Flying Southwest Inter-island in Hawaii? Here’s What to Expect

Are you thinking about flying Southwest between Hawaiian islands (inter-island)? Do you know what to expect when it comes to the flying experience, boarding, carry-on rules, and ticket prices?

In this article, I’ll share a breakdown of my past experience and also some helpful data points when it comes to things like the routes and pricing.

Flying Southwest Inter-island

Southwest’s HNL hub

Southwest Airlines effectively runs a hub at HNL so if you’re flying out of Honolulu you can get to pretty much all of the major airports in Hawaii with non-stop flights.

OGG in Maui also has a very limited number of nonstop flights to the Big Island.

This means that if you’re flying to an island other than Oahu, you’ll likely have to do a connection through HNL to get where you want to go.

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Southwest Inter-island Hawaii route map
Southwest Inter-island Hawaii route map. Image via Southwest.

Checking your bags in Hawaii

You’ll get two free checked bags whenever flying between Hawaiian islands just like you do on the mainland and your weight limit will be 50 pounds per bag.

Checking your bags might work a little bit differently at some airports, though.

At some of the smaller airports you may have to get your luggage tag and then bring your bag over to a TSA screening area where you will then drop it off.

In some instances, some TSA agent or airport personnel may come over to assist you and take your luggage over to the screening area but even if they don’t it should be pretty close to the check-in area.

Getting through the USDA

Even whenever you are flying between islands, you may have to go through the Department of Agriculture screening station in order to access your gate.

Basically, you’ll just put your carry-on items on a conveyor belt and then they will scan the items and then you can proceed to where you need to be.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations prohibit certain fruits, vegetables, plants, and flowers in carry-on items when traveling between Hawaiian islands.

Typically, you need to just watch out for things like:

  • fresh fruits and vegetables
  • berries of any kind
  • fresh flowers, plants or plants in soil
  • seeds
  • live insects
  • cotton or cotton bolls
  • sugarcan

I don’t know if every Hawaiian Airport does this but I always thought this USDA screening was only reserved for flights between the mainland and Hawaii. However, that’s not the case.

Boarding Southwest in Hawaii

The Southwest boarding process on our flight at LIH was a little bit different from any other Southwest flight that I have boarded.

Instead of having posts that you use to lineup when it is time to board, the “posts” were located alongside rows of seats.

So you essentially could find a seat for your boarding position rather than stand.

I’m not sure how it is at other airports but this is something you might run into at some of the smaller airports in Hawaii.

It was actually pretty nice although I’m not sure how many passengers were actually picking their seat based on their boarding position.

Short flights

Just in case you’re not aware just how short the flights are between the islands, they are very short. For example, according the FlightAware the flight time between HNL and ITO is 40 minutes.

That is the longest route that Southwest flies between Hawaiian islands right now.

According to Southwest, the flight times are a little bit longer but still pretty short.

Here are the flight times according to Southwest:

  • Kona (Island of Hawaii) (KOA) to Kahului (Maui) (OGG): 40 minutes
  • Lihue (Kauai) (LIH) to Honolulu (Oahu) (HNL): 42 minutes
  • Honolulu (Oahu) (HNL) to Hilo (Island of Hawaii) (ITO): 58 minutes
  • Kahului (Maui) (OGG) to Kona (Island of Hawaii) (KOA): 40 minutes
  • Honolulu (Oahu) (HNL) to Lihue (Kauai) (LIH): 49 minutes

So you just have to be prepared for really short fights which may affect your willingness to buy Business Select tickets or pay extra for EarlyBird.

Business Select fares are usually just a little bit more expensive than Anytime fares but they offer the following benefits:

  • Guaranteed A1-A15 boarding
  • Fly By lane access
  • Free premium drink
  • 12 Rapid Rewards per dollar spent
  • Fully refundable fare

Because the flight is so short you may not need or even be able to enjoy all those benefits.

EarlyBird automatically checks you in 36 hours before check-in and therefore helps you get a better boarding position.

But again, because the flight might be so empty, you may not need this.

Even if your flight doesn’t end up having a lot of passengers, the worst case scenario is you get stuck in a middle seat for a 40 to 60 minute flight. It could be a lot worse.

Also, because the flights are so short you may not be able to receive the full Southwest treatment with drinks and snacks.

According to Southwest, complimentary snacks and non-alcoholic drinks are available on flights over 250 miles.

The longest flight that they currently fly between HNL and ITO is like 216 miles, so they may not offer beverage and snacks on these inter-island flights.

Lower occupancy?

The other thing I noticed on my Southwest Hawaii flight was the low occupancy.

It had been a very long time since I had flown on a Southwest flight with about 50% occupancy.

In fact, the vast majority of my Southwest flights over the past few years have been full or extremely close to full.

Once again, this made the need for EarlyBird or an upgrade to Business Select nonexistent.

We were able to find a seat wherever we wanted and did not have to worry about sharing a row with anybody else. It was actually very refreshing and a bit nostalgic.

