From our many trips to Hawaii, we’ve determined that island hopping around the Hawaiian Islands may not be as straightforward as you might think. In fact, navigating from Hawaiian island to island can sometimes be a little confusing.
To help clear confusion, we’ve created this guide to inter-island travel. Though this guide was originally written in 2009, we keep it up to date as ferry and flight services come and go in the Hawaiian Islands.
1. The predominant method of inter-island travel is by flying.
Many people assume there’s a network of ferries to transport you from island to island. That’s not the case in Hawaii. Ferry service is only available between the islands of Maui and Lanai. To travel between all the other Hawaiian islands, you must fly. Let’s look at frequently asked questions about how to travel between the four major Hawaiian Islands:
- How do you travel between Oahu and Maui? You must fly. There is no passenger ferry service.
- How do you travel between Oahu and the Big Island? You must fly. There is no passenger ferry service.
- How do you travel between Oahu and Kauai? You must fly. There is no passenger ferry service.
- How do you travel between Kauai and Maui? You must fly. There is no passenger ferry service.
- How do you travel between Kauai and the Big Island? You must fly. There is no passenger ferry service.
- How do you travel between Maui and the Big Island? You must fly. There is no passenger ferry service.
2. Most Hawaiian inter-island flights route/connect through Oahu’s (HNL) Honolulu Airport.
Honolulu’s airport, HNL, on the island of Oahu is Hawaii’s largest airport. Most flights route directly or connect through HNL.
Another little tidbit to keep in mind as you consider your flight options is a little island terminology. Oahu is often thought of as the main island as that’s where Hawaii’s largest population lives. The other islands are referred to as “neighbor” islands.
A secondary, smaller airport hub within Hawaii is Maui’s OGG airport.
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.
3. Check for direct inter-island flights when possible.
If you want to fly inter-island, your best option is to fly direct as that will save you the most time. As previously mentioned most flights do connect in Honolulu, but there are a limited number of direct flights from neighbor island to neighbor island. Look for those as you do your flight searches. They can save you an hour or more waiting at a connecting airport.
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.
4. *NEW* Be aware of travel restrictions and possible quarantines due to COVID-19
In late 2020 and early 2021, Hawaii COVID travel restrictions were very complex. Thankfully some rules are relaxing. As of June 15, 2021, inter-island travel restrictions have been lifted. Once in Hawaii, vacationers are able to travel from island to island without restrictions. The only exception is that if a person is subject to quarantine, they are not allowed to travel from island to island until they have completed the quarantine process.
For Hawaii’s COVID-related travel rules, see these these links to the official sites from the state of Hawaii:
- Hawaii’s Safe Travels program that includes pre-travel testing requirements to avoid quarantine.
- Hawaii travel frequently asked questions regarding inter-island travel.
- Hawaii’s Safe Travels digital platform and help page.
Now, we’ll list the airlines that offer inter-island travel service within Hawaii.
Hawaii 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 these airlines websites directly to determine their current deals, flight maps, schedules and much more information.)
This airline is most established and has the largest inter-island fleet of all jet engines. They fly to all the major islands. Hawaiian Airlines is our preferred airline for inter-island flights. From our experiences, their inter-island aircraft is roomy, clean and you can get a seat assignment. As another benefit, they usually provide free maps to your destination island, too.
Southwest Airlines began service in 2019. Current Southwest routes within Hawaii are to Oahu, Maui and Kona on Hawaii (Big) Island. Starting in January 2020, Southwest will add inter-island service to Lihue on to Kauai and to Hilo on Hawaii (Big) Island. One notable benefit to flying Southwest is that up to two bags fly for free without luggage fees.
This very small airline flies to Oahu, Maui, Molokai, Hawaii’s Big Island and Lanai. Mokulele flies with nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft. We have flown several times on Mokulele. Their flights normally leave from the commuter terminals which are much less stressful than the main terminals. See our article with a video of a flight from Maui to Lanai.
Makani Kai Air
Makani Air is merging with Mokulele Airlines in 2020. They fly nine-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan turboprop planes.
*** General Advice For Finding the Cheapest and Shortest Hawaii Flights ***
When you are looking for a Hawaiian inter-island flight, it’s best to explore all your options. Check fares and schedules directly on each of the above airlines. It should be a relatively easy search. As you search, be sure to look for non-stop flights to get to your destination in the shortest amount of time.
How much are inter-island flights in Hawaii? On average, they cost about $150 roundtrip.
As you’re planning your vacation budget, a good number to estimate for roundtrip inter-island flights is $150. It’s a good ball park figure, but hopefully you’ll find something that’s even less. With Southwest entering the inter-island market in 2019, we are starting to see inter-island flights for under $100.
Hawaiian Inter-island Travel by Ferry
Over the years we’ve seen ferry services in Hawaii come and go. Currently, there is only one ferry service in operation. It runs between Lanai and Maui only. Here is the list of current Hawaii ferry service options.
This passenger ferry offers 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.
Note: We have made numerous changes to this article as we are made aware of them. Service, routes, type of aircraft, etc. are all subject to change without notice.