Every Route is the Scenic Route Going To and From Molokai (A Cranky Travelogue)

Hawaiian, Mokulele, Trip Reports, United

Let’s leave the pain of entering the state of Hawaiʻi in the last chapter and instead move on to something far better… my island hoppers to and from Molokai.

After lunch with my cousin on Maui, she dropped me back off at the airport, and I hung out in the newly-renovated commuter terminal.

The open air terminal is a throwback in many ways. It has a few seats, a bathroom, a ticket counter, and, well, some old, faded posters that didn’t get touched in the renovation, apparently.

I had strategically planned to take the 3:15pm flight because from 2pm to 3pm was the virtual open house at my kids’ school. There was no wifi in the commuter terminal, so I just logged on with my phone and it worked well enough.

Mokulele was operating on island time, so when our plane pulled up around our scheduled departure time, it didn’t take a genius to realize we’d be late. Nobody was stressed or concerned in the gate area about this, and that was a welcome change from the usual.

They did call us for boarding at gate 2 — which is also known as “the gate on the right side” as opposed to gate 1 which is “the gate on the left side” — and 5 of us headed to the door.

Mokulele does weight and balance calcs like all airlines, but on a tiny airplane, it means that they need to pick where each person will sit. They tell you when you line up to board which row you’ll be in, and I was in row 3 all by myself. A US military member took our temperatures — though I’m not sure why he’d been tasked to do that — and then we were escorted out to the airplane. The stiff tradewinds were out in force, and I could see our airplane bouncing in the breeze, ready to take to the air.

May 18, 2021
Mokulele 760 Lv Kahului 315p Arr Molokai 345p (Operated by Southern Airways Express)
Kahului (OGG): Gate 2, Runway 5, Depart 11m Late
Molokai (MKK): Gate 1, Runway 5, Arrive 5m Late
N857MA, Cessna 208 Grand Caravan, Standard Mokulele colors, 5/9 Onboard
Seat 3A, Coach
Flight Time 19m

The captain helped everyone up the steps into the rear of the cabin. I asked which way we were flying so I could pick a side, and he said we had to come from the south because it was too turbulent from the north that day. I was going to sit on the right side, but I noticed everyone else was too, so I just moved to the left side to balance it out.

The first officer looked to be about 10 years old, but she had an air of quiet confidence about her that made it seem like she’d been flying since she was born. She turned around and ran us through the safety basics, adding at the end that it was probably going to be bumpy due to the winds. She wasn’t wrong.

We took off and wobbled our way counter-clockwise around West Maui. I took this video of our departure — I apologize for the distortion from leaning against the sidewall with the props throbbing.

Once over the channel between Maui and Molokai, it had smoothed out, and the pilots seemed to be having fun finding ways to thread the needle around the clouds. After we passed Kapalua on West Maui, my gaze shifted toward the other side where I could see Molokai come into focus.

Four of the five of us were glued to the windows watching the spectacular scenery. The fifth person had her headphones on and eyes closed. I asked her later if she was a resident of Molokai, and she said yes. Why did I ask? Because unless you see that view regularly, there is no way you’re closing your eyes on that spectacular flight.

We approached Molokai from the southern coast, and it got choppy again as we lined up to land. I took a video of that as well. I love how the runway rises to the airplane right at the end.

Once we all got off the plane, everyone had to use hand sanitizer before being allowed to enter the terminal. Another military member took my temperature, and then I got my QR code scanned to let me in.

I headed over to the Alamo office and grabbed my $70/day car which is a bargain compared to elsewhere in Hawaiʻi right now… if you can even find a car elsewhere in Hawaiʻi. I was given a Nissan Kicks, which is a car I didn’t know existed, but it was a nice little ride. I mean, it was no Clifford, but Clifford wasn’t available this time, nor was anything else from the local rental brands.

I threw my stuff in the back, rolled down the windows (not literally… like I said, this wasn’t Clifford, so I had fancy power windows), flipped on KPOA, and headed out toward Town. I love the “slow down” reminder that greets you when you leave the airport. It actually, strangely, does put you in the right mindset.

