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I have a pretty high tolerance when it comes to bad service; and working within the hospitality industry for the last 10 years has, if anything, left me with an appreciation of hospitality staff and what they deal with on a day to day basis.  

I understand that not all customer requirements can be met; I understand that you will never please absolutely everybody; and I am a huge advocate of getting further by remaining polite.  I’m not easily irritated, I’m very understanding, and I deal well with situations when things don’t go my way.  However there comes a point where enough is enough, and for Hawaiian Airlines to have frustrated me to the point where I would rather swim than to ever fly with them again takes genuine skill!

Here is a letter I wrote to Hawaiian Airlines outlining my experience and expressing my disappointment in their airline.

My personal details have been taken out of the below letter, but you should be as specific as possible when writing to an airline.  Be sure to include your name, flight numbers, confirmation numbers, seat numbers, staff names (if you remember), frequent flier numbers, cost of fare etc.)

My Letter:


Dear Consumer Affairs

Earlier this year I traveled with Hawaiian Airlines from Sydney to Maui.  As I was travelling for my destination wedding, 10 other family members made the same flight with me, and 50 other guests flew with Hawaiian Airlines during February to make their way to Hawaii from Australia.   Sadly, the majority had quite a poor experience flying internationally with your airline.

Our itinerary was booked on the same ticket – we landed in Honolulu on QF3 from Sydney on February 10 2013, and were to make a connecting flight to Maui on HA126.  The Qantas flight was slightly delayed in landing, and we arrived in Honolulu with 20 minutes left to check in for the connecting flight.

Your international connection procedure is a complete mess and incredibly stressful.  There were no staff members available to point us in the right direction for check-in, signage is incredibly poor, and finally after conveying the urgency of our check-in to one of your ground staff members, we were told to check in at self help machines.  While some of us managed to check-in and print tickets, we were not offered any help by ground staff members when some experienced issues trying to re check our baggage and print new baggage stickers – despite continuous attempts and requests for help.  We were told we had to sort it out ourselves.

My now husband and I ended up leaving the rest of our family to sort out their tickets to run for the gate.  My father, whose bags were already checked in the whole way through to Maui, was forced to pay for excess baggage despite having already paid for this on his ticket.  After having paid for excess baggage and printed new bag stickers, the staff member who finally decided to help them said;

“Oh, you didn’t actually need to do that, your bags have already been checked the whole way.” 

Not happy – especially as he and my mother were flying business class with your airline.

My husband and I got to the gate, and informed the staff that the rest of our party were on their way, just running through security.  They were incredibly rude and did not care.  Despite my whole party having already checked in and printed their new boarding passes, the staff members closed the doors to the plane, essentially kicking my two sisters off the flight.  In doing so your staff separated a mother from her 1 year old and 4 year old children who had already boarded with our party.  I made your staff aware of the fact that the children were on the plane and two other passengers were running for the gate; however they said “too bad” and proceeded to close the doors.

This is incredibly unprofessional and honestly we were appalled. Every airline I have ever flown with has made an effort to escort you to the plane, or call ahead to hold the plane for a few minutes if they know that checked in passengers are on the way.  Being a travel writer, I have traveled quite extensively and am a frequent flyer; however I have never experienced service so horrible.  It is hard enough travelling with young children; however please try travelling with young children who have been separated from their mother.

We had been told by airline ground staff that all of the flights to Maui for the day were overbooked and so if we didn’t get on the flight we weren’t making it to the island that day, so you can imagine our stress.

Upon arrival in Maui we went straight to the customer service desk to sort out how my sisters were going to arrive.  Obviously having no telephone reception being from Australia we had no means of contacting them.  Your staff were incredibly unhelpful, rude, and would not give out any information despite us having explained the circumstances.  We were not asking for personal information, just if they had been put on another flight, if we should wait around the airport, if they were even going to be flying in that day.  As we explained, we had her children, we were all originally booked and checked in on the same flight, and we had no way of contacting them.

Finally after we became incredibly agitated she gave us a “hint” to wait at Gate 19 for as long as it took.  Additionally, our bags were not put on the same plane so we were waiting at the baggage terminal for a good few hours before our luggage arrived in Maui.

