Short layover in Honolulu? It’s easy! (But I don’t recommend it)

Short layover in Honolulu? It’s easy! (But I don’t recommend it)

Have a short layover in Honolulu coming up? Don’t worry. The Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) is very passenger friendly and easy to navigate. The only problem you’re going to have is feeling sad for not having enough time to enjoy how amazing the airport is.

Domestic layovers over in Honolulu can be as short as 35 minutes. You’re going to want at least 1 hour to make a domestic to international connection, and probably 2 hours to make an international to domestic connection.

If that’s not enough to calm your fears, keep reading, as I’ll explain every possible situation in greater detail below. I can’t promise that I’ll make you feel any better about not spending enough time in Honolulu though. That’s on you.

The reason why short layovers are ok in Honolulu

Short layovers are possible in Honolulu because of how simple the airport terminal design is. It’s not a small airport, but all concourses are connected airside and are accessible from one another once you pass the security checkpoint (no matter which security checkpoint you enter through).

tourists in Honolulu airport
Poor guy is just trying to get a pic of his family, but they seem more interested in that ANA A380 getting loaded up for the return to Tokyo.

Not only that, there is no designated international terminal at HNL. International flights tend to be grouped together with domestic flights of partner airlines, so it’s unlikely that you’re going to have to make a mad dash across the airport from one concourse to the next to make a connection.

For example, ANA international departures and arrivals are grouped together with United Airlines departures and arrivals (since both airlines are part of the Star Alliance).

What is the shortest recommended layover for domestic flights in Honolulu?

Layovers for domestic flights in Honolulu are a piece of cake, and can be made in as little as 35 minutes (see below). Since you won’t have to go through additional security checkpoints to move from one concourse to the next, it won’t take very long to get to your connecting gate.

Intra-island flights

Connecting to an intra-island flight from another domestic flight (whether it’s from the mainland or another island), is extremely simple. Having less than an hour to do it is plenty of time.

There are no additional security checks, and it’s just a matter of walking from one gate to the next. Since the Honolulu Airport is relatively organized and easy to navigate, it’s not going take long to reach your connection gate walking at a relatively normal pace.

waiting in the Honolulu airport
You know that there’s at least one person in this pic who is mad at themselves for choosing too long of a layover.

Another reason why very short layovers are possible for inter-island flights is because of how small the aircraft typically are. It takes far less time to board an inter-island flight than it does for a flight to the mainland or an international destination. Speaking of which…

Mainland flights

You’re going to want at least 1 hour layover to connect to a US mainland flight from any other domestic flight at Honolulu. Not because you have to go through any additional security checks or anything, but simply because the aircraft are typically larger and they take longer to board.

What is the shortest recommended layover for international flights in Honolulu?

The layover time that you’ll need to make an international connection at Honolulu is a little longer than it is for domestic flights.

Connecting TO an international flight

Connecting to an international flight from a domestic flight at HNL is nearly the same as what you’ll need for a domestic to domestic connection.

However, since the aircraft are typically larger, and federal regulations require being onboard earlier than you would for a domestic flight, 1 hour and 20 minutes is what I would recommend for a domestic to international connection at HNL.

Honolulu airport terminal 2 walkway
Ain’t nobody happy to be leaving Hawaii. You should have seen the frown on the face of that girl in the brown skirt lol.

Connecting FROM an international flight

Connecting from an international flight to another flight (either domestic or international) is going to take 2 hours at least. Anything less than that would make me nervous, since you will be required to go through passport control and customs upon arrival.

Although the Honolulu Airport is well-equipped to handle international arrivals, getting through passport control and customs can take a while if you arrive at the same time as other international flights.

If it were me, I would want at least 3 hours to make this as stress-free as possible. Even if things go smoothly, it’s going to take the time to get through passport control and customs (and then to have to re-clear security), so the more time you have, the better.

A brief overview of the terminal layout at Honolulu Daniel K. Inouye International Airport

The Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL) is one of my favorites. Unlike most other airports in the US, there are large portions of the airport that are exposed to the elements (meaning that you’ll get to go outside to walk between concourses).

HNL Terminal Map
HNL has two terminals with five individual concourses. It’s easily one of the most walkable airports in all the US.

The fact that you can go outside and get some fresh air between flights (without having to re-clear security) is one of the things that makes short layovers in Honolulu something that I wouldn’t reccomend. This is a nice airport to spend some time in!

Travel time between all terminals at HNL

The Honolulu Airport is fairly small as far as large international airports go. Walking from one end to the other shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes (assuming that you can do it without stopping to take in the sights of the surrounding landscape). And yes, all terminals / gates are connected airside. 

