Travel Tips United States

Hawaii Inter-island Travel: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Hawaii Inter-island Travel: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly April 20, 2014

Hawaiian Airlines

Aloha! Welcome to Paradise! The Hawaiian archipelago is the most isolated in the world and contains over 100 islands.  Of course, not all of those are populated or accessible.  But the eight main islands each have their own “personality” and are all worthy of a visit. But how does Hawaii inter-island travel work?

Sadly, the answer to that question includes a few stories of things not working out quite the way they were intended.   But don’t get discouraged.  There are good options for Hawaii inter-island travel.

Super Ferry, Super Debacle

At the turn of the millennium, some one decided that it would be a good idea to put in a ferry system.  Seems reasonable.  Big bucks were spent, terminals built, boats constructed.  But something (or some things) went terribly wrong.  The ships couldn’t cut the mustard, or maybe they would have done fine in mustard, but they couldn’t manage some of the conditions in the Pacific.  And some how the project was well underway, one route had been operating for over a year, before doing an environmental impact study.  Operation was suspended in 2009 due to the requirement for an environmental impact statement, and under this duress the whole “Superferry” project imploded.

So much for that.

Chdwckvnstrsslhm's photo of Waimanalo Bay.
So many islands, so few options! Photo by chdwckvnstrsslhm.

Fare Wars Gone Bad

I was house sitting on the Big Island when I heard the ad.  Inter-island flights for as little as $50. That’s an unheard of price and it made me feel both excited and uncomfortable.  Would $50 really cover the cost of flying me from point A to point B? I was tempted. But I also want to be a responsible consumer.  It takes a lot of people, pilots and air traffic controllers, mechanics and security guards, ticket agents and luggage handlers, to make flying possible.  I want all of those people to receive a good salary that keeps them stable (experienced) and motivated in their jobs.  Then there are the non-labor costs- things like insurance and the big one -fuel.  Hawaii inter-island travel can be ridiculously expensive.  Prices to “hop” to one of the neighbor islands can literally be as high as the price of crossing the Pacific to the US mainland 2,500 miles away.  It all comes down to the fact that jets are just not a practical choice for traveling such short distances.

For decades, travelers would arrive in Honolulu from all over the world and one of two local airlines, Hawaiian and Aloha, would shuttle them over to one of the other islands.  Then in 2006, a new carrier, go! decided it wanted a piece of the action.  Go! was the airline offering the inter-island flights for $50.  A while later they offered flights for one dollar.  This time I wasn’t tempted.  Something about that was just wrong.

Go!’s fare war (and rising fuel prices) had the desired effect.  In 2008, Aloha Airlines, which had been operating in Hawaii since 1946, closed down.  And as of April 1, 2014, go! has also left Hawaii.  Apparently offering flights for $1 wasn’t a sustainable business model.  Go figure.

Aero Icarus' photo of the traditional Hawaii inter-island travel option.
Big name in Hawaii inter-island travel. Photo by Aero Icarus.

Current Options for Hawaii Inter-island Travel

With Aloha gone and go! now leaving, Hawaiian Airlines is the last man standing as far as the major carriers go.  However, there are a few small companies, Mokulele Airlines and Island Air, which are picking up the slack.  They use smaller, turboprop planes and are therefore able to offer much better fares.

It is also possible to travel by ferry between Maui and Lanai, and between Maui and Molokai .

Or you could just enjoy the island you’re on.  It’s great undoubtably great too!