Travel & Day Trips

San Francisco to Hawaii Flight Time; Details from a Pro Traveler

Hawaii is known as a paradise for many travelers worldwide. This U.S. state, consisting of a beautiful archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, is a top destination for San Francisco residents.

If you’re considering a trip from the “City by the Bay” to the Hawaiian Islands, understanding the travel time and logistics is crucial.

As a professional travel photographer, I make the trek from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area to Maui, Hawaii at least once per year, and I’ve done it for almost a decade now! Here are my tips about average flight times, and how to make your Hawaii flight more pleasant.

Flight Duration

First off, let’s tackle the basics. How long does it take to fly from San Francisco to Hawaii?

Flying over the coast off San Francisco is lovely

The flight duration from San Francisco (SFO) to Honolulu (HNL), Hawaii’s capital, typically ranges from 5 hours to 5 hours and 30 minutes, non-stop.

This time can vary slightly due to factors such as wind speed and direction. The other islands have very similar flight times.

Flight RouteAverage Duration
San Francisco to Honolulu5h 15m
San Francisco to Maui5h 25m
San Francisco to Kauai5h 30m
San Francisco to Big Island5h 35m

What Influences Flight Time?

Several factors can affect the duration of your flight. These often vary by the season.

  • Wind Speed and Direction: Tailwinds (winds moving in the same direction as the plane) can shorten flight time, while headwinds (winds moving against the plane) can extend it. Since you’re traveling East to West when flying to Hawaii from SF, you’ll almost always have a headwind slowing you down. The good news? The return trip is faster because of the tailwind!
  • Flight Path: The specific route taken by the airplane can also affect flight time. This varies based on weather (see below), how many other planes are in the air, etc.
  • Weather Conditions: Severe weather can lengthen your flight time, as planes may need to slow down or take longer routes to avoid storms.
  • Air Traffic: Busy air traffic can cause delays in take-off and landing.

Ground delays are also a huge factor in your overall flight time. Most flights from the Bay Area leave on time. But if there’s a storm or severe fog in San Francisco, you might take off late.

I find that most of my Hawaii flights have either been on time or only delayed by 15-30 minutes. In 8 years of flying to Hawaii from SFO and OAK, I’ve never had a flight canceled.

Landing in Maui, Hawaii on my recent trip from San Francisco

Nonstop Flights

One perk of living on the West Coast is that most flights to Hawaii are nonstop. The ones with stops usually have a single stop in either San Diego or Los Angeles. That means fewer opportunities for delays or long layovers.

Best Airlines for this Route

Southwest often has the lowest cost flights

Numerous airlines operate flights from San Francisco to various Hawaiian Islands. Here are some popular choices:

  1. Hawaiian Airlines: Known for their in-flight services, Hawaiian Airlines offers direct flights to various islands. You’ll get a meal in flight, though I find the food isn’t that great!. I like that Hawaiian flies mostly large planes, so there’s more space, more restrooms, etc.
  2. Alaska Airlines: Alaska Airlines has a reputation for punctuality and offers multiple daily flights to Hawaii. I flew this route while it used to be Virgin America! I miss the mood lighting and funny safety video.
  3. United Airlines: As a major airline, United has several flights daily to Hawaii from San Francisco. I find they have the best times for their flights, and this is the airline I use most often these days.
  4. Southwest: Southwest is a newcomer to the San Francisco to Hawaii route. They often have fewer flights, but at a lower cost, than other airlines. I’ve flown Southwest to Maui out of Oakland International Airport and it worked well.

Remember, the choice of airline can significantly impact your flying experience. Airports matter too.

Flying over San Francisco. Sorry it’s so grainy!

The Best Airport to Fly to Hawaii from the Bay Area

When planning a flight from the Bay Area to Hawaii, you have several airport options to choose from. Each has its own pros and cons, and your choice may depend on factors such as your location, budget, flight availability, and personal preference.

Here are the three main airports in the Bay Area:

The view right after leaving SFO for Hawaii

1. San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

SFO is the largest airport in the Bay Area and offers the most flights, which can provide you with more flexibility in terms of flight times and airlines. However, SFO can also be the busiest, meaning you may experience longer lines and wait times.

  • Location: Located south of downtown San Francisco.
  • Airlines: Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines, among others.
  • Facilities: Numerous eateries, shops, and lounges. Free Wi-Fi is also available.

2. Oakland International Airport (OAK)

OAK is typically less crowded than SFO, which can make for a less stressful travel experience. It’s a good option if you live closer to Oakland or prefer a smaller airport.

  • Location: Located in Oakland, east of San Francisco.
  • Airlines: Southwest Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines provide direct flights to Hawaii.
  • Facilities: Offers a variety of restaurants and shops, with Wi-Fi available for a fee.

3. Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)

SJC, like OAK, is typically less crowded than SFO and may be more convenient if you live in or near San Jose.

  • Location: Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, in San Jose.
  • Airlines: Southwest Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, and Alaska Airlines offer direct flights to Hawaii.
  • Facilities: Features numerous eateries, shops, and lounges. Free Wi-Fi is also available.

Pro Tip: When booking your flight, check all three airports for flight times and prices. You might find that one airport offers a more convenient flight or a better deal than the others.

I usually fly through SFO because it has a lot of options and great amenities. I’ve also flown from oakland when I want to use Southwest, though.

Preparing for the Flight

Lots of airlines offer in-flight entertainment on their Hawaii routes from SF

Preparation is key when embarking on a lengthy flight. Here are some tips to make your journey more comfortable:

  • Hydrate: Drink plenty of water before and during the flight to avoid dehydration. When you land, you’ll find that Hawaii is way more humid and often warmer than SF! Plan accordingly, so that you have plenty of water ready both for the flight and the trek through Hawaii’s often-outdoor airports.
  • Dress Comfortably: Loose and layered clothing will help you adjust to changing cabin temperatures. If you’re leaving on a cold day in San Francisco, consider bringing a change of clothes so you can be ready for balmy temperatures in HI when you land.
  • Entertainment: The flight to Hawaii is mostly over the ocean, so there’s no interesting scenery! Most airlines provide in-flight entertainment, but bringing a book or downloading movies to your device can ensure you stay entertained. Keep in mind that Wifi often doesn’t work on Hawaii flights since you’re so far from land. So make sure to download shows to your device ahead of time.
  • Earplugs and Eye Mask: These can be helpful if you plan to sleep during the flight.

Jet Lag: What to Expect

Hawaii operates on Hawaii Standard Time, which is 3 hours behind Pacific Standard Time (PST) during standard time, and 2 hours behind during daylight saving time.

This time difference can cause jet lag for some travelers. I usually get more jet lag on the way back than on the way to Hawaii, but it varies by person, so be prepared.

To minimize jet lag:

  • Try to adjust your sleeping and eating schedule to match Hawaii time a few days before departure.
  • Stay hydrated and avoid alcohol or caffeine close to bedtime.
  • Try to get plenty of sleep during the flight if possible.
  • Plan for low key activities on the first evening after you arrive. You’re going to be tired!


Flying from San Francisco to Hawaii is a journey that, while lengthy, is well worth the time for the tropical paradise that awaits you. With the right preparations, you can ensure your flight is as enjoyable and comfortable as possible. So pack your bags, prepare your itinerary, and get ready for a memorable adventure to the Aloha State!

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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