If you’re heading to Hawaii 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 Hawaiian inter-island flights compare?
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 inter-island flights.
At the moment, Hawaiian Airlines offers the following inter-island 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. 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 inter-island flights!
Flying Pets on Hawaiian Airlines
Hawaiian Airlines permits pets to travel both in the cabin and as checked baggage, with some limitations. On inter-island flights both options are permitted, with a charge of $35 for pets in the cabin and $60 for pets as checked baggage.
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).
Find out more about flying to Hawaii with a pet
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)
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 inter-island 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)
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 inter-island 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 inter-island 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 inter-island flights between the Hawaiian Islands. The standard pet fee of $95 applies.
However, Southwest doesn’t transport pets on flights to or from Hawaii, except for service dogs assisting customers with disabilities and emotional support dogs and cats.
Flying with Mokulele Airlines
The final option for inter-island 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 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.
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 inter-island 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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