Hawaii Island Hopping- Flying interisland: Hawaiian Airlines vs Southwest Airlines vs Mokulele Airlines

Should you visit more than one Hawaiian Island? Yes, you should see more than one island when you visit Hawaii. They are all extremely unique and absolutely worth the effort to fly to a neighbor island. To fly between the islands you have 3 options Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Mokulele Airlines. I’ve reviewed all of these airlines separately.

If you want to check out the induvial airlines:

Hawaiian Airlines Interisland 717 First Class Review ​

Hawaiian Airlines Interisland 717 Economy Review ​

Southwest Airlines Interisland Hawaii 737-800 Review ​

Mokulele Airlines Interisland Hawaii Review ​

In this guide I’ll talk about the different airlines that currently fly interisland Hawaii flights. I’ve ridden on all of these airlines on a variety of routes and love talking about Hawaii flying. There are a few things to consider when choosing what airline to fly and what routes they take.

Currently 3 airlines fly passenger service within Hawaii. Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Mokulele Airlines. They are all very different and all have advantages and disadvantages. I’ll try to cover all of these points so the decision of choosing what airline to fly is hopefully a little easier.

In This Guide

1 :Hawaii Island Hopping- Flying interisland: Hawaiian Airlines vs Southwest Airlines vs Mokulele Airlines

     1.1: Hawaiian Airlines
     1.2: Mokulele Airlines
     1.3: Southwest Airlines
     1.4: Who has the most flights in Hawaii
     1.5: What airline has the best service
     1.6: How easy are interisland Hawaii flights
     1.7: How long are interisland Hawaii Flights
     1.8: Planning interisland Hawaii flights for a better vacation
     1.9: Who has the cheapest flights in Hawaii
     1.10: Hawaii’s Airports
     1.11: Final Thoughts

Hawaiian Airlines

First and foremost Hawaiian Airlines dominates the interisland Hawaii market. For better or worse they are the largest player in their name sake state.

Hawaiian Airlines 717 LIH

Hawaiian Airlines has been flying within Hawaii since 1929. Today all of the interisland Hawaii flights are flown by 2 cabin Boeing 717 aircraft. They have a small 8 person first class cabin in a 2-2 seating configuration. Then economy is 2-3 like all 717s. This makes for a very comfortable ride in both economy and first class.

Hawaiian is a full service airline and charges for checked baggage but not carry on bags. If you have a HawaiianMiles account, you get a discount on checked luggage so that’s obviously worth the registration. Boarding is fast and efficient on the Hawaiian Airlines interisland flights. With the closure of Ohana by Hawaiian, Hawaiian Airlines no longer services the islands of Lanai or Molokai, but they have excellent coverage of Kauai, Maui, Oahu, and The Big Island of Hawaii.

Mokulele Airlines

Mokulele Airlines is a commuter airline that operates only within Hawaii. They use small single engine Cessna 208 Caravan aircraft. This isn’t some fly by night operation though, they’ve been flying in Hawaii for 25 years. So not 90 years like Hawaiian, but still very respectable. I will note, the Cessna 208 is a small single propeller aircraft, if you get sick on planes, maybe consider a different airline. While Val and I had no issues, it was a point of concern for Val who’s had issues on smaller planes.

Mokulele Airlines Cessna MKK

Because Mokulele is a commuter airline, they don’t operate out of the regular airport terminals. They have their own that are either a short walk or bus ride away from the normal terminals. This can be good and bad. If you’re only flying on Mokulele, it’s great, you don’t need to deal with the hustle or crowds. There’s also no security to deal with.

A few peculiarities about flying such a small airline. There’s no online check in you have to show up in person with your ID. They also ask for you weight, this is so they can assign you a seat, you don’t get to choose. There’s also not a paper boarding pass, you get lined up and they tell you what row to sit in. There’s only 5 rows so the boarding process is pretty easy and fast. They also charge for checked bags, but the rate is cheaper than Hawaiian.

I will say, some of the views from flying Mokulele are breathtaking. They are also the only airline that flies to Molokai and Lanai so if you want to visit those islands, you don’t really have a choice here.

Southwest Airlines

As a relative newcomer to the Hawaiian market, Southwest started flying to and within Hawaii in 2019. They service their interisland routes with the same planes that they fly to Hawaii, the 737-800/MAX8. These are the largest planes flying between the Hawaiian Islands.

Southwest Airlines 737-800 at KOA

As on the main land Southwest Airlines includes 2 free checked bags, if you’re a heavy packer this could be a pretty big advantage. However the because of the large planes, and Southwest’s unique boarding process, the airport process can be a little slow.

Flying Southwest within Hawaii is the exact same as flying any short Southwest flight within The Mainland. Same planes, people, seats, and free bags. While they do cover the 4 major tourist islands, the route network isn’t nearly as large as Hawaiian or even Mokulele.

Who has the most flights in Hawaii

1. Hawaiian Airlines

Ok, this one is easy. Hawaiian Airlines has the most flights in Hawaii. If you’re flying between Kauai, Maui, Oahu, and The Big Island Hawaiian Airlines flies non-stop between all 4 of the major tourist Islands.

2. Mokulele Airlines

This might be a bit of a surprise, but Mokulele flies to the most airports and islands in Hawaii, even more than Hawaiian. They don’t have as many flights, but they easily service more places. Islands like Molokai and Lanai are only serviced by Mokulele. Other airports like West Maui and Waimea are also only serviced by Mokulele. The only tourist island in Hawaii not serviced by Mokulele is Kauai. Mokulele covers 5 islands from it’s hubs on Maui and Oahu.

3. Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines has the fewest interisland Hawaii flights. They do operate from the 4 major tourist islands but the coverage is much more sparse and not nearly as many flights as Hawaiian or Molokai. For example, Southwest has 4 daily flights between Kawai and Honolulu, Hawaiian Airlines has 15 to Honolulu. Then Hawaiian also has flights to Maui and The Big Island.

What airline has the best service

1. Hawaiian Airlines First Class

Within Hawaii, Hawaiian Airlines offers first class on it’s 717 aircraft. You get a larger seat, free checked bags, drinks, and a snack. These are not long flights so no meals, but the service is impeccable.

2. Hawaiian Airlines Economy

Again, an easy decision. Even in economy, Hawaiian Airlines offers a very fast beverage beverage service. In economy the options are water or juice. Really, pretty great on a 22 minute flight.

3. Mokulele Airlines and Southwest Airlines

Neither Mokulele or Southwest offer any kind of service on the short interisland Hawaii flights. Mokulele doesn’t have flight attendants so that’s not a real surprise. Southwest doesn’t offer service because there’s just not enough time, but Hawaiian pulls it off so color me very impressed.

How easy are interisland Hawaii flights

Flying between different Hawaiian islands can be very fast and easy or long and difficult. A lot of this comes down to what airline you choose and when you choose to fly. For example, Southwest Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines both operate out of the regular passenger terminals of their respective airports. This means you’ll need to pass through regular security, deal with a standard boarding process, then the normal baggage claim process. Mokulele is unique in that they operate from their own terminals and don’t have security.

Airports like HNL and OGG are large airports the terminals are large and can be time consuming to navigate. The extremely short car to plane time when flying Mokulele can be a real time saver.

The easiest airline is Hawaiian Airlines. Full service, fast, efficient, excellent coverage, and lots of flights.

How long are interisland Hawaii Flights

The longest route within Hawaii is KOA-LIH and vise versa. We rode on that route back in 2017, it’s just under an hour gate to gate. While the flight might be very short, you still need to deal with the airport on each end. Assuming a direct flight, from rental car to rental car flying between islands takes about 2.5-3 hours.

Some interisland flights are less than 20 minutes in the air but most are right around 30. Hawaiian and Southwest are a little faster than Mokulele on the same routes, it’s just because Hawaiian and Southwest fly faster jets and Mokulele’s Cessna 208s are turbo prop aircraft with a lower airspeed.

Planning interisland Hawaii flights for a better vacation

Ok this is important for me, but when I’m in Hawaii, I don’t want to spend my time waiting on a layover or sitting in an airport. I don’t like sitting in airports anyway, much less in Hawaii. So a direct flight and a well timed flight are very important considerations for me.

HNL Terminal 3 Mokulele Airlines

Hawaiian airlines has the most flights and it’s not even close. They fly direct flights between all the major islands so no need to take more time for a layover. I like to fly either mid-morning or mid-afternoon when on vacation. A mid-morning flight allows me to wake up at a normal hour, get to the airport, get somewhere new, then eat a late lunch and enjoy the rest of the day. Mid-afternoon is similar except for change the lunch location, quick bite for lunch before the flight then enjoy my evening in a new location.

I don’t want to waste any time waiting on delays or poor timed flights. Another advantage to Hawaiian and Mokulele here. Lots of flights, good times, and good island coverage. Mokulele also has the car to plane time advantage, no security, small terminal, fast check-in.

Who has the cheapest flights in Hawaii

Pretty much all the flights within Hawaii are inexpensive. An economy fare, a month in advance, between the major islands will be between $40-70 one way regardless of the airline. Southwest does included baggage, but their schedule isn’t nearly as good as Hawaiian. As I touched on before, I’m willing to pay a few more dollars to save some vacation time. With all the flights being so cheap, a well timed flight is good value.

Hawaii’s Airports

Hawaii has a lot of airports. Way more than a state of similar size and population. Of course this makes sense, when a state is made up of lots of islands, you need transportation to and between those islands. Because of the high density of airports, make sure you’re using the most convenient one. For example, The Big Island has 2 large airports, Hilo and Kona. Depending on where your staying and what your activities are, you’ll want to choose the best airport.

Honolulu is a major international airport, getting to and from that airport can be a slow process. It’s a big city with a big airport, in fact it’s similar in size to Salt Lake City, Dulles, or Nashville. Don’t expect to get in and out quickly, yes it’s paradise, but it’s still a major city.

My favorite airport is KOA, mostly because the whole airport is outside, there’s no indoor buildings or jet-bridges. It;s just a lovely experience and a great welcome and departure from a vacation. But for the most part, Hawaii’s airports are just like normal airports. You’ll want to budget about an hour for the check in and security process, except for HNL give that one an extra 15-20 minutes.

Final Thoughts

Ok, what’s my verdict? Hawaiian Airlines is the best airline in Hawaii. They have great service, great coverage, tons of flights, the prices are reasonable, and the 717 is a great aircraft. If they offered free checked bags this would be an absolute blow out.

However, when you’re in Hawaii, if you have the opportunity to fly Molukule, you should fly Mokulele. It’s just such a unique experience that you cannot get anywhere else. I will warn you, the Cessna 208 is a small plane and those susceptible to motion sickness should stick to a larger aircraft. I will personally fly Mokulele every chance I get, it’s just such a fun experience and not dealing with a busy terminal or security is a huge advantage.

I’m not sure I’ll ever choose to fly Southwest within Hawaii again. We’re not heavy packers so the free bags is of little value to me. Beyond that, Hawaiian is a much better airline. If I want a full service airline, I’d rather just sick with Hawaiian over Southwest.

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