Coming back

I can write one bad experience off as a once off.  However we experienced the same level of unprofessionalism and disorganization on our flights back.  Due to issues with my immigration status (my husband is a United States citizen) we then flew back to Sydney on February 16, and back to the States via Hawaii on March 2 2013.

Check in for both flights was once again the most disorganized process I have ever experienced, lines were moved after people had already begun queuing, staff members were late to work and no-one gave the impression they had any idea of what they were doing.  I understand that the islands may run on “Hawaiian” time; however an international business should not.

Myself and my husband often choose seats at the back of the plane so that we can spread out should the plane not be full.  On the flight back to Sydney there were two rows of three completely empty behind us, and three rows of two seats empty on each side of the plane.  After the seatbelt sign was turned off, I moved to one of these rows to lie down, as did another gentlemen sitting near us who was incredibly tall and had to either lie or stand as he didn’t fit in the seat.

Both myself and this gentleman (who proceeded to stand for the entire long haul flight) were kicked out of these rows by Hawaiian Airline staff members who were incredibly rude and informed us that these seats were reserved for staff.  They then proceeded to cordon off all empty seats.  None of the seats were occupied for the first 5 hours of the flight.  Additionally, when a staff member was utilizing the space it was only one at a time.  Why one person required 20 odd seats at the back of the plane is beyond me, and it is incredibly poor customer service.  We were not impressed at all.

I am a travel writer at “Mapping Megan” and unfortunately will not be writing a good review for your airline.  I will be writing about my experience as outlined above.  Should you wish to write a response to accompany my piece I would be more than happy to include it as I believe in writing which is balanced, fair and accurate. 

It is also for this reason that I have waited so long to contact you about this experience.  As you can imagine we were incredibly angry with your airline at the time, and I hope that the time passed has allowed me to write to you with a level head, having allowed me to reflect on the experience and remove my emotions.

Hawaiian Airlines Response:


First, we want to thank you for sending us your feedback. We sincerely apologize for your unpleasant experience with Hawaiian Airlines on February 10, 16 and March 2. As a customer, you are our valued guest, so there’s never an acceptable excuse when you receive poor service.


We take experiences such as yours very seriously, and we will use your feedback to help us improve our service. We assure you that your concerns have been shared with our respective managers for their internal review and necessary action. 

Ms. Donoghue, thank you for taking the time to communicate with us. Again, please accept our sincere apologies for your experience, and we hope to have the opportunity to serve you again.

Domestic Travel with Hawaiian:


My horrible experience aside, I have friends who swear by Hawaiian Airlines. Kimmy Hayes from the popular travel blog AfterGlobe wrote the following review of her domestic travels with the airline.

I love Hawaiian Airlines. It’s my favorite airline to fly and I recommend it to anyone flying between the mainland and the Hawaiian Islands. I even have the Hawaiian Airlines Credit Card that I put all of my purchases through to be able to earn points towards free trips to Hawaii. To date, I’ve earned 5 roundtrip tickets.

Most of the time, Hawaiian Airlines is on time. There was one time we got delayed due something needing to be fixed on the plane. When they realized it was going to take a while to repair, they found another plane for us. Sure, we had to wait, but they constantly gave us updates with what was going on. I forgave them for that. There is no being on Island Time when it comes to Hawaiian Airlines.

I have always received great service while flying on Hawaiian from letting me know if there is a flight change before our travel date to free inflight food to plenty of free drinks during the flight. On our next flight to Kauai, our in-flight meal consists of a fresh fruit tray with cheese, crackers, Hawaiian Host macadamia nut chocolates, Hawaiian sweet Maui onion chips, and a Koloa Breeze rum punch cocktail. If that doesn’t meet your fancy, you can opt to purchase an upgraded meal. It’s the little things like this that have always felt us feeling like we received great service not only from their crew in the air, but all of their employees.

Once on board, I’m happy for their wide body planes that allow my husband and me to share a two seat row. This way I get my favorite window seat, he gets his aisle seat, and we get to sit next to each other. No compromising on who has to give up their preferred seat. These planes also offer more leg room, a roomier, cleaner cabin, and more comfortable seats.  As far as I know, Hawaiian Airlines is the only one who offers wide bod planes to Hawaii.

