We Tried It: Island Hopping in Hawai‘i On An Airplane During COVID-19

From health forms and temperature scans, to face masks and boarding, here are seven things you need to know when flying with kids during the coronavirus pandemic.


This article was originally published on June 24, 2020.


Photo: by Laura Dornbush


As soon as we were free to island-hop without a 14-day quarantine, my family boarded a flight from Honolulu to Kona. After months of being cooped-up in our Kaka‘ako condos, my husband, our 3-year-old son, Duke, and my mother-in-law couldn’t wait to escape the city for the wide-open spaces of the Big Island. It was a trip we were supposed to take Easter weekend and had been eagerly waiting to reschedule.


As if air travel with kids isn’t stressful enough, throw a pandemic into the mix.


Getting on an airplane is now even more complicated with a new form, constantly changing policies and uncomfortable procedures, albeit necessary to keep our state healthy.


In the days leading up to our flight, questions kept me awake at night: Will Duke keep his mask on? How can I keep him from touching everything? What if another passenger coughs on the plane? To ease my anxiety, I over prepared by washing our face masks, packing wipes and hand sanitizer and researching the new travel rules.


Photo: by Laura Dornbush


On the big day, we arrived at the Hawaiian Airlines interisland terminal around 7:30 a.m., 90 minutes before our departure. I was relieved to see that the airport was not busy, which allowed us to check bags, proceed through thermal screening and complete the new travel form process at our own pace.


Photo: by Laura Dornbush


When the uniformed National Guard soldier checked Duke’s temperature with a handheld thermometer, he wasn’t nervous and instead flashed an excited shaka as we proceeded to the travel form line. We turned in our State of Hawai‘i Traveler Health Forms and were cleared. FYI: they call your mobile phone on the spot to double-check the number you wrote on the form. Then we breezed through TSA and were at our gate within 20 minutes.


In fact, the longest line we encountered at the airport was for Starbucks!


The Starbucks line at Honolulu International Airport. Photo: by Laura Dornbush


We had a snack and used the restrooms in the terminal (they were clean!) before boarding to avoid removing our masks and moving around the airplane during the flight. Heads up to all the stressed parents: Alcoholic beverages are temporarily unavailable for purchase on Hawaiian Airlines.


Instead of zones, Hawaiian Airlines now boards passengers starting from the back of the plane. When we booked our flight and selected seats a couple of weeks in advance, I was encouraged that the airline’s safety procedures said that middle seats were blocked off to promote social distancing, so our family would not have to share our row. In fact, Hawaiian Airlines has stated that they are limiting capacity to 70% during this time.


However, when we boarded the plane, I was immediately taken aback by how crowded the aircraft appeared. This was not what I had expected or prepared for! Rows one through nine were completely full at 100% capacity. And guess what? We were seated in row seven, totally surrounded by other passengers, including a stranger in our supposedly blocked middle seat.


Photo: by Laura Dornbush

Looking toward the back, I noticed travelers were more spread out, and that, indeed, the middle seats had been blocked off. Unfortunately, it was too close to take-off to do anything about it. We pulled our masks tighter, wiped every inch of the seat, buckled up and hoped for the best.


Photo: by Laura Dornbush


I was so proud of Duke for wearing his mask, not throwing a tantrum when I refused the complimentary POG juice, and for putting up with constant hand sanitizer (we call it slime to make it fun). Super Wings episodes on his iPad kept him still and entertained the whole time. Thank goodness it is a short flight! And while I have always thought the outdoor tarmac arrival at Kona’s airport was hot, humid and loud, I have never appreciated the immediate dose of fresh air and sunshine more than this trip. We made it!


Our Seven Tips

1. Fly out first. If you are an early bird and a germaphobe (who isn’t these days?), consider booking the first flight of the day. Hawaiian Airlines cleans Neighbor Island flights between each trip, but sprays the aircraft with hospital-grade disinfectants every night. You can read more about the airline’s cleaning procedures here.


2. Select your seats. Opt for a window seat or wherever you can be farthest away from other passengers. Avoid a surprise seating situation, such as the one I encountered, by confirming your seats with the gate agent prior to boarding.


3. Do your prep work. To avoid airport delays and stress, print and fill out the State of Hawai‘i Traveler Health Form at home 24 hours prior to your flight. This new form is mandatory for all interisland travel as of June 16. Each person needs his or her own form, including infants and children. Read the FAQs.


Photo: by Laura Dornbush


4. Find comfortable masks. Face masks are required inside the airports and on Hawaiian Airlines flights. Young children unable to keep masks on and people with medical conditions or disabilities which prevent mask use are exempt. Children younger than 2 years old should not wear a mask. Check out these tips on how to get your keiki to keep their masks on.


5. Carry cleaning supplies. I was impressed to see hand sanitizer stations throughout the airport terminal. TSA is also currently allowing passengers to bring up to 12 ounces of liquid hand sanitizer in carry-on bags. Although we were given a hand wipe by a flight attendant as we boarded, it was tiny and flimsy. I brought my own canister of Lysol wipes to disinfect our seats, tray tables and arm rests.


6. Stash some snacks. Bring easy-to-eat snacks, such as granola bars or sandwiches that don’t require you to come in contact with an airport table or plane tray table. Starbucks was the only food establishment open in the interisland terminal when we traveled. The other restaurants and the Hawaiian Airlines Premier and Plumeria Lounges were closed.


7. Check your bags and your expectations. You can do all the research and preparation, but know that there is bound to be some turbulence—whether it is a change in policy, a long line or a toddler tantrum. When you reach your final destination to reconnect with family or visit a favorite spot, you’ll remember that it’s all worth it.


If you are debating whether to travel this summer, this article is insightful for parents on weighing the risks. The decision to travel during the COVID-19 pandemic is a personal one, and only you know what is right for your family. As travel guidelines, advisories and procedures are constantly evolving, stay up-to-date with information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the State of Hawai‘i and your airline before your trip. Safe travels!