It was a day full of pomp and circumstance, including special gifts, speeches from high-ranking public officials, and a line of fire trucks offering a water cannon salute at takeoff. On May 24, All Nippon Airways (ANA) officially launched service on the "Flying Honu," the airline's new Airbus A380 with a family of sea turtles painted along the fuselage, which is exclusively servicing its Honolulu-to-Tokyo route.
The launch coincides with the opening of ANA's only lounge outside of Japan in the Honolulu International Airport, and signifies the airline's and state's investment in a healthy Japan-Hawaii market.
Hawaii is a top holiday destination for Japanese travelers and a popular choice for Japanese destination weddings and honeymoons. In 2017, according to HTA data, nearly 1.6 million Japanese visitors came to the Aloha State, up from 1.18 million in 2008. The use of the new jumbo jets is part of ANA's plans to double its capacity to Honolulu by 2020.
ANA is adding three A380s to its fleet, all with the "Flying Honu" turtle design but in different colors, and I was invited to experience the first commercial passenger flight on the Flying Honu from Honolulu to Narita Airport, which was the return leg after the route kicked off earlier that day from Japan. Previously, ANA used the Boeing 787, which had less than half the capacity of the A380s 520 seats.
Hawaii invested $13 million in airport improvements to accommodate the double-decker A380, and Hawaii Gov. David Ige recognized the importance of the Japanese market to Hawaii's tourism future in remarks at the gate-side ceremony in Honolulu.
"I'm excited. This day was four years in the making as we partnered with ANA to improve their service from Hawaii to Tokyo," Ige said. "Mahalo for the partnership between the state of Hawaii and ANA."
The A380 service is projected to add $285 million to Hawaii's economy and as much as $30 million in tax revenue, Ige said.
All of the new aircraft feature four classes. The eight first class, 56 business and 73 premium economy seats are all on the top deck, and the 383 economy seats are in a 3-4-3 configuration on the bottom deck. The economy section features a seat system, called ANA Couchii, which allows passengers to make a single "couch seat" out of any set of three or four seats for an additional fee. Every economy seat has a dedicated power port, foot rest, and 13.3-inch entertainment screen.
With the A380s dedicated to the Honolulu route, there are nods to the Hawaii leisure market sprinkled throughout the passenger experience, including a safety video starring turtles, featured gifts and amenities, and special menu items such as ANA's version of the Blue Hawaii.
In business class there was ample storage space including bins underneath the windows beside the seats, which came in handy for my pillow, blanket and sleeping pad since I failed to take full advantage of the lie-flat seats for a nap during the afternoon flight lasting a little more than six hours. I did fire up the 18.5-inch entertainment screen for a couple of movies while I devoured a lunch of miso soup, fresh fruit, sashimi and grilled butterfish. The plane also features a family multi-purpose room for privacy during feedings, changings and other needs.
"This is ANA's most popular resort route, and that's why we've chosen to focus on this route," said Shigeru Hattori, ANA senior vice president. "For many Japanese, families especially, Hawaii is the best place to visit."
Hattori added that ANA is exploring working more closely with Hawaiian Airlines on connecting interisland flights to better serve customers.
The new ANA lounge sits on the second floor above the A380 gate, and premium economy, business and first-class passengers can board directly from the lounge via a dedicated ramp. Inside the lounge there is complimentary WiFi, assorted food and drinks, a children's play area, and plenty of seating of all varieties for cramming in a work session, relaxing or grabbing a last minute snack.
The second A380 was delivered May 15, and is due to join the Narita-Honolulu service at the start of July. The third A380 is expected by mid-2020.