Airline review: Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717 economy class between Oahu, Big Island, Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kauai

THE ROUTE

Around the islands, between Oahu, Big Island, Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kauai.

THE AIRCRAFT

Hawaiian Airlines  has budget flights around the islands that offer no food, alcohol or entertainment and it charges fees for check-in baggage, but it still manages, somehow, to make it a fun experience. With the airline this year celebrating its 90th year of operation, it has a fleet of 20, 128-seat B717-200s – a favourite of Qantas, too – for inter-island flights while larger aircraft ply its major US, Australian and international routes.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

HawaiianMiles' membership offers reduced baggage fees and partners with Virgin Australia, Virgin Atlantic, Japan Airlines, China Airlines, Korea Air and Jet Blue.

CLASS

Economy

DURATION

If only all flights were like this. The shortest flight is from Honolulu on Oahu to Lihue on Kauai, which takes 25 minutes. The longest is from Honolulu to Hilo on the Big Island and takes 45 minutes.

FREQUENCY

There are more than 170 flights daily between the islands.   

CHECKING-IN

The process can be cheerfully shambolic on some of the islands, depending on whether it's tourist season and the popularity of the destination. Leaving Honolulu for the other islands, there is a long queue waiting in the sun to go through security, with a sign up saying there would be a 20-minute wait, but that turns out to be just 10. It is easier checking in at Kona's open-air airport on the Big Island to go to Maui, but harder to find the right gate. The day is saved when a beaming stewardess approaches and pushes aside a timber dividing door to reveal the entrance.

THE SEAT

15B, an aisle seat in the aircraft's 2-3, single-aisle seating configuration. The seat is 18 inches wide (45.7cm) with a pitch of 30-31inches (76 – 78.7cm). On other routes I am in 15A, a window seat, far better for seeing the ocean and lush green folds – or black lava craters – of the islands.

BAGGAGE

The first checked-in bag up to 23 kilograms costs $US25 and a second $US35, or $US15 and $US20 for HawaiianMiles members, and up to 11kg of carry-on free. If you're flying to mainland US, you're allowed to travel with a 4.5kg box of fresh pineapple or papaya for free.

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COMFORT

Leg room is good and the plane feels bright and happy, with aquamarine-coloured seating evoking the colour of the north Pacific Ocean below. The mood is seriously holiday time. 

ENTERTAINMENT

Er … that would be Hana Hou!, which means Encore!, the Hawaiian Airlines magazine in the seat pocket. But on such short flights, whatwould you have time to watch if there were an entertainment system?

SERVICE

This is all about the Hawaiian Aloha Spirit – friendly and welcoming. The smiling cabin staff, all dressed in the same aquamarine and navy with flowers behind their ears, hand out maps of the island you're on your way to (what an excellent idea!) and have a chat about where you're going in Hawaii and whether this is your first visit.

FOOD

Just a choice between water and the ubiquitous POG juice – a mix of papaya, orange and guava. And no, not even a macadamia nut biscuit.

ONE MORE THING

These flights consistently win the best on-time performance title of all the major US airlines, and the number of international destinations is growing all the time.  

THE VERDICT

To add to the overall feel-good vibe, pretty native birdsong plays on entry and exit, and traditional Hawaiian music as you're coming in to land. And as well as the nice mood-setting and efficiency, this airline also has luck on its side. In 1941 one of the airline's old eight-seater Sikorskys was hit by Japanese fire at Pearl Harbour, which set an engine alight. Another stray bullet, however, hit a fire extinguisher, which promptly put out the blaze.  

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★★

Sue Williams travelled as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines.

See also: Twenty things that will shock first-time visitors to Hawaii

See also: The best time to visit Hawaii

Airline reviews A to Z: Read all of Traveller's flight tests 

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