Hawaii Interisland Flights: Hawaiian vs Southwest vs Mokulele

If you’re heading to Hawaii in the USA and wanting to visit multiple islands, you’ll soon realise that you’ll need to fly between the islands. While a ferry service has operated at times in the past, and still operates to the smaller islands of Molokai and Lanai off Maui, these days the only way to get between the large islands in Hawaii is by plane, unless you embark upon a cruise.

Depending on what Hawaiian islands you’re flying between, there are different airlines to choose between. Currently, flights are offered by Hawaiian Airlines, their subsidiary Ohana, Southwest Airlines and Mokulele Airlines. So, how do the different Hawaii interisland flights compare?

Hawaiian Inter-Island Flights

Flying with Hawaiian Airlines

The first airline you’re likely to consider is Hawaiian Airlines. They’re the most prominent airline in Hawaii, plus they also connect Hawaii to many other destinations, in North America, Asia and the South Pacific. Hawaiian Airlines also probably offers the highest number of routes, or at least the most number of interisland flights.

Hawaiian inter-island airlines
Stinger Ray’s at the Honolulu Terminal, with plenty of Hawaiian Airlines flights

At the moment, Hawaiian Airlines offers the following interisland routes:

  • Direct flights from Honolulu (Oahu) to Kahului (Maui), Kailua-Kona and Hilo (Big Island), and Lihue (Kauai)
  • Direct flights from Kahului (Maui) to Honolulu (Oahu), Kailua-Kona and Hilo (Big Island), and Lihue (Kauai)
  • Direct flights from Kailua-Kona (Big Island) to Honolulu (Oahu), Kahului (Maui) and Lihue (Kauai)
  • Direct flights from Hilo (Big Island) to Honolulu (Oahu) and Kahului (Maui)
  • Direct flights from Lihue (Kauai) to Honolulu (Oahu), Kahului (Maui) and Kailua-Kona (Big Island)

Basically, they offer direct flights between all four main islands in the Hawaiian islands, connecting most but not all of the major airports. Additionally, they have a huge number of flights.

The Napali Coast
Hawaiian Airlines flies to Kauai, home of the Napali Coast

On the most popular routes, such as Honolulu to Kahului, flights are as regular as every 30 minutes. The price of flights varies greatly throughout the day, with the flights at the most popular times of day being up to twice the price of the off-peak flights.

Note that when flying with Hawaiian Airlines, no check-in luggage is included. Although the carry-on allowance of one carry-on bag up to 25 pounds plus an additional personal item that can be as large as a backpack (as long as it fits under the seat in front) is quite generous.

On the flights a refreshment of either a fruit juice or water is included, with the option to purchase alcoholic beverages on afternoon flights. Not that you have much time for anything else on the short interisland flights!

Flying Pets on Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines permits pets to travel both in the cabin and as checked baggage, with some limitations. On interisland flights both options are permitted, with a charge of $35 for pets in the cabin and $60 for pets as checked baggage.

Hawaiian Airlines Special Services Sign
Hawaiian Airlines offers services for traveling with pets

Pets are allowed in the cabin on flights from Hawaii to Continental USA, but only as checked baggage on flights to Hawaii (with restrictions for certain cities and certain months, don’t also forget to check the paperwork requirements for Hawaii).

For full details including size restrictions and health certificates, read the rules for pets in the cabin and pets as checked baggage.