I’ll have another chapter soon that talks about how I spent my time on Molokai, but after three short nights, it was time to start heading home. I love the early returns from the islands to the mainland that are now becoming more commonplace, but when I have to connect in from another island, it changes the calculus a bit since I don’t want to get up too early. I ended up going with a Hawaiian flight home from Maui, but I’ll cover that in another chapter. For today, let’s just talk about getting back to Maui.

I’m not sure why, but I left the hotel at 8am for a 9:15am flight. That was just way too early. I stopped for gas where I took note both of the insanely high prices and the local flavor on the gas grade names.

After filling up, I headed up to the airport and dropped off the car. From there, it was a short walk to the terminal.

I went up to the counter and checked in. They told me to take a seat, and I found a seat right across from the forlorn ʻOhana by Hawaiian check-in desk.

As you may recall, Hawaiian had to shut down ʻOhana operations as part of its pilot deal since it had cut back so significantly on its own flying. That meant Hawaiian had to pull out of Molokai and Lānaʻi since its own aircraft couldn’t safely operate there. You can tell that the closure didn’t happen until well into the pandemic, because the six foot spacers are on the ground. Now, Hawaiian has announced ʻOhana will be shut down for good, so I assume this will just become a tomb unless some other airline surprisingly wants to take it over.

I sat there for awhile, awaiting our airplane, when some people I had met a couple days prior walked in. They were off to Honolulu and then on to Līhuʻe. They were visiting every island, which meant that they needed to get new COVID tests every few days despite being vaccinated. This is just so silly, and I’m glad the interisland requirement is lifted now.

Finally, a few minutes after scheduled departure… again, thanks Mokulele… our airplane pulled up. I was only getting slightly nervous since I had about a 1.5 hour connection and hoped TSA lines in Maui wouldn’t be bad.

This airplane was in a blue color scheme, probably because this was the hastily-applied paint job after the airline took over Makani Kai and its fleet.

This time we had a full load, and they lined us up by row. Yet again, I was in row 3. I feel like this says something about my weight, but I’m not gonna try to research that any further.

We walked out the airplane and despite the early hour the tradewinds had already begun kicking up. I was going to ask which side to sit on when I heard the boarding agent reverently refer to the other person in row 3 as “auntie.” I wasn’t going to challenge her on where to sit, and I was going to let her get on first. I just took the seat on the right after she took the left.

May 21, 2021
Mokulele 744 Lv Molokai 915a Arr Kahului 945a
Molokai (MKK): Gate 1, Runway 5, Depart 14m Late
Kahului (OGG): Gate 2, Runway 5, Arrive 15m Late
N865MA, Cessna 208 Grand Caravan, Blue logo colors, 9/9 Onboard
Seat 3B, Coach
Flight Time 25m

Once onboard, I was really quite surprised to find the interior looking completely different than on the Mokulele airplanes. While Mokulele had a wood bulkhead between the cockpit and the cabin, this airplane had nothing. And Mokulele had seats in the back, but this one had nothing there. Instead, it put a bench in the front row.

The Mokulele plane looked nicer, but the Makani Kai seats were really comfortable.

The pilots told us that it would again be bumpy, and it would be a 25 minute flight as we fought our way through the winds. We took off and circled around to the south where we had a great view of the southern barrier reef off Molokai.

We then cruised between the islands for awhile. That’s Lānaʻi on my right, and you can see all the white caps down below.

As we got closer to Maui, the winds picked up as they gusted off the mountains, and it tossed us around a little. But you gotta love an experienced group of local passengers like this. Nobody even flinched. We cruised up the isthmus and you could see the wind whipping the dirt up.

We touched down on runway 5. During the taxi back to the gate, one of the passengers said, “It’s been years since I’ve flown a small airplane around McGregor. That was great.” McGregor is that southernmost point on West Maui that you drive on just as you begin to circumnavigate the mountain on the way to Lahaina. The captain responded, “yeah, and it wasn’t too bad today.”