I’ve spent a lot of time in the Honolulu Airport over the past 20 years, and I feel like I’ve gotten to know it pretty well. Here’s how long it typically takes me to walk from one part of the airport to the other:

Terminal 1 A gates to:

  • Terminal 1 B gates: 5 minutes
  • Terminal 2 C gates: 7 minutes
  • Terminal 2 D gates: 8 minutes
  • Terminal 2 E gates: 10 minutes
  • Terminal 2 F gates: 11 minutes
  • Terminal 2 G gates: 16 minutes

Terminal 1 B gates to:

  • Terminal 1 A gates: 5 minutes
  • Terminal 2 C gates: 2 minutes
  • Terminal 2 D gates: 3 minutes
  • Terminal 2 E gates: 5 minutes
  • Terminal 2 F gates: 6 minutes
  • Terminal 2 G gates: 11 minutes

Terminal 2 C gates (Ewa Concourse) to:

  • Terminal 1 A gates: 7 minutes
  • Terminal 1 B gates: 2 minutes
  • Terminal 2 D gates: 2 minutes
  • Terminal 2 E gates: 3 minutes
  • Terminal 2 F gates: 4 minutes
  • Terminal 2 G gates: 9 minutes

Terminal 2 D gates (Central Concourse) to:

  • Terminal 1 A gates: 8 minutes
  • Terminal 1 B gates: 3 minutes
  • Terminal 2 C gates: 2 minutes
  • Terminal 2 E gates: 2 minutes
  • Terminal 2 F gates: 3 minutes
  • Terminal 2 G gates: 8 minutes

Terminal 2 E gates (Central Concourse) to:

  • Terminal 1 A gates: 10 minutes
  • Terminal 1 B gates: 5 minutes
  • Terminal 2 C gates: 3 minutes
  • Terminal 2 D gates: 2 minutes
  • Terminal 2 F gates: 12 minutes
  • Terminal 2 G gates: 7 minutes

Terminal 2 F gates (Central Concourse) to:

  • Terminal 1 A gates: 11 minutes
  • Terminal 1 B gates: 6 minutes
  • Terminal 2 C gates: 4 minutes
  • Terminal 2 D gates: 2 minutes
  • Terminal 2 E gates: 4 minutes
  • Terminal 2 G gates: 5 minutes

Terminal 2 G gates (Diamond Head Concourse) to:

  • Terminal 1 A gates: 16 minutes
  • Terminal 1 B gates: 11 minutes
  • Terminal 2 C gates: 9 minutes
  • Terminal 2 D gates: 8 minutes
  • Terminal 2 E gates: 7 minutes
  • Terminal 2 F gates: 5 minutes

You should also note that (depending on what concourse your flight is departing from) you may have to pass through an agricultural checkpoint. It’s basically an x-ray machine for your bags, but you don’t have to go through a metal detector of any kind. Plan on a couple extra minutes if one of these agricultural inspection stations is in operation.

How long of a layover do you need in Honolulu for a no-stress connection?

Whenever I make a domestic to domestic connection in Honolulu, I want a layover of at least 2 hours. I never end up needing more than an hour, but there’s no harm in being extra cautious. Flight delays, bad weather, being mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape surrounding the airport… anything can happen and you’ll want to be prepared for it.

I would want 3 hours for an international connection at Honolulu (either to a domestic flight or another international flight). 4 hours might be even better, but depending on how quickly the passport control and customs line is moving, that may be a bit overkill. A 3 hour layover is my minimum for this kind of connection though. Anything less than that, and I’m starting to stress out.

SANspotter selfie Honolulu airport
One of the reasons why I like long layovers is so that I can eat. Here I am regretting my decision to eat a sandwich from Starbucks before a flight back to the mainland in Hawaiian Airlines A330 Extra Comfort.

How does the Honolulu airport compare to other major US airports for short layovers?

I consider HNL to be one of the easiest US airports to make short connections in. Yes, some of the concourses are old and outdated, but the airport keeps getting better, and with each new improvement, it becomes more efficient. Here’s how short layovers here compare to short layovers in other airports:

Hawaiian Airlines A330s at Honolulu airport
Even if short layovers were a problem at HNL, that still wouldn’t make me feel less of this airport. I’d rather be stressed in paradise than Atlanta!

Tips for making really short layovers at Honolulu

My biggest tip for making a short layover in Honolulu is to avoid short connection times altogether. Seriously, it’s one of the most interesting airports in the US, and not having the time to walk through it at a leisurely pace and soak it all in would be a travesty.

However, as a frequent flyer, I know that short layovers are impossible to avoid sometimes. Here’s how to handle them at HNL without stressing out:

  • Have a plan before you go! Study the terminal map before you arrive, just to get a sense of where you need to go once you arrive.
  • Extra patience will be necessary. I’d wager to bet that there are more in frequent fliers transiting through the Honolulu airport on a daily basis more than any other in the United States. Hawaii is a vacation destination after all, so be prepared to deal with large families with small kids and people who generally aren’t as familiar with the air travel process.
  • Don’t stress out if you have to pass through an agricultural checkpoint before entering a concourse. Although the lines For these may look long, they move longevity quickly and you’ll be through it and just a matter of minutes.

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