Fact: San Diego residents who like to travel are fully-aware of the lack of direct flight options. The good news? Alaska Airlines now offers direct flights to three Hawaiian islands from San Diego. We just took flight AS855 from SAN – LIH (Lihue, Kauai), which had more ups than downs.

Forgetting my 6-year-old’s beloved duck security blanket didn’t help at all, either, but that’s an entirely different story that involved a lot of wine on board (and whining).

Alaska Airlines Direct Flights To Hawaii

According to the SAN website, the direct flights to Hawaii are all on Alaska Airlines (codeshare with Delta) with the exception of one Hawaiian Airlines direct flight to  Honolulu. (American Airlines AAdvantage members only earn miles on codeshare Alaska Airlines flights now.)

Honolulu (HNL): Hawaiian Airlines (HA15) and Alaska Airlines (AS895)

Kahului (OGG): Alaska Airlines (AS819, AS 847)

Lihue (LIH):  Alaska Airlines  (AS855)

Alaska Airlines Pre-Flight Logistics

It’s pretty easy to check in for your flight online, exactly 24 hours in advance. At check-in, if there are seats available in first class anyone (regardless of status) can upgrade themselves for a nominal fee that is determined by distance flown. You’ve got to pretty much check in as soon as possible, however, because this is a well-known trick.

On our flight to Kauai from San Diego, the cost per person to upgrade is $150. For our family of three, this $450 is well worth it on a 6-hour flight when your husband is 6’6″ tall and you’re used to a premium airline status lifestyle.

When I checked in, our first class cabin was empty. Call it good luck or the benefits of a new flight, but we upgraded and I’ll get into more details about the on board experience in a bit.

Terminal 1 At SAN Is My Least Favorite

Right? Alaska Airlines departs from SAN Terminal 1 where the security lines can be long even with priority status. There is a brilliant USO lounge with amenities for kids but outside of that, United is the only other airline lounge. For a relatively-expensive, 6-hour flight to Hawaii the absence of a lounge is particularly noticeable because the other options are dire. In the roundabout near the gates where Alaska Airlines departs, there’s a Peet’s Coffee and a grab-and-go sandwich place called Jet Box. The lines for the bathrooms here can be ridiculous and wrap around the corner.

Recently, we tried to decompress in the American Airlines Admiral’s Club in Terminal 2 for a flight in Terminal 1 on Alaska Airlines to Puerto Vallarta (final destination Punta Mita). Well, we had clear security twice, as the terminals aren’t connected. It’s doable with priority access but still a pain. FYI, an Admiral’s Club membership entitles you to use of the club regardless of which airline you’re flying.

Food On Board Alaska Airlines In First Class To Hawaii

san diego to hawaii

From the orchids tucked away into the flight attendants’ hair to the passion fruit mimosas, a festive spirit prevailed during boarding. People in our cabin were praising the pre-printed, Hawaiian-themed first class menu and excited to sample the fare. Who isn’t excited to go to Hawaii?

Flight from san diego to hawaii

Also — not going to lie here either — the food wasn’t great. In fact, my husband declared it the worst first class food he’s ever had (this is coming from a guy with simple tastes but multiple, thick passports from extensive work travel abroad all in first or business class). I didn’t think it was good either but would have overlooked it if not for my husband’s complaints as well as rumblings I heard from others in the cabin. I ordered the Hawaiian chicken that was incredibly dry and with a dessert-like sauce and brown (!) broccolini with an egg omelette on the side. I did like the Thai chicken lettuce wrap appetizer and the bananas foster dessert (forgot to photograph it!), however.

My daughter wouldn’t touch her meal so I had to hunt down an economy class picnic set for her. Despite being out of her first choice, the cheese and fruit set, they found one with dried fruit, salami, crackers and soft cheese at no charge to me. And, yes, when you forget your kid’s security blanket/stuffed animal, using the iPad as a placemat is the least of your concerns.

san diego flight to hawaii

Beverage service also had its ups and downs. I am used to the new American Airlines where flight attendants are continuously cruising the first class cabin generously re-filling wine glasses. I was never thirsty, but it wasn’t festive and they ran out of the white wine I was drinking (which happens on other airlines, too). I would have liked to have seen the wine bottle, because my first glass was very good.