The lower occupancy also made it easy on us when we needed to make a last-minute change. We changed our flight the evening before our scheduled departure and we did not have to deal with any type of meaningful price change.

Obviously, the occupancy rates will depend on routes/timing but it’s something to be looking out for.

You’ll likely be flying on a Boeing 737 MAX 8.

No shuttle at HNL

When flying Southwest, if you are renting a car, you won’t have to take a shuttle to get to or from the rental car center from HNL.

I found it odd that flying Hawaiian Airlines did require a shuttle but Southwest did not. Nevertheless, this is a nice little timesaver although the shuttle bus is not that bad.

Southwest Inter-island prices

Island hopping with Southwest can be extremely economical.

We looked at all of the different routes that Southwest flies in Hawaii and got some data points for the different Southwest fares in both cash and points for one-way flights.

We found that the price to island hop on both nonstop flights and also flights with a connection ranged from about $40-$49 for one-way tickets about one month out.

That’s not bad at all and it makes getting around to different islands very doable for a lot of people.

I also noticed that you can choose from a handful of flights each day, which makes it pretty easy to get to your island exactly when you need to.

Below, you can check out all of the specific data points for pricing.

All pricing is for nonstop flights (the flights that are not nonstop are only a couple of dollars more).

$59 was the most expensive Wanna Get Away I could find.

For the most part, the Southwest tickets were cheaper than the economy class tickets that we compared on Hawaiian Airlines (but we’re doing a full comparison later).

I will say that some of the planes that Hawaiian flies between islands are set up in a 3-2 configurations in economy.

So if you pick your seat, you can guarantee yourself a two-seat row while with Southwest you are just relying on a low occupancy to get you a seat like that.

Business Select fares remained north of $200 for all of the flights that we looked at.

Considering that Hawaiian Airlines has an actual first class cabin and their first class rates may be similar, I would rather fly first class with them than fly Business Select with Southwest.

Hilo, HI (ITO) to Kahului, HI (OGG)

  • 6 flights
  • No Nonstop
  • All change planes in HNL
  • Wanna Get Away – $49 / 2,626 points + $5.60
  • Anytime – $206 / 14,747 points + $5.60
  • Business Select – $223 / 16,060 points + $5.60

Hilo, HI (ITO) to Honolulu, HI (HNL)

  • 4 flights
  • All Nonstop
  • Wanna Get Away – $40 / 2,240 points + $5.60
  • Anytime – $202 / 14,747 points + $5.60
  • Business Select – $219 / 16,060 points + $5.60

Hilo, HI (ITO) to Lihue, HI (LIH)

  • 5 flights
  • No Nonstop
  • All change planes in HNL
  • Wanna Get Away – $49 / 2,626 points + $5.60
  • Anytime – $206 / 14,747 points + $5.60
  • Business Select – $223 / 16,060 points + $5.60

Kona, HI (KOA) to Kahului, HI (OGG)

  • 7 flights
  • Only 1 Nonstop
  • 6 flights change planes in HNL
  • Wanna Get Away – $44 / 2,240 points + $5.60
  • Anytime – $206 / 14,747 points + $5.60
  • Business Select – $223 / 16,060 points + $5.60

Kona, HI (KOA) to Honolulu, HI (HNL)

  • 6 flights
  • 4 Nonstop
  • 2 flights change planes in OGG
  • Wanna Get Away – $40 / 2,240 points + $5.60
  • Anytime – $202 / 14,747 points + $5.60
  • Business Select – $219 / 16,060 points + $5.60

Kona, HI (KOA) to Lihue, HI (LIH)

  • 6 flights
  • No Nonstop
  • All change planes in HNL
  • Wanna Get Away – $49 / 2,626 points + $5.60
  • Anytime – $206 / 14,747 points + $5.60
  • Business Select – $223 / 16,060 points + $5.60

Kahului, HI (OGG) to Honolulu, HI (HNL)

  • 7 flights
  • 6 Nonstop
  • 1 flight changes planes in KOA
  • Wanna Get Away – $40 / 2,240 points + $5.60
  • Anytime – $202 / 14,747 points + $5.60
  • Business Select – $219 / 16,060 points + $5.60

Kahului, HI (OGG) to Lihue, HI (LIH)

  • 8 flights
  • No Nonstop
  • 6 flights change planes in HNL
  • Wanna Get Away – $49 / 2,626 points + $5.60
  • Anytime – $206 / 14,747 points + $5.60
  • Business Select – $223 / 16,060 points + $5.60

Honolulu, HI (HNL) to Lihue, HI (LIH)

  • 4 flights
  • All Nonstop
  • Wanna Get Away – $40 / 2,240 points + $5.60
  • Anytime – $202 / 14,747 points + $5.60
  • Business Select – $219 / 16,060 points + $5.60

Final word

Flying Southwest Airlines in Hawaii does feel a bit strange the first time you do it. But for the most part everything is the same. The biggest difference may be the reduced occupancy of the flight and adjusting to the short flights if you’re not used to such quick trips.

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