I took that to mean that it’s usually not the route they fly. (The last time I flew this route, I went along the north coast the whole way.) And, I figured this meant that this barely even counted as bumpiness. Welcome to small plane flying in Hawaiʻi. I really enjoyed it.

Once we landed, I walked in, had my temp checked, cursed when I was told I had to create a new “trip” in Safe Travels for that flight, and then I was off to the main terminal for my flight home.

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14 comments on “Every Route is the Scenic Route Going To and From Molokai (A Cranky Travelogue)

  1. Love the step by step walkthroughs, pics and videos of these trip reports, er, travelogues. Almost as good as being there!

  2. Why was a UA 737 sitting at a remote area of the tarmac? It’s not like OGG ever gets totally full at the gates, even before the pandemic happened. And UA has no reason to do long layovers at OGG that would require the plane be moved from the gate…especially with 737s.

    Perhaps the plane went mechanical…

    1. Doug – That was a 767! And I have no clue. The only thing I could think is that there was a plane that came in that morning that wouldn’t turn around until the redeye, so they pulled it aside. But it could have gone mechanical or it could have been a charter as well.

      1. GAH! The winglets fooled me. I forgot some have them and some don’t. I thought it looked big for a 737.

  3. “A US military member took our temperatures — though I’m not sure why he’d been tasked to do that ”

    They’re probably just tapping National Guard or Reserve for help – I had a National Guard member take my temp last time I had to get a COVID test here in Florida.

    Beautiful views from the Grand Caravan – I’ve always loved flying Caravans around Belize between Belize City, Caye Caulker, and San Pedro Town, great views from the side and of the instruments on a few occasions too!

    1. Correct on this. National Guard has been handling a lot of COVID duties on the Islands, especially at the smaller airports.

  4. That cars license plate looks like it’s hit a few things since it so bent up…..LOL

    The Regular Kine gas at $5.029 is only about 30-35 cents more then it has been where I live in May when you traveled, so not so bad.

  5. Taking people’s temperatures STILL?? Come on. And taxpayers are paying for that.

    Useless waste of money that won’t stop one case of COVID.

  6. Interesting that you got a temp check. I don’t recall getting one anywhere in HI except at the Maui Ocean Center.

    Also, hats off to the folks who hit every island rather than just the big four. I felt the pain on *one* COVID test on-island. Forget multiple.

  7. Thank you for celebrating my birthday (May 21) with this flight! I didn’t get to fly on that day this year, but the Mrs. & I are planning a trip later this summer.

    Money spent on airline tickets is never wasted!

  8. You’re making me very jealous… Not so much because of Hawaii and the views, but because of the flying.

    I’m not a pilot, but I love flying in small planes, and I enjoy a bit of turbulence (as long as no one gets hurt or sick, I consider it part of the fun of flying, as flying in a big plane without turbulence can feel too sanitized and detached from actually being in the sky). I flew as in a plane like a Grand Caravan (or similar) from Love to Boone County, AR, on an EAS flight many years ago, and can’t wait to do that again, so much fun.

    On a final note… I am absolutely SALIVATING at the look of the wood bulkhead in the first plane you flew. Wow, just wow. Wish I knew what type of wood that is (or what type of wood they are trying to simulate, as I assume it’s probably veneered or composite) so that I could get some boards and make myself a nice table or desk that looks like that.

  9. Nice travel report, enjoyed the read, it gives me a look into small Island flying, as I’ve only done the big four working Aloha Air Cargo. Aloha Cargo now has a few mainland routes, and these are routes I currently work. I prefer working Aloha’s mainland routes now for better schedule. Otherwise, I would be doing all graveyard shifts flying inter-island, which is too hard on the body in my option. Aloha, Ken S. B-737 Captain

  10. I made this trip a few years ago. Your descriptions and pictures helped me relive my favorite memories again. Thank you.

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