Flying to Molokai: Here’s How to Get There

Flying to Molokai (1)
Hawaii Aloha Travel > Blog > Flying to Molokai: Here’s How to Get There

Flying to Molokai is a complicated endeavor, but worth it for those who have patience and flexibility.

Here on the HAT blog, we talk a lot about things to do on Oahu, Maui, Hawaii Island, and Kauai. These are where most visitors spend time when vacationing in Hawaii. But some make a more adventurous trek to other less visited islands, like Molokai. 

But visiting Molokai comes with a host of concerns. First, you have to make sure you’re vacationing ethically when you come to Molokai. You’ll also want to work with Hawaii Aloha Travel to ensure you’re booking a stay at the right hotel, planning the right activities, and prepared for the slowed-down lifestyle that makes Molokai so special. 

This isn’t a place where you can simply show up and hope for the best. And you definitely want to be respectful and stay “on the beaten path,” so to speak. 

But another big hurdle for visiting Molokai is how to get there. This isn’t as simple as booking a connecting flight (or taking a boat). Flying to Molokai is an adventure of its own – one that will make sure you’re ready to vacation on “The Friendly Isle.”

How to Access Molokai

Molokai is pretty much only accessible by airplane. And there is only one airline that offers public flights there. Here’s what you need to know about flying to Molokai on Mokulele Airlines:

  • There are multiple flights each day, beginning very early in the morning and ending later in the evening.
  • They only fly from 2 airports: Honolulu, Oahu, and Kahului, Maui (they’re about 30-minute flights)
  • Most of their fleet is made up of 9-passenger planes, but they operate larger 36-passenger aircraft too. 
  • You’ll fly into Hoolehua (airport code MKK). It’s about 15 minutes away from Kaunakakai, the main town on Molokai. 

So there are the basics – it all may sound pretty simple. But it’s not as easy as many residents and visitors would like. 

Just over a decade ago, you had many options for getting to Molokai. You could take a commuter ferry from Lahaina, Maui, or choose from several airlines that connect MKK to the Kahului and Honolulu airports. 

But now, flights are harder to come by. And once you get one, it’s not a great guarantee that you’ll make it to the island as scheduled. 

Things to Plan For When Traveling to Molokai

Since there is only one airline serving Molokai, and since they are subject to weather, staffing, and mechanical issues, there’s a high likelihood that your flight may be delayed or canceled. 

So we recommend against planning a tight connection between your mainland and Molokai flights. 

This could leave you booking one of the last flights of the day, and being stranded if that flight is canceled (something that recently happened to me!). 

Instead, book one of the earlier flights to Molokai. This may mean spending the night on Maui or Oahu. And since you’re staying the night, why not spend a couple of nights? Hawaii Aloha Travel can help plan an itinerary that allows you to enjoy some time on one of these more populated islands before beginning your adventure to Molokai (likely bright and early one morning). 

And the same goes on your return to the mainland as well. In fact, this may be even more important since you don’t want to miss your return flight and become stranded in Hawaii (although, you may decide there are worse things). 

So here’s one example itinerary that may work for you:

  • Day 1 Afternoon – arrive in Oahu (or Maui)
  • Day 2 All Day – spend the day exploring your must-see Oahu attraction(s)
  • Day 3 Morning – head to Molokai
  • Day 3 Through 5 – enjoy your time on Molokai
  • Day 6 Morning – return to Oahu (or Maui)
  • Day 6 Night – very late flight to the mainland (or stay in Oahu/Maui and then leave for the mainland in the morning)

See how that offers some cushion time to get your flight? Oahu typically has lower-cost hotel options if you do want to stay the night in between flights, but Maui is a great place to hang out too! Plus, if you fly from Maui, there’s a chance you’ll fly by the scenic sea cliffs and waterfalls of Molokai’s northern shoreline, which we’ll talk more about below. 

Packing Your Bags

One unique thing about Mokulele flights is that you don’t have to go through TSA screening. So that means you can bring your oversized bottle of sunscreen as a carry-on (just make sure it’s closed well!).

But, you can’t connect your bags from your mainland flight straight onto your Mokulele flight. So if you are attempting a direct connection on Maui or Oahu, you’ll have to get your bags from the baggage claim and then carry them to the Mokulele boarding area (which will be a walk and/or a bus ride away, depending on your airport). 

You’ll also have to pay to check them in again with Mokulele. 

Also, most Mokulele flights can’t accommodate a carry-on bigger than a backpack. So you’ll have to pay to check the standard rolling carry-on bags you may have brought on your flight from the mainland. 

Interisland Flying

When you check in for a flight on Mokulel’s 9-passenger planes, you won’t get a ticket or boarding pass. Instead, they’ll call out your flight number when it’s time and then tell you your seat number just before you walk out onto the runway to board the plane. 

