From my many trips to Hawaii, I’ve determined that island hopping in Hawaii may not be as straightforward as you might think. In fact, navigating from island to island can sometimes be confusing. To help clear confusion , I’ve created this guide to inter-island travel.
Three things you need to know from the start:
- The predominate method of inter-island travel is by air. Most people assume there’s a huge network of ferries to transport you from island to island. That’s not really the case in Hawaii. Ferry service is only available between Maui and Lanai and Maui and Molokai.
- The vast majority of flights route through Oahu’s Honolulu Airport (HNL).
- As you island hop, you’ll discover that some islands have more than one airport. How do you know which airport to choose? Check out our guide, Flying to Hawaii – How to Choose the Right Airport. With Oahu’s Honolulu Airport being the major hub of Hawaii, all the other islands are often referred to as “neighboring islands”. If you want to travel from neighboring island to neighboring island, most of the flights will connect in HNL. In 2012, Maui’s OGG airport started to become a secondary hub within Hawaii. With a limited number of direct flights between neighboring islands, I recommend that you search for direct flights when they are available as they can save you hours of needless transit and connection time that you could be spending on a beach.
So, as you are searching for inter-island flights between say Kauai (LIH) and the Big Island (either Kona’s KOA or Hilo’s ITO), for example, the vast majority of flights for that route include a connection in Honolulu (HNL). In that example, if you aren’t careful in selecting your flights, you can end up spending upwards of six hours in transit for what should be about an hour long flight if it was direct. If a direct flight is not available, then be careful to choose a connecting flight that minimizes the connection time.
Here, I want to provide you with the resources you need to find inter-island travel providers. We’ll start out looking at the air options.
Inter-island Travel by Air
Here are all the inter-island air carriers along with a few notes including some of the local background. (Note that you can visit the individual sites directly to determine their current deals. Just click on the name of each carrier.)
This airline is most established and has the largest inter-island fleet of all jet engines. They fly to all the major islands, but only offer code-share service via Island Air to Molokai, Lanai, and West Maui. Hawaiian Airlines is my preferred airline for inter-island flights. From my experience, their inter-island aircraft is significantly larger (e.g. jets), roomier, more stable and cleaner than the others. As another benefit, they usually provide free maps to your destination island, too.
go! Airlines (Operated by Mesa)
The 2009 merger of go! and Mokulele create the second largest inter-island carrier in Hawaii, with Hawaiian Airlines being the largest. Click here to see go! Airlines route map. Most go! flights are flown on CRJ-200 Regional Jet aircraft which have a capacity for approximately 50 passengers. On routes with less demand, Cesnas are used.
As an off-shoot from the merger, a smaller Mokulele Airlines was subsequently formed. This very small airline flies to Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Hawaii’s Big Island on Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft.
This smaller airline offers service to all island except for Kauai. From this system map, you can see that this small company offers flights to some of the smaller airports like Kapalua on Maui and Kalaupapa on Molokai. This company also offers charter service.
We will only fly Island Air as a last resort. The only time we have been delayed in Hawaii was on Island Air and it’s been more than once. One of their delayed flights resulted in us missing our flight to the mainland. That delay cost us $300 in change fees with out mainland carrier plus we had to stay another day. We’ve found that their luggage policies are inconsistently enforced.
*** General Advice For Finding the Cheapest and Shortest Flights ***
When you are looking for an inter-island flight, it’s best to explore all your options. I would advise you to search the individual airlines websites as sometimes they offer better rates if you book directly with them online. If you are short on time, use a flight search engine like CheapAir.com – just make sure that you notice the number of stops, e.g. connections.
Inter-island Travel by Ferry
After the recent downfall of the Hawaii Superferry, there are only two inter-island ferry options and they both connect to Maui. Just a word of caution — be advised that afternoon ferry rides can be pretty rough across the Auau Channel (between Lanai and Maui) and the Pailolo Channel (between Maui and Molokai.) The winds across the water are typically stronger in the afternoons creating bigger waves across the channels. I am not prone to sea sickness, but I almost lost my cookies on the Maui-Molokai Ferry on an afternoon ride.
Here are the limited ferry options that are currently available in Hawaii.
This ferry offers scheduled ferry service from Lahaina on Maui to Lanai at Manele Bay. In addition to the ferry service, you can purchase Lanai tour packages with this ferry service.
This ferry offers offers scheduled service from Lahaina to Molokai at Kaunakakai Harbor. From there you can pre-arrange to pick up a rental or choose an option for fully guided tours.
I have used all the above services except go! and Pacific Wings. I felt like I received good service from all my experiences.