Their flights offer state-of-the-art interactive entertainment systems at every seat with a variety of audio and video options.  There’s a USB port in case you need to charge your phone or tablet in flight. Even better, they offer the award-winning magazine, Hana Hou in the back of every seat pocket that you are welcome to take with you. This magazine is full of insightful views on the people, places, cultures that make up the Hawaiian Islands. It’s my favorite out of all of their in-flight entertainment.

On your return home trip, Hawaiian Airlines offers curb side check-in. With our bags usually overflowing with Hawaiian treats to take back with us this is one of the best perks ever. You are serviced very quickly, my bag has never been weighed, and it costs nothing. Of course, you do want to tip the attendant since he just saved you overweight fees and standing in the much longer line at the counter.

All in all, I love Hawaiian Airlines. I will continue to fly with them and use their mileage card unless they someday do me wrong. Until then, I’m going to sit back to enjoy my Koloa Breeze rum punch and macadamia nut chocolates while reading my Hana Hou with my legs stretched out.

Morals of the Story:


  1. Everyone has different experiences.
  2. Don’t fly with Hawaiian internationally.
  3. I could have potentially improved the effectiveness of my letter.  After having researched, and evaluated the whole process, tomorrow’s blog will be on how to write an airline complaint.

Have you had an experience with Hawaiian Airlines?


 About Megan Claire

Megan is an Australian Journalist who has been travelling and blogging around the world for the last 7 years to inspire others to embark on their own worldwide adventure!  Her husband Mike is an American travel photographer, and together they have made the world their home.

Follow their journey on FacebookGoogle+ and Twitter.




  1. Mum and I had a horrid experience with them flying back from your wedding in maui to honolulu. They had not allocated seats when we checked and where told that they would do this at the gate. 5 minutes before boarding I’m looking around and can see people with tickets that had seat allocations so i approached the staff member at the gate. He told me that the seat allocation desk was all the way up at gate 1 we where at gate 30 or something, and at this stage they called our flight. btw there was no signage for this seat allocation desk.. by the time we reached the desk we went straight to the front only to be told to go to the end and wait our turn well by this stage I was angry I said our flight is boarding and we don’t have seats. oh we can’t get you on the flight now.. ok now I’m really angry This is Bull**** I told the lady. so security was called because apparently she felt i was abusing her i said look i just want to get on my flight she said well you will have to sit apart me in row 20 something mum up the front. it wasn’t the best scenario but at this stage i just wanted to get out of that airport. so i was escorted to the gate by security made to feel like a criminal. fair to say they aren’t my favourite airline either.

    • I seriously can’t believe they treated you so horribly. I genuinely don’t know how a business which relies on customer service believes they can act that way towards their customers. Time to stand up and shout out!!

      Never again – we’ll take a boat to my next wedding!!!

  2. I think American airlines in general are very rude – there’s an attitude that the staff can do or so whatever they like to the customer and the customer just has to lump it. We had a situation with Alaskan Airlines where we had booked a Qantas flight from Sydney to Vancouver and our ticket specifically indicated that we were entitled to check in one piece of luggage. Qantas code-shares with Alaskan Airlines on the LA-Vancouver leg and Alaskan Airlines demanded $20 each to carry our bags. Despite my protests, requests to speak to a manager and showing our tickets as evidence that it was already included, we had no choice but to pay up. But what really struck me was how incredibly rude the staff were. To rub salt into the wound, once we were on the plane, it was delayed for nearly half an hour because of all the caper of everyone trying to stuff their massive on-board luggage into the overhead lockers – all those clever people avoided paying baggage fees and took it all on board instead, luggage that was way oversize and the flight attendants couldn’t have cared less! There’s a blog post in all of that which I’ll get onto one day!

    • That’s absolutely ridiculous!!! I can’t believe how many stories are coming out of the woodwork about horrible airline encounters!!

      Note to self: take a cruise of Alaska or drive when we go. If it’s any consolation to you they’ve lost our business because of your story. We as the customers need to start figuring out some way to make them think twice!!

      Let me know when your post goes up so I can read and comment :) Thanks for sharing.

  3. OMG, I can’t believe that actually happened. What a nightmare! Have they at least offered you a free flight or some discount for future flights to make up for it?

