Island hopping has changed over the past few years. Aloha went out of business, leaving one less airline. But 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. So which is the best way to travel interisland? As you can imagine, it depends on what you prefer and how fast you need to get there. Here’s a run down of the pros and cons of each option.
Airlines remain a stalwart in speedy interisland travel, and there are still plenty of 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.
Mesa Airlines competes directly with Hawaiian with its interisland jet service called go! (website: iflygo.com ). Like Hawaiian, go! offer the best fares online, and you can score extra web-only discounts if you join their frequent flier clubs (it’s free). A typical round-trip airfare this year between Honolulu (HNL) and Kahului, Maui (OGG) sells for $120-$180.
Tip: Sit up front to get on and off in less than half hour.
Pros: Fast jet service with easy connections to Mainland flights
Cons: TSA hassles and few direct flights between neighbor island cities
(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 airlines include:
Honolulu-based Island Air (website: islandair.com ) operates 37-seat Dash 8 turboprop aircraft.
Kahului-based Pacific Wings (website: pacificwings.com ) operates 9-seat Cessna 208B Grand Caravan turboprop aircraft.
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.
Tip: Ask the captain which side of the plane overlooks the land and sit on that side.
Pros: Frequent direct flights between neighbor island cities, no TSA hassles, killer scenery
Cons: Small planes make for longer, bumpier rides
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).
Update: As of March 26, 2009, the Superferry no longer runs. It may not be dead in the water permanently, pending the outcome of an environmental impact statement, which was never performed in the first place. (See the backstory at Maui Weekly.)
Original Post: The Hawaii Superferry (HSF website: hawaiisuperferry.com ) runs a 4-hour journey between Honolulu, Oahu and Kahului, Maui twice per day weather permitting. You may bring a vehicle, including a rental car, as well as cargo packed inside and on top of it. The lounge sports bigger, cushier chairs and snack service. Fares are comparable to jet service at about $120 round-trip. Vehicles cost extra.
Seating onboard is unassigned and spacious, with plenty of leg room and configuration options, such as: booths with a table in the middle, table and chairs (great for playing games), regular train-style seats, and laptop work stations. Kids have a designated play area, making this is a great way for families to travel. There is also a cafe and a shop on board. If you want to sit up front, the bow area is a designated “upgrade” lounge that is yours for an extra fee of $20 each way.
(View of Hawaiian village and Pailolo Channel)
HSF travels in rough water. Seasickness medication is a good idea, even if you don’t think you’ll need it. HSF recommends taking one of the OTC medications at least 30 minutes before the journey starts. I found this to be good advice on a recent trip. Even though I have “sea legs”, these channels are no fooling. The Pailolo Channel between Maui and Molokai (which translates as “crazy fishermen”) is one of the windiest and roughest in the Islands. The Ka’iwi Channel between Molokai and Oahu is one of the deepest, down to 2300 feet, and roils with 20-plus-foot swells. The reward for braving rough seas is jaw-dropping gorgeous scenery at a pace that encourages contemplation and photography.
Tip: Don’t ride the HSF at night. You’ll miss the scenery and feel extra seasick.
Pros: Winner photos, no TSA hassles, uber kid-friendly, comfortable seating, leisurely pace
Cons: Seasickness, 4-hour tour, service only between Maui and Oahu
Other articles with helpful information about how to get around in Hawaii include: