Flight Review: Island hopping with Hawaiian Airlines – Kona (KOA) to Maui (OGG) to Honolulu (HNL)

The islands of Hawaii are home to no less than 8 airports across 6 islands, with Hawaiian Airlines offering more than 170 daily flights between 5 of those island destinations.

From north to south, they fly between – Lihue (LIH) in Kauai, Honolulu (HNL) in Oahu, Kahului (OGG) in Maui, and both Kona (KOA) and Hilo (ITO) on the Big Island. They are one of only a few airlines to offer services in the region, with Southwest launching competition to the same destinations in 2019, and additional destinations served by Mokulele Airlines. And with that competition, prices are pretty affordable – it’s not hard to get fares under $49 on most routes.

I started my journey with the shortest of Hawaiian Airlines’ routes, between Maui’s Kahului (OGG) and Kona (KOA) on the Big Island, which runs three times a day and has you in the air for just 84 miles (135 kms).

Kona (KOA) – Kahului (OGG) in Maui

Flight Number: HA139
Seat: 15A (Window, 2-3 Layout)
Class: Economy
Aircraft: B717
On time? Yes

Exploring KOA Airport

Kona is one of the few airports on the planet that is almost entirely outdoors – bag checks, security, waiting area – all of it. So dress appropriately – it’s 27-30°C year round here. But we didn’t need to worry about arriving early. We were through security and all checked in, sitting in the waiting area, in less than 25 minutes. Which was convenient given we were due to take off before 9am.

There’s enough to keep you occupied though – you’ll find a gift shop, a newsagency and a restaurant in the Hawaiian Airlines side of the terminal (gates 6-10). The restaurant serves sandwiches, salads, hot foods such as burgers and nachos, ramen noodles, fried rice, breakfast sandwiches, Spam Musubi, fruit and yogurt. There’s even a bar!

Hawaiian Airlines do offer their business class “Premier Club” lounge, which eligible travelers can enter by scanning their boarding pass at the door. Premier club members can also check-in through a standalone check-in counter alongside business/first passengers. Inside the lounge, you’ll find free Wi-Fi, some biscuits, sodas, water, tea and coffee (though no milk, just creamer powder), with TV and some magazines. But no bathrooms. It’s a very small lounge.

Details on the airline’s Premier Club membership program can be found HERE.

KOA airport may be small, but it’s an international hub servicing 13 destinations. The closest is Kahului, Maui, which is our destination, and the furthest on mainland USA is Denver. Though you’ll also find a Hawaiian Airlines service to Tokyo, Japan. American, United and Delta all fly here from Los Angeles, and Alaska from other destinations.

Boarding and In-Flight Experience

We boarded 20 minutes before take off, from an outdoor ramp with no steps. Hawaiian Airlines offer all of their interisland flights by way of their fleet of Boeing 717s, with a 2-3 layout. The two seats on the left side of the aircraft prove a good option for couples.

Seats are thin, but comfortable enough for the short flight, with a small drop down tables in fronts.

About five minutes after take off, as soon as they hit “elevation”, the flight attendants came down the aisle to serve water, juice or coffee. I had a Passion-Orange-Guava Nectar served in a plastic cup with the foil on the top. I don’t think I’ve seen a drink like that since I was in school!

They hand out maps to the Island of Maui shortly before landing, along with a rubbish clean up. I hadn’t even finished my small drink by the time they walked down the aisle – we must have been at “elevation” for about 5 minutes, and the total flight time was about 20 minutes.

We disembarked quickly in Maui, which is a much, much larger airport than Kona, with a mix of indoor and outdoor sections – not unlike the airport in Honolulu.

Kahului (OGG) in Maui to Honolulu (HNL) in Oahu

Flight Number: HA205
Seat: 7A (Window, 2-3 Layout)
Class: Economy
Aircraft: Boeing 717
On time? Yes

After enjoying a couple of nights in Maui – including a dinner at the incredible Huihui – it was time to fly to Honolulu, and join Hawaiian Airlines for another island hop. At 101 miles (162 kms), it would be only slightly longer than the first flight.

Exploring OGG Airport

Unlike in Kona, Maui’s OGG Airport – a rare airport with a three letter code named after a person, rather than the location itself – can see long lines. They recommend arriving 2-3 hours before flights, even though there’s less than 40 gates. But flying on a bit of a quieter week, I got through bag drop (you tag your own bag via a machine and then line up for an id check and bag drop), and security, in about 30 minutes.

There was a bar and grill, Burger King, CPK and a Starbucks as well as a number of shops selling local products. You have to clear agriculture scanning if travelling to the US mainland. So we were contained to a part of the terminal that was before that screening area, which featured all the interisland flights – mostly operated by Hawaiian, but also Southwest, who started hopping in 2019.

Boarding and In-Flight Experience

I was zone 4, which was never formally announced for some reason (but 5 & 6 was?) and I found myself one of the last to board the half full flight, which left 20 minutes after the last Hawaiian Airlines flight between the same destinations. Unlike the KOA-OGG flights, which operate three times a day, OGG-HNL is a route that enjoys 25+ flights a day from Hawaiian Airlines alone.

We fly again on a Boeing 717 in a 2-3 layout. These are rare flights where I’ll get the window seat, as you’re sitting at the gate longer than you’re in the air, and it proves a chance to enjoy the scenic views of the islands – which are a lot closer together than you might expect.

Here are just a couple of the views I enjoyed out my window on this very short flight…

The seats are comfortable but rigid – no ability to lean back here. Their in-flight magazine Hana Hou! was at your seat, too. They’re one of the few airlines to still offer a physical magazine, and it’s a great one! The same drink options were provided a few minutes after take off, and here we were in the air just over 20 minutes.

Landing in Honolulu (HNL)

A jet bridge problem delayed us disembarking for a few minutes, and they had to move the aircraft to accommodate. Those who had already stood up and were blocking the aisle, were quickly served a reminder about why they shouldn’t do that. Please don’t be that person.

Honolulu’s international airport gets you outdoors pretty quickly. There was a bit of a wait for the baggage, but beyond that there were no issues.

It’s worth noting that a train to the airport is coming as part of Honolulu’s long awaited HART tail network. The infrastructure is already mostly in place, but the route to the airport doesn’t look set to open until 2031. But a station at Aloha Stadium will open before the end of 2023, which is about 5 minute drive from the airport. It will certainly be a gamechanger for the city, though no doubt the well established shuttle companies here will feel it!

Hawaiian’s Velocity Frequent Flyer Relationship

If you’re with Virgin Australia’s Velocity Rewards program, you’ll get 10 status credits per flight on a standard economy ticket (which is just about every seat on this sort of flight), which can add up very quickly. Though you’ll get very, very few points, since that’s based on flight mileage. There just ain’t many miles here!

Since the pandemic, the offerings for Hawaiian passengers travelling with a Velocity Frequent Flyer status has been chopped down. Even if you’re a platinum member, you won’t get access to any lounges – including on Hawaiian’s Sydney to Honolulu return route – and no baggage benefits either. Still, an island hop is probably the cheapest way on the Virgin network to get yourself some status credits. The flight was $38 with taxes, and an extra $25 for a checked bag.

The latest updates on this partnership can be found HERE.

Final Verdict

The flights with Hawaiian Airlines are fantastic, and thanks in part to recently introduced competition on the routes from Southwest, prices are affordable – and look set to stay that way. With less than half an hour in the air for both flights, there’s not much you can ask for – and not much you need. All steps of the process were as easy as they could be (though Maui clearly needs to work on the efficiency of their airport, if reports of their delays are true).

The seats are comfortable enough, you’re kept hydrated, and you’re treated to some of the best views in the world. What’s not to love? Well, maybe not the $25 baggage fees.


To book your next flight with Hawaiian Airlines, and head to one of their five Island destinations, head to their official website.

The author flew at his own expense. All prices listed are un US$, and were correct at the time of printing. All photos taken by the author, except the headline photo provided by Hawaiian Airlines. While in Kona, we stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa Village. In Maui, we stayed at the Kā’anapali Beach Hotel. While in Honolulu we stayed at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort & Spa.

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.