    • Nope – all we got were their automated “sincerest apologies”. Incredibly lame attempt at correcting the situation.

  4. Wow. You cut their ass. Good for you, it sounds pretty horrible. I have to say that’s a pretty lame response from them, blah blah blah. Good to know – Hawaii in our plans and we’ll fly something else from Canada.
    My own airplane nightmare:
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Thanks Frank – I tried!! It’s definitely a consolation that I can share my story now over the internet though for others to take note of. Maybe Hawaiian will actually take notice if it gets a bit of bad publicity!!

      I can’t believe US Airways didn’t put you up in a hotel room! Every airline I have ever flown has reserved a room for me if they strand me overnight!! Seriously I’m shocked at the amount of airline stories which are coming out!!

  5. I can’t believe that the mother and children were separated. That is insane. I would have come unglued as the mom at that point.

    • Funnily enough they actually have a policy about young children traveling which I found on their website after the experience. Would you believe the policy states that minors will not be separated from their accompanying guardian/s. Thanks Hawaiian!

  6. My boyfriend and I flew United Airlines from Japan back to Michigan. During meal time the flight attendant KICKED him to wake him up and that just really upset me. How hospitable is it to kick someone in efforts to awaken them. I was so pissed.

    • She did WHAT now??!! That’s absurd! You watch too – the second you kick a flight attended back you’ll end up handcuffed to your seat with police waiting for you at the airport!

      Thats shocking, I would have been pissed too!

  7. The service on most American Airlines has really gone downhill since 9-11. The use the security excuse to get around actually providing good service. I used to love flying but now it has just become a way to get to where I want to go.

    • I agree with you – flying used to be an amazing adventure, but now it’s a hassle and often we turn our travel into road trips where we can.

  8. How unfortunate, you wuld think that the Aloha airline would show more aloha be more flexible and work with their clients, how unfortunate is this?

    • Extremely unfortunate. Especially since they are the main carrier to and from the islands.

  9. Genuinely cannot stand companies that send copy and paste emails back to complaints or otherwise. I’m all about personal service and how long does it truly take for someone to just reply with an honest, human answer? Good for you posting this, Meg :)

    • Well it took them 4 weeks to send back the copy and paste which I recieved so god knows how long it would take them to personalize a response!! Thanks Emma!

  10. Unbelievable! Talk about a lack of Aloha spirit! I’m so alarmed for the young children. What if the 1 year old was still being breastfed – he/she is now separated from a nursing mother, potentially compromising their nutrition and removing a source of comfort for them during take off and landing (when nursing/drinking can help relive pressure on their ears). And what if their mom had been carrying important medication for them in her purse. What if she had the epi-pens for kids allergic to airline peanuts? Or important asthma medication? Insulin? Even more alarming is that they let children who were NOT your children, who you have no legal authority over, travel with you. I’m assuming that you had a different last name from your sister’s children. I’ve heard of so many problems when step parents/parents with different last names have been stop and interrogated to prove they are the legal guardians of their own children…. and now Hawaiian is letting anyone who says “oh, it’s my niece, her mother is on the next flight” go through. For all the complaining people do about how tight security is in the United States, how strict (and over strict) the American airlines are, it appears that is a better alternative to “oh, these aren’t your children. You admit they aren’t your children… Oh well – just leave with them anyway!”

    • Yet they wouldn’t give us information on whether they were put onto another flight because it “breached security policy” and they couldn’t give our any personal information. It’s the most mad I have ever seen my husband get with someone!

      Seriously though – they knew the kids were on the plane – I basically stood at the very front of the plane with the flight attendants refusing to go back to my seat until the rest had boarded. It at least bought enough time for my parents and brother to board.

  11. WOW. As you know, from my guest post for you about “Being Nice to Groundstaff,” I’ve experience of working for airlines – but this experience takes the biscuit.

    I know from my time in airlines that American carriers are the worst overbookers in the world ie: the ones to overbook their flights the most…but that’s no excuse for poor customer service.

    Were they chewing gum? That happened to me when I dealt with a South West Airline employee once – I nearly reached over & tore it from her mouth.

    • She was chewing gum??!! How rude! I can’t STAND that! I genuinely don’t understand how people can just not care and get away with acting so unprofessionally.

