Hawaii’s largest airports continue to rank near the very bottom of all airports in the US, based on a 2022 survey of airports by JD Power. That has been true for years and remains so to this day, in spite of the enormous multi-billion dollar Hawaii airports renovation cash infusion.
According to the Airport Satisfaction Survey, “airports are scored on a 1,000-point scale, assessing traveler satisfaction across seven categories: airport accessibility, check-in/baggage check, security, food/beverage/retail, terminal facilities, baggage claim, and immigration/customs.”
The latest result comes even after Honolulu opened an oddly designed, incomplete $270 Million terminal expansion and its new consolidated car rental facility. And yet, even after so much money, Hawaii’s airports have largely outdated and rundown facilities and restrooms, old technology, inflexible and inferior design, and terrible management. In other words, in spite of remaining charm, these are, sadly, now third-world quality airports. As regular Joerg suggested – “keep the charm while making improvements.”
HNL: In terms of large airports in the U.S., Honolulu was only second to the bottom. The worst rated was La Guardia, while the best was Miami.
OGG: For medium airports, with 4.5 million to 9.9 million annual passengers, Kahului Maui again scored second worst of all airports in the US (their consistent ranking the past few years). The highest-ranked medium airport this year was Indianapolis.
What we still love about HNL.
As funky and dysfunctional as the airport is, there are still things we find to love about Honolulu airport. Those include unique outdoor terminal spaces, various cultural garden theme areas, the iconic Reef Runway, and the efficient new rental car facility.
Airlines, too, are frustrated with Hawaii airports.
We have heard from multiple airlines that serve Hawaii, even as recently as this week, about their dissatisfaction with various aspects of Hawaii’s airports and management. So, sadly, it came as no surprise to us when United Airlines’ CEO said that the dismal state of HNL airport negatively impacts travel to the Hawaiian Islands.
Issues include dilapidated facilities across the board, from restrooms not working or not yet upgraded, to often broken luggage movers. Right before Covid, you’ll recall HNL also suffered a serious power failure. It closed most facilities and sent passengers outside in enormous lines when a power backup system failed while during testing. Other than poor design, the inept airport management by the Hawaii Department of Transportation is most frequently mentioned as being at the root of the HNL troubles.
Where does Hawaii airport funding come from?
Hawaii’s airports are a division of the state’s Department of Transportation. The airports don’t operate from the general fund but rather generate revenue via various airline fees, airport businesses, and concessionaires. That’s how Jeff ended up with a $21 veggie burger as his only choice at HNL recently. The airport spending is, however, still subject to Hawaii legislative approval. The airports also receive some federal funding. For example, federal funds may infuse as much as $250M in Hawaii airports over the next five years.
HNL’s just completed $270m terminal expansion.
As you’ll see from the year-old state DOT video below, the stark terminal sits empty in terms of amenities, as it largely does to this day.
$2.3 airport modernization yielded what exactly?
Honolulu’s airport remains at the heart of a seemingly endless $2.3 billion renovation project. The new Mauka Concourse opened with 230k square feet and a facility that can accommodate up to 11 single-aisle or six double-aisle aircraft and six TSA checkpoints. The concourse was completed following more than three years of work. The previous significant addition at HNL was nearly thirty years ago when Terminal 1 was completed. Missing from the new concourse are food options and shops.
The new consolidated car rental facility opened one year ago. Electric buses are next.
A long-awaited 1.8M square foot Consolidated Rent-A-Car (Conrac) Facility opened at HNL on December 1, 2021. It is accessible as a walk from Terminal 1 or via shuttle (soon to be electric) from Terminal 1. A company called Vicinity will be providing four electric buses for that purpose. They are expected to arrive in 2023 and are being rented by the state as a service, on a month-to-month use basis, rather than via a traditional purchase model.
The state’s take on the new terminal project.
Gov. Ige said that “the extension of Terminal 1 will provide significant crowd relief during the mid-day peak period and allow our air transportation system to meet the needs of our residents and visitors safely and smoothly.”
The state DOT said that the new terminal features “eco-friendly design elements such as skylights and windows to make the best use of natural light, LED lighting, high-performance building envelope to reduce solar heat gain, and ventilation shafts to direct air conditioning at the human level instead of cooling the whole structure. The difference that you will see is that during the peak periods each day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when there’s a lot of congestion at the gates. So that will help deplete the congestion. Basically, this will help not only passenger traffic but the airlines. They’ll be able to work more efficiently because there won’t be delays due to gate shortages.”
Hawaiian Airlines on the new terminal.
Hawaiian Airlines added that the expansion will be helpful for travelers. “We are very excited to provide more space for our guests and more gates for the airplanes… Having more gates available and having it all near our check-in facility is going to make the airport experience even better here in Honolulu,” said CEO Peter Ingram when it opened. He failed to mention that the state got caught in endless red tape between it, contractors, and the food service concessionaire.
BOH’s take on the new terminal and on airport food.
The terminal leaves us and many of you cold, with its mainland design that doesn’t feel connected to the rest of the open-air HNL airport. Beyond that, the endless delays associated with providing food services in the terminal for whatever reasons are inexcusable. Lastly, even when food shows up, it is almost certain to be more of the same terrible options offered in the other terminals due to the state’s chosen concessionaire. In so many comments, you mentioned the lack of good choices, healthy choices, cultural options, and so on.
With an economy based only on tourism, obviously, Hawaii must have world-class airports.
Hawaii residents are as dependent as visitors on the airports since our inter-island transportation system is based exclusively on air travel. The inability of the state to provide excellence in our airport system is a top-down failure that has never been addressed. And it is an embarrassment to visitors, Hawaii residents, airlines and other stakeholders, and Hawaii businesses alike.
There have been proposals for the state to create an airport authority to be in charge of the system rather than being a part of the Hawaii Department of Transportation. The DOT is tasked with a wide range of other non-aviation responsibilities and does not manage the Hawaii airports effectively. A switch to an effective business model of independent airport management seems essential.
Almost every state in the country has such an independent airport entity, with the exceptions being Alaska, Hawaii, and Maryland. Airlines and others have called for an independent airport authority responsible for Hawaii’s 15 airports. That effort, however, has, for whatever reason, not made it through the state legislature.