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?
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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 routes:
- Direct flights from Honolulu to Kahului (Maui), Kailua-Kona and Hilo (Big Island), and Lihue (Kauai)
- Direct flights from Kahului (Maui) to Kailua-Kona and Hilo (Big Island), and Lihue (Kauai)
- Plus direct flights from Kailua-Kona (Big Island) to Lihue (Kauai)
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!
Pets: 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). 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 to Mokolai, Lanai and Kapalua (on the west coast of Maui)
- Direct flights from Kahului (Maui) to Mokolai and and Kapalua, plus connecting flights to Kailua-Kona and Hilo (Big Island)
- Direct flight from Mokolai to Lanai
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.
The flights though tend to be more expensive than regular Hawaiian Airline flights in my experience. 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 to nearby Kapalua.
Pets: I believe the same rules apply 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 between Oakland, CA and both Honolulu (commencing March 17) and Kahului on Maui (commencing April 7). Shortly after they also started flying from San Jose, CA to Honolulu (from May 5) and also Kahului (from May 26). They are also expected to announce flights from both San Diego and Sacramento in the near future.
Not long after, they also started offering inter-island flights. The first inter-island service was between the major airports of Honolulu and Kahului (on Maui), starting on April 28, with four round trips daily. On May 12 they will be commencing flights between Honolulu and Kona (on the Big Island), again with four round trips daily. Further flights to Lihue (on Kauai) are expected to be announced.
So, how does Southwest Airlines compare with Hawaiian Airlines on its inter-island flights? One of the big differences is the frequency of flights. They are far fewer flights offered by Southwest Airlines, so if you’re not flexible with the time of your flight, you will be better served by Hawaiian Airlines.
Hawaiian Airlines also offers a wider variety of connections, something that isn’t likely to be delivered by Southwest Airlines for now. For example, if you want to fly to Hilo or fly direct from Kahului to Kona, this is only available with Hawaiian Airlines.
However, the big advantage offered by Southwest Airlines is price. On the dates that I checked 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.
Note that when I searched for prices on Skyscanner, the prices for Southwest Airlines flights were not displayed. Don’t forget to go to their website to check out the prices and compare!
Pets: Southwest Airlines accepts pets 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. For more information, check their Hawaii-specific pet policy.
Click here to search for flights with Southwest Airlines on Skyscanner (Don’t forget to click through to view the actual prices!)
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
- Kapalua, Kahului and Hana on Maui
- 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 plus Lanai Airport.
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!
Pets: Mokulele is also the most pet-friendly airline in Hawaii! Pets (cats and dogs) are allowed on inter-island flights and generally fly for free. As well as being permitted on board in a soft kennel, they are also allowed merely on a leash, sitting at your feet or on your lap.
However, if there is not sufficient room for your pet at your feet, you will need to buy them their own seat. If cleaning after your pet is required, there is also a fee of $50. Not surprisingly, there is normally a restriction of one pet per flight.
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