  12. Meg, I am horrified by Hawaiian’s treatment of your situation. I mean, let me back up…as someone who also had a destination wedding I can 100% understand how important the entire event is for you and your guests. You are asking family and friends to spend their time flying across the world to celebrate your special day you would want nothing but a positive experience for them on their journey! As far as I’m concerned even, an airline should be thanking YOU for having your wedding and CHOOSING to buy upwards of 50!!! tickets with them and not someone else!

    I don’t care if they give the best customer service in the world to 99% of their customers and you were the one exception (clearly you aren’t) there is NO EXCUSE for behavior like that from their staff ever and their response to your claim is just outrageous. They should be embarrassed and asking how you would like it to be dealt with in form of compensation for your tickets or vouchers for future travel.

    I, like you, have worked in the service industry for years, and where you can’t make everyone happy it doesn’t appear that Hawaiian is in the business of making anyone happy.

    As a nomadic couple my husband and I are very specific about airlines we will and will not fly with. All I needed to hear was your experience to not ever want to fly with them. So thanks!! ;)

    • Thanks Kathleen! The fact that my experience and their handling of the situation has cost them customers is now my compensation!

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who thought providing 50 odd flights was damn good business to have come from one event. Especially since some of the guests even went as far as to fly business and first class – sadly me not being one of them lol!

      Just makes me really mad – hoping that the power of social media and word of mouth makes someone sit up and pay attention to their despicable practices!

  13. I know we’ve talked about this a lot before the article posted, but I still can’t believe this happened to you and with Hawaiian Airlines. All of our wedding guests who didn’t fly Hawaiian had horrible flying experiences and those who did fly with them didn’t have any problems. Unfortunately, there’s a monopoly on flights to Hawaii and not a lot to pick from.

    • So it’s swimming or Hawaiian Air :D

  14. This is terrible! We flew domestic from Honolulu to Kauai and our experience was fine. We had to check in at the kiosk, but there was someone there that helped us through it. Our only complaint is that we never got our FF miles.

    I have limited experience with them though and what they did to your family is appalling. I hope that in writing this, they will reach out to you and try to make things right.

    • Here hoping! That’s pretty bad too though that you never got your FF miles – most airlines will let you claim them after you’ve flown if you didn’t receive them properly – then again Hawaiian isn’t most airlines; apparently they live in a little world of their own!!

      Thanks for your comment :)

  15. What an incredibly frustrating experience! And with a wedding to worry about, the last thing you need to do is stress about missed planes!

    The worst part is that the customer service department that received your letter clearly didn’t even read it!! The response is obviously a copy and paste template.

    Sorry you had such a bad experience!

    • Hopefully they read it now that I’m plastering it all over the internet! If they still don’t care after that I guess there’s really no hope for them at all! *Sigh*!!!

  16. I think that airplane travel is one of the most frustrating things in the world. We too, have had long line ups, disorganized customer service and poor attitudes from flight attendants on more than just one airline. we have also had GREAT service, a great experience and a great flight with others! Part of the reason i think as customers we are on edge is that we WANT to be on vacation mode, but we are stuck in a “stressful” travel process before we can actually enjoy ourselves!

    • I agree with you – I think that travel itself, the in transit part, is the worst part of traveling!! Which is why we favor road trips wherever we can :D!

  17. Wow, what terrible service! I flew with Hawaiian once and it was fine, but we were flying from LAX so it was about as simple as you could imagine. Now you have me nervous about flying with them again, so perhaps I’ll stick to United ;-) I got burned once on thousands of dollars of tickets that the airline wouldn’t refund even though there was an actual WAR going on:

    • From everything I’ve heard their domestic routes are fine, it just seems to be their international that causes cluster f-s. Granted too, I wrote this post in 2013, and haven’t flown with them since so can’t comment on whether or not their service has improved in the last 5 years.

      Whoever you choose to fly with I hope you have an amazing time in Hawaii!

      Oh wow, your experience with that airline sounds terrible! Which airline was that?

