Flying to Hawaii: How to Choose the Right Airport

Honolulu Airport

So you’ve picked the Hawaiian island that’s perfect for you and now you must determine the logistics of getting there. Every first time visitor has faced the head scratching challenge of finding the right airport to begin their Hawaii vacation. This article will help you understand how to navigate with ease in Hawaii.

As you may have been researching airport options in the Hawaiian Islands, you may have noticed that some islands have multiple airports. Though some islands may have a small regional airport that appears to be more convenient on paper, I recommend you opt to fly into the major airport of each island and here’s why:

  • There’s many more flights and airlines servicing the major airports which provide you with more options to suit your time schedule.
  • Larger planes fly into the major island airports, with the exceptions of the two smallest islands — Lanai and Molokai. That means that you are less likely to fly on a propeller-type aircraft.
  • There are significantly more car rental companies and rental car inventories at the major airports.
  • The major airports are all within an easy driving distance (less than an hour) from all the major resort hotel areas.

Let’s take an island by island look at the major airports and special flight considerations.

Oahu’s major airport is in Honolulu with the airport code of HNL. It’s by far Hawaii’s largest airport and hub.

Most transpacific flights fly into Oahu. As you research flights from your home airport, you’ll likely discover that almost all your options require you to fly into Oahu first. From Oahu’s HNL, you can easily connect to any other island in Hawaii. Inter-island flights to the neighboring islands from Oahu are short – generally around 30 minutes or less.

Maui’s major airport is in Kahului with the airport code of OGG. There are a few flights from the US Mainland that fly directly into OGG. If you can take one of those flights, that would certainly be convenient. If not, you’ll probably have to connect in Oahu’s Honolulu (HNL) airport.

The only circumstance where you might want to consider flying into another Maui airport is if you plan on making secluded Hana (HNM) your Maui vacation base.

You may notice there’s an airport in Kapalua that appears to be convenient to West Maui resorts, however, for the reasons mentioned above, I still recommend you fly into Kahului (OGG). Kapalua is a small regional airport.

Kauai’s major airport is centrally located in East Kauai in Lihue with the airport code of LIH. There are a limited number of flights from the US Mainland that fly directly to Kauai, but most visitors connect in Oahu’s Honolulu (HNL) airport.

BIG ISLAND (West Kona Side)
Most folks coming to the Big Island for a vacation tend to stay on the west side of Hawaii’s Big Island in Kailua-Kona, Keauhou, and the Kohala Coast. That’s the “beachier” side of Hawaii Island. The major airport on this side of the island is north of Kona in Keahole with the code of KOA.

Just like Maui and Kauai, there are a limited number of flights that arrive directly into Kona (KOA) from the mainland, but connecting in Oahu’s Honolulu (HNL) airport is easily done.

BIG ISLAND (East Hilo Side)
Though the west side of Hawaii’s Big Island is home to the beautiful beach resort hotels, the east side does have its attractions, namely Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and the active volcano, Kilauea. For first time Big Island visitors with a week or more vacation, I recommend you fly into the east side airport of Hilo with the code of ITO to begin your vacation exploring the volcano wonders. Then drive over to the West side for your beach vacation. See more on where to stay on Hawaii’s Big Island.

Just like Maui and Kauai, there are a limited number of flights that arrive directly into Hilo (ITO) from the mainland, but connecting in Oahu’s Honolulu (HNL) airport is easily done.

major airport is near Lanai City with the airport code of LNY. To fly into Lanai, you must connect in Oahu’s Honolulu (HNL) airport or at Maui’s OGG airport.

Molokai’s major airport is Kaunakakai in with the airport code of MKK. To fly to Molokai, you must connect in Oahu’s Honolulu (HNL) airport or Maui’s OGG airport. If you are visiting Kalaupapa National Historic Park, you will need to fly into Kalaupapa Airport with the code of LUP.

Other Hawaii flight articles you may like:

  1. Would like information on Molakai and Hawaii. Trying to plan a trip to Molakai and then on to Big Island.

  2. Hi Sheila,

    I will be flying to Maui from the East Coast (PHL or EWR) in June/July 2017. Is it better to get to Maui by a certain time – is it better to get an early morning flight out?

    Also how about on the way home? Is there a better time to leave Maui for the East Coast? Since the flights are about 12 hours long, just wondering about the times to eliminate fatigue when driving home from the airport.


    1. Hi Kerry,

      Our philosophy is to get to Hawaii as soon as possible because of the time zone difference. We also take into consideration the amount of travel time from start to finish as we want to minimize the amount of time we’re in planes and airports.

      We’ve not found an easy way for the return flight. We’ve never found a way around the red eye flights back home.

      See this series of posts that we wrote about being comfortable on long haul flights:

  3. Hi I will be flying in to Honolulu feb 3 . I was wonder what is the best way to get to the other islands? I’ve heard the ferry no longer operates .

  4. Hi Sheila

    With all of your experience traveling, (assuming there are no delays), what is the minimum layover time you would be comfortable with to get from one flight to another? Most of the flights I have been looking at would change in either San Francisco or LAX. I prefer non-stop flights, but I just don’t think I could handle one that long!


    1. Usually when you search tickets, the airlines will alert you if a connection time is too tight. I think that’s usually triggered at 50 or 60 minutes.

  5. Sheila,

    I’ve been waiting all my life to visit Hawaii. It will complete my 50 states goal. I’m a little anxious to make the most of it. Yours is the easiest, most informative website I have found for a newcomer to the islands. Thank you so much for so effectively anticipating the informational needs of those who have not been to Hawaii before.

  6. I am flying from the east coast to Hawaii in October. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks Firsr time to the islands

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