Getting that fragrantly scented garland of flowers from Hawaii back to the mainland may seem challenging. Visitors that call California home have it easier than most. It’s roughly a five hour flight from Honolulu to the west coast, a comparatively easy jaunt for you and your leis. As long as you prepare the flowers and follow USDA plant transport regulations your colorful souvenirs of Hawaii will arrive home with you.

Preparing Your Lei For Travel

Buy your leis toward the end of your Hawaiian vacation. If the leis don’t already come in a plastic container, put them in a plastic bag and store them in the refrigerator until it’s time to leave. If your hotel room doesn’t have a mini-fridge, fill your sink with ice. If you’ve bought a small cooler to use for impromptu beach picnics or sightseeing safaris, this is a great storage alternative. You may be able to take the cooler on-board the aircraft if you haven’t exceeded the carry-on luggage allowance. Hawaiian Airlines ( for instance, offering several flights daily to California, allows one carry-on bag and one personal item per passenger. United Airlines ( has a similar policy.

USDA Regulations on Importation of Leis

All baggage must go through an agricultural inspection before departing Hawaii. Checked baggage is put through a screening machine before flight check-in. Carry-on luggage is inspected at the security check point. Leis that have any parts of a citrus plant including leaves or flowers are prohibited, as are leis made of the jade vine or the Mauna Loa, a fast growing lily. Sometimes citrus type flowers and leaves, such as the mock orange, are used in kukui nut leis. Advise the seller that you are buying your leis to take home to make sure they have no prohibited items. Don’t risk having your colorful Hawaiian blossoms confiscated before you even get on the plane.

Airport Lei Stands

Buying your leis from a vendor at Honolulu International Airport assures that your leis are as fresh as possible, packed for transport and that they are free of prohibited plants. On the airport’s entry road, a dozen lei stands are available, usually open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Leis are also available in florist shops and carts in the Overseas Terminal. A roving lei cart also sells leis in Baggage Claim, serving arrival flights. The Interisland Terminal also has a Flower Cart near security screening and is an option if you are connecting from an inter-island flight to a mainland carrier. Lei stands are also available at major airports on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island, but the selection isn’t as extensive. Kahului International on Maui, for example, has two lei stands, one near the ticket lobby and another on the second floor in the rotunda.

Preserving Your Leis

Once you’ve arrived home in California put your lei in the refrigerator in its transport container or a plastic bag. This will preserve the scent and keep the flowers from wilting, sometimes for a week or more. Certain types of leis need special care. For example, orchid leis do best when misted with fresh water before being stored in the refrigerator. Maile leis, made out of a vine with a spicy-sweet scent, kika flower leis and haku leis are often dried and kept on display. The dried maile leaves are often crushed and used as a sort of Hawaiian potpourri, giving clothes and rooms a fresh scent.