’ Game Is Back, With A New Prize

Until 2014 most United Airlines flights to Hawaii featured the “Halfway to Hawaii game” where you could win a bottle of champagne. It was around only sporadically in more recent years, and often at the discretion of the crew.

Passengers would be invited to guess the exact time they’d be halfway across the ocean to Hawaii. Some would just take a close enough guess by listening to the pilot’s announced flight time, cutting it in half, and adding that to the departure time.

However others took it as a more complex math problem factoring information from the captain such as the altitude they’d be flying; flight time; takeoff time; total trip distance; air speed; and headwinds. There was even an app for calculating this. At one point they would give away a Fodor’s travel guide.

United went looking for a sponsor to pay them to run the game during the Jeff Smisek era effort to cut $2 billion in costs that was given the Newspeak name ‘Project Quality.’ They came up empty.

They dropped Halfway To Hawaii around 2014, which was sad. Passengers are usually in a festive mood as they head out to Hawaii. There’s something special about these flights. And it’s nice when airlines recognize that, even in a modest way.

However the airline brought the game back on certain flights in the fall with Hawaii’s re-opening, and a new prize is coming March 3.

Live and Let’s Fly shares a flight attendant memo explaining that as a Covid precaution the game is currently ‘on the honor system’.

To minimize touch points and guarantee consistency across routes, ensure you play the game as an “honor system.” To do this, use the PA to communicate game rules and other information.

The only time you should approach a customer for any game-related interaction is to verify the answers of the first six people to press their call buttons and distribute prizes. Customers wishing to participate must use their own resources for working out the solution, whether on paper or their own personal electronic devices. In previous versions of the game, flight attendants distributed pencils and paper, but under our updated procedures, if asked, please inform customers that you are unable to meet this request.

Starting next month the winner of each game will receive a Polaris business class cooling gel pillow, the kind that flight attendants were once told to stop passengers from stealing.

The pillow is part of what I’ve said for some time has been the best business class bedding in the sky, so good it’s almost hard to believe it’s United.

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, 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. Guess using my pilot skills to look up winds aloft would be cheating. But when I heard the name of the contest all I could think was, “Okay, so how much more do they add to your ticket’s cost to take you the rest of the way?”

  2. Back in 1973 while flying United LAX-BDL the FAs announced a similar competition: guess the combined flight experience of the entire crew, calculating total years and months combined. Based on est. age of the stewardesses (all women in those days), plus est. experience of a Captain and 1st Officer flying transcon I was able to come within 2 months of the correct total, whatever it was (something like 65 years, 3 months, or whatever) and walked off at BDL, a 25 year old kid with a bottle of nicer champagne than I’d ever seen….

  3. Really? A “Halfway to Hawaii” game? That sounds a bit too much like the recent UA 777 DIA flight that never made it’s HNL destination without the engine falling off!

    I’ll compare that game to our real-life experiences flying from ORD-HNL on AA over 20 years ago in first class seating (back then the AAward seating was 60K miles for one seat and 100K for 2 seats). Sitting up front in the plane, we often left HNL with a bottle of wine or champagne, courtesy of the crew. The last time that occurred, we were given 2 bottles of wine because all the champagne had been given away. The good old days!

  4. When I was a kid in 1967, they had a similar game when flying LAX to MIA of when you would cross the Alamo. My Dad tried to do all these fancy calculations and ended up way off.

  5. Bottle of champagne? I won this game in 2013 and all I got was a Lonely Planet Hawaii guide.

  6. Made the trip from ORD to HNL a few times as a kid in the 70’s and early 80s. It was often a contest to guess the total flight time, and my sister won once. The pilot would tell, but the winds were always off, never knew which runway HNL would be using, etc. It was a United Logo travel bag. It was something fun to do besides one movie (never good for kids or teens) and a deck of cards! Glad they brought it back, very classic and simple fun.

  7. Game will be played using honor system due to covid. Good luck with that. And the only reason this game was popular was because it gave passengers something to do. Plus it stirred up a little competitive spirit.

  8. I won’t a box of chocolate Macadamia nuts in the 90’s on a United flight to HNL guess the mid point time. I thought it was kind of a cool idea.I knew we were against a headwind so it was just a luck calculated guess.

  9. I thought the halfway to Hawaii game was making it halfway to Hawaii before you lost an engine

  10. 15 years ago today, Feb. 28, 2006, on the direct flight Chicago to Honolulu, my husband guessed the halfway point (within a minute!) and we won a bottle of champagne wrapped in a big white cloth napkin! It was a wonderful trip. Thanks United !

  11. Western Airlines always had this game on their Hawaii flights back in the early 80’s.

  12. I’m old enough to remember when United called it ‘Royal Hawaiian’ service

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