If you think of the island of Maui as the shape of a head and shoulders of a person, you'll probably arrive at its neck, at Kahului Airport (OGG). If you're headed for Molokai or Lanai, you'll have to connect through Honolulu.
As of press time, the following airlines fly directly from the U.S. mainland to Kahului: United Airlines offers daily nonstop flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles; Hawaiian Airlines has flights from San Diego, Portland, and Seattle; Alaska Airlines offers flights from Anchorage to Seattle to Kahului; American Airlines flies from Los Angeles and San Jose; Northwest Airlines flies from Oakland, California; Continental Airlines flies from Orange County, California; and Delta Air Lines offers flights from San Francisco via Los Angeles.
Other carriers fly to Honolulu, where you'll have to pick up an interisland flight to Maui. (The airlines listed in the preceding paragraph also offer many more flights to Honolulu from additional cities on the mainland.) Hawaiian Airlines offers jet service from Honolulu.
Commuter service Mokulele Airlines (www.mokuleleairlines.com; [tel] 866/260-7070) flies from Honolulu to Kahului and Maui’s two other, significantly smaller airports. If you’re staying in Lahaina or Kaanapali, you might consider flying in or out of Kapalua–West Maui Airport (JHM). From this tiny airstrip, it’s only a 10- to 15-minute drive to most hotels in West Maui, as opposed to an hour or more from Kahului. Same story with Hana Airport (HNM): Flying directly here will save you a challenging 3- hour drive. However, rental-car pickup at either Kapalua or Hana airports is very limited.
From Kahului, Mokulele also flies several times a day to Molokai and to two airports on the Big Island: the small commuter airfield at Kamuela (MUE) and the much busier Kona, near the main resorts. Mokulele also offers charter flights to Lanai. Check-in is a breeze: no security lines (unless leaving from Honolulu). You’ll be weighed, ushered onto the tarmac, and welcomed aboard a nine-seat Cessna. The plane flies low, and the views between the islands are outstanding.
If you want to continue your travels in the Pacific or Asia, the short hop to Honolulu will connect you to nonstop flights to Japan, South Korea, China, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, or Tahiti.
Arriving at the Airport
If there's a long wait at baggage claim, step over to the state-operated Visitor Information Center, where you can ask about island activities and pick up brochures and the latest issue of This Week Maui, which features great regional maps of the islands. After collecting your bags from the poky, automated carousels, take a deep breath, proceed to the curbside rental-car pickup area, and wait for the appropriate rental-agency shuttle van to take you a half mile away to the rental-car checkout desk. (All major rental companies have branches at Kahului.)
If you're not renting a car, the cheapest way to get to your hotel is via SpeediShuttle (tel. 877/242-5777; www.speedishuttle.com), which can take you between Kahului Airport and all the major resorts between 6am and 11pm daily. You'll see taxis outside the airport terminal, but note that they are quite expensive -- expect to spend around $85 for a ride from Kahului to Kaanapali and $60 to Wailea.
Taxis usually cost 30% more than the shuttles—except when you’re traveling with a large party, in which case they’re a deal. West Maui Taxi (www.westmauitaxi.com; [tel] 888/661-4545), for example, will drive up to six people from Kahului Airport to Kaanapali for $80. Note: Ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber are now authorized to make airport pickups and dropoffs at an area that had yet to be designated at press time.
If possible, avoid landing on Maui between 3 and 6pm, when the working stiffs on Maui are "pau work" (finished with work) and a major traffic jam occurs at the first intersection getting out of the airport.
Agricultural Screening at the Airports -- When you leave, baggage and passengers bound for the mainland must be screened by agricultural officials. Officials will confiscate local produce, like avocados, bananas, and mangoes, in the name of fruit-fly control. Pineapples, coconuts, and papayas inspected and certified for export; boxed flowers; leis without seeds; and processed foods (macadamia nuts, coffee, jams, dried fruit, and the like) will pass. You'll need to pack jams or honey in checked bags if they exceed 3 ounces, or wait to buy them at a post-security gift shop.
If you must go through Honolulu, you will need to get an interisland flight to Maui. Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks the major interisland carriers have cut way back on the number of interisland flights. The airlines warn you to show up at least 90 minutes before your flight, and believe me, with all the security inspections, you will need all 90 minutes to catch your flight.
Hawaii has two major interisland carriers: Hawaiian Airlines (tel. 800/367-5320; www.hawaiianair.com) and go! (tel. 888/I-FLY-GO-2 [435-9462]; www.iflygo.com).
Visitors to Molokai and Lanai have three commuter airlines to choose from: Island Air (tel. 800/323-3345; www.islandair.com), tel. 888/I-FLY-GO-2 [435-9462] (www.iflygo.com), and PW Express (tel. 888/866-5022 or 808/873-0877; www.pacificwings.com) which all serve Hawaii's small interisland airports on Maui, Molokai, and Lanai. However, I have to warn you that I have not had stellar service on Island Air and recommend that you book another carrier.
Some large airlines offer transatlantic or transpacific passengers special discount tickets under the name Visit USA, which allows mostly one-way travel from one U.S. destination to another at very low prices. Unavailable in the U.S., these discount tickets must be purchased abroad in conjunction with your international fare. This system is the easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to see the country.
Cruising Through the Islands
If you're looking for a taste of several islands in a single week, consider Norwegian Cruise Line (tel. 800/327-7030; www.ncl.com), the only cruise line that operates year-round in Hawaii. Norwegian's 2,240-passenger ship Pride of America circles the Hawaiian Islands, stopping on the Big Island, Maui, Kauai, and Oahu; some itineraries even go to Fanning Island in the Republic of Kiribati before returning to Honolulu. The disadvantage of a cruise is that you won't be able to see any of the islands in-depth or at leisure; the advantage is that you can spend your days exploring the island where the ship is docked and your nights aboard ship sailing to the next port of call.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.