Be sure to memorize your flight number, as they’ll call multiple flights to Molokai, which could get confusing. 

Boarding the plane is fun – it feels like you’re boarding a private jet. They’ll lower the stairs for you, and then you’ll find your seat. Seating is typically assigned based on weight, but in my experience, they’ve usually kept families together (there are only 4 rows, so it’s not a huge deal).

My friend arrives to Molokai on her Mokulele flight
My friend arrives to Molokai on her Mokulele flight

But what is it like once you’re onboard the aircraft? Flying on Mokulele’s nine-passenger planes is certainly a unique experience. The co-pilots are in the front row. They’ll be the ones helping you onto your aircraft, and once they’re seated they’ll turn around to give you a quick briefing of what to expect on the flight, including their forecast for turbulence. 

In the Air…

The windows are large, perfect for the scenery you’ll fly over during your trip. Many people treasure the flight from Maui to Molokai as a wow-worthy experience. When conditions are right, the pilots will take you around “the backside” of Molokai. You’ll see waterfalls, the remote area of Kalaupapa, and lush valleys as you fly eye-level with the tall, world-famous cliffs of Molokai’s northern coast. 

The View outside my window flying from Maui to Molokai
The view outside my window flying from Maui to Molokai

It’s a noisy flight, so you won’t be chatting it up with your neighbor. Lap infants are allowed, but children two and older will need their own seats. I was nervous about my three-year-old sitting nicely in his seat during the flight, but he did fine during the brief, half-hour trip. 

But, sometimes these flights get really rough. And at night, when you can’t see around you, they can feel really scary. My family tries to only fly during daylight. 

The larger, 36-passenger planes operate more like the commercial flights you’re used to. There will be a dedicated attendant on board, and you’ll get a ticket with your assigned seat number on it.

The Molokai Airport

I love talking about the Molokai airport, because it’s such a unique place. If you’re used to traveling to big destinations, you may not have seen an airport like Molokai’s. 

The Hoolehua Airport is located in a rural area, surrounded by red-dirt farmland. There is a small shop that’s sometimes open, a couple of restrooms, and lots of seating. The Mokulele counter is the hub of activity here as residents and visitors check in for their flights. 

The runway is relatively small, and you’ll be escorted off the plane and to the terminal by a Mokulele employee. You likely will need to carry your own checked luggage into the terminal, so be prepared for that. The walk isn’t very far at all. 

Rental Cars

Once on Molokai, you’ll want to get a rental car to get around. Though the main town is walkable, you’ll likely want to explore some of the island by car. 

There is an Alamo Car Rental at the airport, along with local car rentals available on the island. Navigating your way through Molokai is easy, as there’s really just one main road that runs across the island, and one more that will get you to the Kalaupapa overlook. 

Tips for Traveling to Molokai

Ready to begin planning your vacation Molokai? Here are some final tips to ensure your travels go as smoothly as possible. 

Plan Early

Since options are limited on Molokai, you’ll want to reserve your flights, hotels, and rental car early on. This isn’t a good vacation to wing it!

Be Flexible (And Thoughtful!)

With limited flights and cars available, you may be forced to change your plans. Remember to be kind and flexible when this happens. 

After all, this is affecting your vacation (which will still be enjoyable no matter what). For many residents, these flight shortages and other issues can stand in the way of getting vital medical care, getting into work, or accessing essential services. 

Understand Where You’re Going

While many Molokai residents welcome visitors, it’s not a place catered to tourism. This can be a bit of a shock if you’re used to visiting Waikiki or Kaanapali, Maui. You’re going to a small-knit community where people work hard and have a very strong set of values. 

If you visit with kindness, respect, and patience, you’ll have a nice time soaking in the unique atmosphere of Molokai. 

Key Things to Know 

So, if you still think you’re ready for a Molokai vacation, we’re happy to help with your bookings. Here are a few reminders about the basics of Molokai travel so that you can begin envisioning your vacation:

  • You can only get to Molokai by plane, either from Maui or Honolulu.
  • There is no longer a ferry service or multiple airlines to choose from.
  • The airline is called Mokulele Airlines, operated by Southern Airways.
  • There is a good chance your flight may be delayed or canceled.
  • Don’t book your return flight back-to-back with your return flight to the mainland. 
  • Once on Molokai, you’ll want to rent a car to drive around the island.
Kid Friendly Flying to Molokai 1
Kid Friendly Flying to Molokai

Aloha, Molokai

Life on Molokai is simple. Getting there, on the other hand, presents some challenges. While it’s not right that residents have to suffer at the hands of the airlines, it probably does help weed out travelers who aren’t ready for Molokai’s way of life. 

After all, flying to “The Friendly Isle” requires a good deal of patience, flexibility, and understanding. Once you’ve got that down, you’re likely ready for a great vacation on Molokai.