Flying with Ohana by Hawaiian

Hawaiian Airlines also has a subsidiary airline, Ohana by Hawaiian, with commuter planes flying to many of the smaller airports in the Hawaiian islands, operated by Empire Airlines. Routes on offer include:

  • Direct flights from Honolulu (Oahu) to Mokolai, Lanai and Kapalua (on the west coast of Maui)
  • Direct flights from Kahului (Maui) to Mokolai,  Kapalua (Maui) and Kailua-Kona and Hilo (Big Island)
  • Direct flights from Mokolai to Honolulu (Oahu), Kahului (Maui) and Lanai
  • Direct flights from Lanai to Honolulu (Oahu) and Mokolai
  • Direct flights from Kapalua (Maui) to Honolulu (Oahu) and Kahului (Maui)
  • Direct flights from Kailua-Kona (Big Island) to Kahului (Maui)
  • Direct flights from Hilo (Big Island) to Kahului (Maui)
Hawaiian inter-island flights
Dreamy west coast sunsets on Maui, easily accessed from Kapalua Airport

While Ohana operates turboprop planes, they aren’t that small; they are decent-sized 48 seater aircraft with “roomy” overhead bins. The planes also depart from the main terminals in Honolulu and Kahului, rather than the commuter terminals. The baggage allowance is the same as for regular Hawaiian Airline flights; if your bag doesn’t fit in the overhead lockers, it will be valet-checked.

In my experience, the flights tend to be more expensive than regular Hawaiian Airline flights. When I checked, it’s far cheaper to fly from Honolulu to Kahului on a regular Hawaiian Airlines flight, than to catch an Ohana flight from Honolulu to Kapalua.

Flying Pets on Ohana by Hawaiian

The same rules apply for pets flying on Ohana as for regular Hawaiian Airlines flights (see above). Up to three pets are allowed in the cabin per flight, plus up to one pet as checked baggage, so book early if you need to check a pet.

Flying in Hawaii with Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines are a new entrant to the Hawaiian market, only starting flights in 2019. Initially they offered flights from a handful of cities in California, firstly Oakland, then later San Jose, Sacremento and San Diego, and soon after they started offering interisland flights, commencing in April 2019.

Currently Southwest Airlines flies from the following California cities to Hawaii:

  • Direct flights from Oakland to Honolulu (Oahu), Kahului (Maui), Kailua-Kona (Big Island) and Lihue (Kauai)
  • Direct flights from San Jose to Honolulu (Oahu), Kahului (Maui), Kailua-Kona (Big Island) and Lihue (Kauai)
  • Direct flights from Sacramento to Honolulu (Oahu) and Kahului (Maui)
  • Direct flights from San Diego to Honolulu (Oahu)
Southwest Airlines Hawaii flights
Southwest Airlines flies to Maui from Honolulu Airport as well as multiple cities in California

Most of these routes are offered once per day. (Some are currently on hold due to the COVID-19 situation, but are planned to resume shortly.)

Southwest Airlines flies the following interisland routes in Hawaii:

  • Direct flights from Honolulu (Oahu) to Kahului (Maui), Kailua-Kona and Hilo (Big Island) and Lihue (Kauai)
  • Direct flights from Kahului (Maui) to Honolulu (Oahu) and Kailua-Kona (Big Island)
  • Direct flights from Kailua-Kona (Big Island) to Honolulu (Oahu) and Kahului (Maui)
  • Direct flights from Hilo (Big Island) to Honolulu (Oahu)
  • Direct flights from Lihui (Kauai) to Honolulu (Oahu)

So, how does Southwest Airlines compare with Hawaiian Airlines on its interisland flights? While Southwest flies almost as many routes as Hawaiian Airlines, the big differences is the frequency of flights. There are far fewer Southwest Airlines flights, so if you’re not flexible with the time of your flight, you will be better served by Hawaiian Airlines.

However, the big advantage offered by Southwest Airlines is price. When I compared prices in 2019 for flights between Honolulu and both Kahului and Kona, Southwest was consistently offering lower prices.

The prices were lower than even the cheapest Hawaiian Airline flights, and far cheaper than the most expensive. This is despite Southwest Airlines also including two checked bags in the ticket prices, unlike Hawaiian Airlines.

Flying Pets on Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines accepts small pets in the cabin on interisland flights between the Hawaiian Islands. The standard pet fee of $95 applies.

