LA to Honoulu is a journey of 2556 miles. LA to NYC 2451 miles. There’s not much difference. And yet we often see sale economy class fares on the LA/NYC routes for $250 round-trip when there’s a sale, while typical LA to Honolulu fares are $450 round-trip or often quite a lot more.
Part of the price difference, of course, results from our old friend supply and demand. But some of it has to do with ETOPS. That stands for Extended-range Twin-Engine Operational Performance Standards or, droller, "Engines Turn Or Passengers Swim.”
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration establishes regulations and procedures governing the operation of long flights on twin-engine planes over water and other countries’ aviation authorities establish their own rules as well.
To gain approval, manufacturers must include extra redundancy for key systems like electrical, hydraulics, fire suppression, and communications, so these planes are more expensive to build and buy to begin with. And, as I learned on a recent visit to Hawaiian Airlines’ head offices in Honolulu, in addition, these ETOPS-certified aircraft require much more frequent maintenance checks of engines, hydraulic systems, and other key components (extra maintenance checks means extra cost for the airline) and they must carry extra emergency oxygen and fire suppression canisters on board. They also have to carry more fuel than non-ETOPS aircraft, and of course extra fuel means extra weight which means burning extra fuel to carry that extra weight. They also carry more life rafts, which also adds weight and burns more fuel.
So while these extra operational costs don’t entirely explain why flights to Hawaii (or any ETOPS flights) cost more than those mostly over land, keep them in mind next time you grumble about airfares to Hawaii.