  18. my wife and I just flew return to Honolulu from Brisbane and swore we would never fly Hawaiian again. Staff very unhelpful and at times rude. Very unprofessional. never again

    • Hi Robyn, I’m really sorry to hear you had a terrible experience too. This experience was in 2013, and it’s sad to hear that not much has changed since :(

  19. I booked a Business/First Class seat for my daughter, 5 months pregnant, on Hawaiian Airlines from Brisbane, Australia, to Honolulu. and from Honolulu to Seattle, Washington USA. The seats were advertised as being totally reclining, and passengers were able to, “lie down and arrive refreshed in Paradise.” Well, my daughter’s seat was broken, and would not recline. The flight was full, and the staff refused to let her switch seats with anyone, and did not care. The reason I booked her on that flight was because she is 5 months pregnant, and the reclining seats gave her doctor the incentive to clear her to fly. So, for the 9-hour flight, she had a broken seat.

    She was given a $500 travel voucher to be used on Hawaiian Air within a year, to “release Hawaiian Air from liability”. We are in negotiations with Consumer Affairs now for a reimbursement of the portion of the trip from Brisbane to Honolulu. So far, for a $2550 USD ticket, they are offering $250 USD if we return the voucher. They are impossible to deal with, and we’ll be looking at other avenues, possibly small claims court.

    I do not recommend using Hawaiian Airlines for any travel to or from Australia.

    • Hi Bea, I’m so sorry to hear about your / your daughters experience with Hawaiian. It’s not only shocking that they treat regular customers that way, but you would think they would go out of their way to help those with extra needs, like being 5 months pregnant!! Or in my case, not splitting a mother from her young kids! It’s astonishing; I had the same experience with their resolution team too, just a complete lack of care. I’m glad to hear that you’re pursuing this further. At some point they need to wake up and stop thinking they can get away with treating people so poorly.

    • There are many avenues my daughter and I plan to explore. I’ve filed a charge dispute for a full refund with my credit card company, I can file a complaint with my state’s Attorney General’s office, as well as file a claim in small claims court. And whether we win or not, at least, we’ll bug them to death and they will be forced, many times, to respond to our complaints. It will be fun to be a prickly thorn in their side.

    • That’s the spirit! Good on you for sticking with it and standing up for yourself. I think a lot of the time they get away with this type of behavior because they believe people aren’t willing to see it through. That would probably change if more people kept up the same level of persistence as you!

    • Absolutely! That is my mission right now! To force them to behave properly. LOL!

      I should mention that I was VERY sorry to read of your own family’s treatment during their journey to your wedding. Separating children from their parents is intolerable, as well as not letting people spread out when there are empty seats.

      It’s all ridiculous!

  20. Sounds like a nightmare. I’ve had travel horror stories myself. One time I got held up in Jamaica’s customs area and feared being sent home just because I didn’t know the name of the guy picking me up. I’m surprised more travel bloggers don’t share their horror stories like this.

    • Yikes that’s a scary situation for sure! I swear sometimes if they’ve decided they’re targeting you, they can come up with any reason to keep you detained. I’m not a massive fan of customs / border patrol, totally understand they’re often doing a very difficult job, but I’ve had so many friends recently who have had trouble, mainly trying to enter America, and been given a horrible time for no other reason that that they’re a solo female traveler etc. It’s beyond ridiculous, but they get away with treating people like shit.

      I think I’ve started to see more and more horror stories come out, I think the social climate is changing to where people feel free to express their real opinions and tell their real stories, even the negative ones. But yes, we do tend to try and forget negative experiences and only re-tell the positives!

  21. They are by far the worst airlines when it comes to change fees and using past credit. Before the pandemic they charged $200 a change fee! And if happen to buy 2 one way tickets it amounts to $400! And not if you bought a basic economy you can not use it for the main economy and just pay the increased difference on top of that they don’t offer basic tickets on most of all their flights out of LAX anymore therefore have to travel to the smaller airports like Burbank or Long Beach. And also if you do use your credit for a ticket you cancelled in the past, they don’t give you the remaining credit if the new fare is at a lower rate. It’s not the fault of the flight attendants or the ticket agents but the people who run the company. They are far from ALOHA. Just money hungry with a fascist business model. Sometimes you have no choice to fly with them because they sometimes have the lowest fares because they have the most flights

    • Sorry to hear that Rio :(

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