Carrier bag on plane under seat
Small pets are allowed to fly in the cabin on Southwest interisland flights

However, Southwest doesn’t fly pets on flights to or from Hawaii, except for service dogs assisting customers with disabilities and emotional support dogs and cats.

For more information, check their pet policy, plus their Hawaii-specific rules.

Flying with Mokulele Airlines

The final option for interisland flights in Hawaii is Mokulele Airlines. Now the aircraft operated by Mokulele are by far the smallest planes on these routes. Mokulele operates Cessna Grand Caravan planes that seat 9 passengers (plus two seats for the pilot and co-pilot). Not surprisingly, the same company also offers scenic flights in Hawaii.

Mokulele Airlines
A small Mokulele Airlines plane

Mokulele principally operates services connecting some of the smaller airports in Hawaii, including those that aren’t even served by Ohana. They currently fly to the following airports:

  • Honolulu on Oahu
  • Hoolehua and Kalaupapa on Molokai
  • Lanai City on Lanai
  • Kapalua, Kahului and Hana on Maui
  • Kailua-Kona and Waimea-Kohala on the Big Island

Check out their route map for details of the latest connections. Alternatively, they can also operate chartered flights between any of these airports.

The flights operated by Mokulele tend to be more expensive than Hawaiian Airlines flights on the same routes. It’s still good to compare the prices, as some of the more expensive Hawaiian Airlines flights may be comparable in price.

Keep in mind though that when flying with Mokulele you only receive one free piece of carry-on, with a weight limit of 15 pounds. Mokulele is, however, the only option for some airports.

What stood out for me when I flew with Mokulele Airlines, apart from the small aircraft, is the fun and relaxed attitude about flying with them. In this day of stressful flights, due to the high security precautions and the cattle-like treatment, Mokulele were refreshingly different.

Mokulele Airlines - Hawaiian Islands airlines
Onboard a Mokulele flight

When checking in at Maui, there was no security to go through, as they operate from the commuter terminal. (Although this is in place at Honolulu Airport.) The pilot briefing occurred when the co-pilot turned around and lifted aside the curtain. And as the co-pilot remarked, we also were all in first-class, with a window seat each!

Unfortunately we spent most of the flight I caught above the ocean, meaning it wasn’t as scenic as a strictly scenic flight. But the view was glorious when we were coming in low above the coastline on the Big Island. If you’re not comfortable with small planes, you may want to avoid Mokulele Airlines. Otherwise, it was definitely my favourite flight in Hawaii!

Flying Pets on Mokulele Airlines

Mokulele is the most pet-friendly airline in Hawaii! Both dogs and cats are allowed in the cabin on interisland flights, with pets up to 80lb (36kg) permitted, with a pet fee of $20 per pet charged.

For small pets under 26lb (12kg), they need to harnessed with a leash or in a soft kennel, either at your feet or on your lap, and not in the aisle. For larger pets between 26lb and 80lb, they need to have their own seat purchased.

Not surprisingly given the small planes flown by Mokulele, there is normally a restriction of one pet per flight. For further details, see their full pet policy.

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Hawaii Interisland Flights

2 thoughts on “Hawaii Interisland Flights: Hawaiian vs Southwest vs Mokulele”

  1. Question, rather than comment: Moving from mainland to Big Island and hoping to clear quarantine in HNL (vs KOA) but I have not found anyone who will take my 100 lb Golden Doodle/PP90 crate from HNL to KOA (HA interisland limited to 30 inch tall cargo door and I imagine Aloha aircraft have similar constraints; Mokulele limited to 70 lb despite website’s dog+owner less than 350 lb…). We will probably fly direct SEA-KOA on Alaska, but inspection is more expensive/less convenient at KOA and we may eventually want to fly interisland. Any suggestions? Thanks much.

    • Hi Jack – I’m really sorry, but I don’t know a solution, however, I’m sure there’s an option available. I recommend asking in FB groups for people living in Hawaii.


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