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Travel Between Hawaiian Islands Update

What is the best way to travel inter-island? What is best depends on what you prefer. Here’s a run down of what services are available and the pros and cons of each option. 

Island hopping has changed over the past few years. Aloha and Go! went out of business, leaving two fewer jet airlines. Then the Hawaii Superferry revved its engines, adding ferry service between Oahu and Maui, but now it’s pau because it never performed an environment impact statement.


Airlines remain the gold standard for inter-island travel, and there are a few choices.


Hawaiian Airlines (website: Hawaiianair.com ) offers the most direct jet flights out of Honolulu International (HNL) to all of the other islands. If you’re starting on another island, however, you’ll likely have to connect in Honolulu. Hawaii partners with American and the OneWorld alliance.

Direct flights from the Mainland occur more frequently to neighbor islands, and ultimately, this saves the most time and hassle. Check these airlines websites: Air Canada, Alaska, American, Continental/United, and Hawaiian.

Jets are always loud, especially if you are sitting behind the wings. Consider investing in hearing protection. I always fly with Bose QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones for Apple devices, White(wired, 3.5mm). On longer flights, I often layer these over Lysian 35dB Foam Earplugs. 

Pros: Fast jet service with easy connections to Mainland flights.

Cons: TSA hassles, direct flights between neighbor island cities can cost more, and long flights can damage hearing.

Pro Tip: Sit up front to get on and off in less than half hour.

Prop Planes

Inside the cabin of a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan´╗┐

Commuter airlines offer a more laid-back alternative. Because these airlines operate smaller planes (i.e., prop planes or puddle jumpers), they don’t use the main airport terminals. Did you catch that? No main terminals. That means no airport security hassles! It’s almost to good to be true, but it is. If you don’t mind riding in a small plane, you don’t have to bother with TSA. In other words, you can save heaps of travel time without interrupting that easy island vibe you’ve worked so hard to achieve.

Commuter Airline:

  • Kona-based Mokulele Airlines (website: mokuleleairlines.com ) operates 9-seat Cessna 208B Grand Caravan turboprop aircraft.

In addition to avoiding TSA and offering more direct flights between neighbor island cities, they fly at lower altitudes than jets do, providing passengers unparalleled views of Hawai’i’s magnificent scenery – pristine coastlines, spectacular mountains, frozen lava flows, plunging waterfalls and frolicking whales. An interisland flight on a commuter airline could substitute for a costly aerial tour. Airfares are typically comparable to or less than jet service.

Pros: Frequent direct flights between neighbor island cities, no TSA hassles, killer scenery.

Cons: Small planes make for longer, bumpier rides.

Pro Tip: Ask the captain which side of the plane overlooks the land and sit on that side.

Ferry – No Longer in Service

Update: As of June 30, 2009, the Superferry is sunk. They company  filed for bankruptcy protection in May and now wants to ditch the two high-speed catarmans, leaving Hawaii taxpayers on the hook for a cool $50 million in harbor improvements to accomodate them (read recap of how the Superferry sunk).

Tips for departing out of Honolulu (HNL) Airport

This series of articles on Hawaii’s airports covers nearly all you need to know about flying to and between the Hawaiian islands. This post covers tips for departing out of Honolulu International Airport (HNL).

Please use this terminal map of Honolulu International Airport to follow along.

1. If you are returning your car, follow the signs to the rental car return. If you are returning your car to Budget, National, Hertz, or Dollar, please note that you do not have to catch the shuttle bus to return to the main terminal, especially if you are flying United, Continental, American or Northwest. Simply reverse the directions listed in the “What you should know about renting a car at HNL” section below to get from the rental car stations to the baggage claim, and then take the escalators to ticketing.

2. All luggage you wish to check must first proceed through the agricultural screening stations, located closest to the curb. Please note that this is not a security screening station. The USDA officials are screening these bags for fresh fruits, animals, and plants, most of which are not allowed back to the US Mainland. If you will be checking luggage, you must (yourself) send your bags through these stations. If you don’t get the required agriculture screen first, the counter agent will send you back for it…and to the back of the check-in line.

3. On busy departure days, many of the airlines lines baggage check lines are long. It’s safe to add an extra hour to the process. Please calculate this into your schedule. Flight departures on the weekend are usually the busiest time to travel out of HNL.

4. There are currently three security checkpoints in operation at most times at the domestic terminal of HNL. The interisland terminal has two security checkpoints; additional ones at the interisland terminal are open when necessary. Since there are three security checkpoints, if one has a long line, you might consider checking the other two. All three are within a short 1-2 minute walking distance away from one other security checkpoint. If you are seated in First Class on United, Northwest, Continental or American, ask the agent checking you in for a “Gold Lane” stamp on your boarding pass. HNL does not have dedicated elite/First Class security lanes, but the “Gold Lane” stamp will allow you to cut most of the line when the lines are long.

5. Once through security, the garden area (during the day) is a nice place to relax prior to your flight. Please scroll down for more pictures. Please note that beginning November 2006, there will be no smoking allowed from the curb to gate. This policy will affect all of Hawaii’s airports.

6. Please note that concessions and sundry stores at HNL are more expensive than stores at US Mainland Airports. If you need something for your flight, it is highly advised that you purchase it prior to arriving at the airport. Water is the exception, of course, but city water isn’t bad. Bring an empty plastic or reusable container with you through security to fill up from a fountain on the other side. You’ll save about $5 per bottle.

7. HNL sells pineapples airside if you need to purchase them at a ridiculous price.

8. Leis purchased from the lei stands outside the terminals are NOT approved for transport to the Mainland. If you buy one, you’ll have to ditch it. The only ag-approved leis are sold inside the terminals.

Volcano Viewing Etiquette

There is an etiquette to watching the spectacle of molten lava flowing into the ocean (as described in the post “New Vents in Kilauea Volcano Spout Fountains of Lava”). Here are my top five tips for good volcano viewing manners:

  1. Come prepared. Walking out to a recently hardened field of lava to watch another, active field of lava is about as rugged as terrain gets. No one is waiting there with a tray of cool towels and cocktails. Bring your own water, snacks, sunscreen, hat, jacket, tushie cushion, and wear sturdy shoes.
  2. Down in front. Crowding up to the front of barrier erected by the park service seems like a good idea, but it actually just blocks everyone’s view. A lava field isn’t stadium seating. Plus, all those flash pictures of your partner in the dark with the lava flow a mile in the distance will still be dark, even if you take one more.
  3. Aim your flashlight at your feet. Pointing your flashlight up into other people’s eyes does help you to see them, but then they are blinded. If you really want don’t want to trip and fall into a deep crevice of sharp lava, aim your flashlight on the ground just in front of your feet.
  4. Don’t throw rocks. This may seem obvious, but just in case it’s not, lava stones are sharp, jagged and could easily take someone’s eye out. That could put a real damper on watching Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of fire, in action.
  5. Pack out what you pack in. Leaving trash, empty bottles and soiled toilet paper on newly formed land is pretty insulting, as is taking home pieces of it for souvenirs. According to local lore Pele will find you, and in case you hadn’t noticed, she’s pretty powerful.