Before landing, each cabin was offered a Mai Tai which I thought was a very nice touch!

Entertainment On Board

flights from california to hawaii

Alaska Airlines has awesome hand-held entertainment devices that show multiple movies and TV shows on demand. Headphones are available or you can use your own. They are free for first class passengers and $8-$10 in economy class, but it’s wise to reserve one in advance if your flight allows.

I STRONGLY suggest that you bring your own headphones. I tried 3 pairs of the ones Alaska Airlines provided and the quality was horrible and I had to hold and twist them into my ears. It was fine with mine, but I had to give them to my daughter after hers broke.

Miscellaneous On Board

The flight attendants were all incredibly nice from start to finish.

The plane is an older-feeling 737, so the seats are not huge, even in first class. They don’t recline very far, but when they do, you are encroaching on someone else’s space. There aren’t really any bells or whistles to mention.

Arrival to Lihue, Kauai

As you might expect, the airport is tiny and quirky. It took just a few minutes to walk from the plane to baggage claim and the bags were out on the carousel quickly. The bathroom was closed so that was a bit inconvenient. Rental car companies seem to function on Hawaiian time so plan for getting a car to take a while.

Things That Would Make Me Happier

1. A lounge in Terminal 1 that I could use.
2. Electrical outlets on board. (Update: They are now at every seat.)
3. WiFi: I know it’s not common to have it over the ocean but onboard WiFi now helps determine where I fly domestically. My time is money and if I can get work done on board, then that’s money in my pocket.

About The Return Flight LIH-SAN

Grab a sandwich and a drink at a Starbucks or a small bar and head to the gate. Note that carry on bags will be re-screened at the gate and that you can’t carry any fruit or sandwiches with tomatoes on board.

However, the food this time was AWESOME.


I ordered the short ribs as did my husband and we both agreed that the entree was flavorful and that even the grilled asparagus was cooked perfectly. Starters included Hawaiian bread and a kalamata, feta and mixed green salad. I was tired and forgot to take photos. The flight attendant in first class could not possibly have been more attentive or helpful.

Our bags arrived at baggage claim quickly, which is rare at SAN lately.

Would I Book Again?

Yep, the benefits of flying directly are too great. See what our most recent flight on Alaska Airlines to Maui was like.

Staying in San Diego? Check out the Top 10 Things to Do in San Diego.

Katie Dillon is the managing editor of La Jolla Mom. She helps readers plan San Diego vacations through her hotel expertise (that stems from living in a Four Seasons hotel) and local connections. Readers have access to exclusive discounts on theme park tickets (like Disneyland and San Diego Zoo) and perks at luxury hotels worldwide through her. She also shares insider tips for visiting major cities worldwide, like Hong Kong, London, Paris, and Shanghai, that her family has either lived in or visits regularly (or both).

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  1. Nice post, thank you. We live in UC just east of you. Our family has been to Hawaii a number of times using Avios points which can be earned through a British Airways credit card. American Airlines is in their alliance and Alaska is a partner as well. We’ve used both AA (out of LAX) and Alaska out of SAN. Last July on the way back from Kauai, we discovered there was no food available for purchase on AA for coach passengers because Lihue airport has no kitchen facilities. It is small. So not surprising they had to use a caterer as you mention for the upper class seats. We were scrambling at the last minute to buy sandwiches whilst picking out tomatoes before boarding the plane. Lesson is, which you make evident in your post, it is well worth the extra $$ to upgrade, if you can, especially from LIH to SAN or LAX for food convenience alone! Our experience was with AA, not sure if Alaska also excludes coach seats from food options via LIH but definitely things people should be aware of. Thanks again!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this, Kent! I am actually flying this route on Alaska in April again so will pay attention to food on the return flight. I do know that food was for sale in economy on the way over (I heard them announce it) but given the lack of kitchen facilities, I’m not sure if it is available on the way back as I wasn’t paying attention. That is an awfully long flight to have no food on board, especially with kids in tow.