Honolulu International Airport

Hawaii Airports Rank Worst in US After Billions Spent

Under the terrible management of the Hawaii Department of Transportation, and still without an airport authority as found in nearly every other state in the US, Hawaii’s two largest airports just ranked near the very bottom of all US airports, based on the 2023 JD Power survey. The embarrassing rankings have been similar for years, and it isn’t improving despite enormous multi-billion dollar Hawaii airport renovation cash infusions and the unknown cost of a recent “runaway” runway repair.

According to the annual Airport Satisfaction Survey, using a 1,000-point scale, JD Power checked passenger satisfaction across their range of categories, including “airport accessibility, check-in/baggage check, security, food/beverage/retail, terminal facilities, baggage claim, and immigration/customs.”

The 2023 results come after the quasi-completion of the latest oddly designed, incomplete $270 Million Mauka terminal addition, the new consolidated car rental facility, and the drawn out runway repair of unknown cost, somewhere north of $100 million.

Their study finds that the island airports remain largely outdated and rundown, with aging and not updated facilities, poor technology, inadequate design, and, above all else, terrible management.

“Keep the charm, but make improvements!”

That was a comment we received from a regular visitor, who noted that in spite of the apparent appeal that includes such uniques as the splendid cultural gardens at HNL, Hawaii’s airports are third-world quality.

HNL: Honolulu was again second to the bottom for large U.S. airports. The worst rated this year was Philadelphia, which took last year’s honor away from La Guardia, while the best was Tampa (Miami the previous year), followed by John Wayne.

OGG: For medium airports, with 4.5 million to 9.9 million annual passengers, Kahului Maui scored the worst of all airports in the US. That’s even below their consistently bad rankings in previous years. The highest-ranked medium airport this year was again Indianapolis.

What we still love about HNL.

As funky and dysfunctional as Honolulu airport is, there are still things we find to love about it and probably always will. Those include unique outdoor terminal spaces, various cultural-themed areas, the iconic Reef Runway, and the efficient new rental car facility.

Airlines have long been frustrated with Hawaii’s airports.

Over a period of years, many airlines have exclaimed about their dissatisfaction with multiple aspects of Hawaii airports and their management. United Airlines CEO was the most recent to comment about the bleak state of Honolulu airport, which he said 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. At the hands of poor management, you’ll recall that a few years ago, HNL suffered a huge power outage when the backup system failed during testing. Beyond the poor and inflexible design, the airport mismanagement by the Hawaii Department of Transportation is the most frequently mentioned issue related to Honolulu Airport’s problems.

Hawaii’s airports within the Department of Transportation.

Hawaii airports don’t operate from the state’s general fund but use airline fees, airport businesses, and concessionaires for funding. Spending is subject to legislative approval, however. Hawaii airports also receive federal funding, and the state anticipates up to a quarter billion in such funds over the next few years.

$2.3 B Honolulu airport modernization project.

Honolulu’s airport is still in an endless multi-billion dollar renovation. The new Hawaiian Airlines’ Mauka Concourse opened as part of the modernization, with its 230,000 square feet, accommodating up to 11 single-aisle or six double-aisle aircraft plus six TSA checkpoints.

The new consolidated car rental facility opened two years ago. Electric buses following.

The 1,800,000-square-foot Consolidated Rent-A-Car (Conrac) Facility opened at Honolulu Airport in December 2021. It is accessible via shuttle or walk and is awaiting electric buses the state has ordered as a service on a monthly use basis.

Hawaiian Airline’s take on the Mauka Terminal.

“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 will make the airport experience even better here in Honolulu,” said CEO Peter Ingram.

He failed to mention that the state got caught in endless red tape between it, contractors, and the food service concessionaire, among other issues. We concur that the TSA situation improved significantly along with the new terminal.

With a tourism-based economy, shouldn’t Hawaii have world-class airports?

This seems too obvious, and yet it doesn’t change. The airports are an embarrassment to visitors, Hawaii residents, airlines and other stakeholders, and Hawaii businesses alike.

Will Hawaii add an airport authority?

Proposals have been floated for Hawaii to have an airport authority rather than having the airports as a part of the overall Hawaii Department of Transportation. The DOT has wide-ranging responsibilities besides civil aviation and cannot effectively manage any aspect of Hawaii’s airports. Alaska, Hawaii, and Maryland are the only states without an independent authority. Airlines have called for an airport authority, hoping that will still happen.

Please let us know your thoughts about Hawaii’s airports and how to improve them.

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19 thoughts on “Hawaii Airports Rank Worst in US After Billions Spent”

  1. Don’t forget about the other outer island airports like Lihue, Kona, and Hilo who all have outdated, aging infrastructure as well. You would think that for one of Hawaii’s biggest economic drivers it would be a priority. Apparently a backburner issue for State DOT-A. I agree, an embarrassment to our state.

  2. I have no issues with Hawaii airports. I love the outdoor areas and open air feel. Staff is friendly and helpful. We accept the extra fruit inspection for flying into California. I only flew into Honolulu once in 2022 but had no issues. It felt as good as the other Islands. True there are not a lot of stores or food options while you wait, but the open air makes up for that.

  3. HNL is one of the most dysfunctional airports around. Even the curbside column numbering inexplicably ends halfway down the length of the terminal (hopefully this has been corrected in the past year). But it’s great to get off a long flight and into the open air on the way to baggage claim. LGB (Long Beach) modernized their terminal while keeping a lot of the 1930’s charm and architecture. They didn’t spend a lot on jetways and hermetically sealed concourses.

    A friend works for a large company that sells parts that go into infrastructure worldwide. Their products are perfect for the Hawaii climate, but they’ve stopped bidding on contracts with state or local government involvement.

  4. Well I will say on a positive note , OGG very much improved the car rental facility and also included a tram ! It is very convenient.

  5. Hawaii is dependent on the tourist industry. Ergo they need the airports on all the major islands to run efficiently and be a welcoming sight as said tourist disembark from long exhausting flights. To keep things moving smoothly it would seem to be common sense that these airports should be given their own regulatory agency and not be bundled in to another department.

  6. Hmmmm… I dunno. I live on Maui and fly in and out quite often, frequently connecting in Honolulu. I don’t get what all the fuss is about. Both airports are clean. Both have places to eat and buy booze, food, snacks, souvenirs. Staff are friendly. Security is way faster than most mainland airports (I have TSA PreCheck). Both have lots of space to sit and wait. Ground transport zones are plentiful and near baggage areas. I think we Americans have become so bored and sedentary that a little bit of walking and waiting without constant entertainment and snacking seems like a travesty to us. Airports are for safe, predictable entry / exit from aircraft and transit in and out of the area. The rest is icing on the cake.

  7. I fly from/to KOA frequently. It really needs cleaning. The airport should hire people to pick up debris and clean the surfaces. I feel like I need a shower after passing though. The concessionaires are the worst. Prime example: the always-crowded Hawaiian Air first class “lounge”, with far too few seats/tables and its third-world-class amenities. Throw in the roaring box fans in the public bathrooms. Altogether, sad.

  8. Aloha! Just got back from OGG around 3 weeks ago. Sure, the departures area could use a pressure wash or a coat of paint, but the airport is perfectly usable. In my opinion, spending a pile of money would do Zero towards making my trip or vacation more enjoyable.

  9. How does one spend billons of dollars on upgrading an airport (HNL) and be ranked in the worst in the US? And the Maui airport was also ranked the worst in the US for medium size airports. It appears that the government in Hawaii has many issues to deal with not just fires destroying Lahaina. At what point do the citizens of Hawaii call for a special election to replace the governor on Hawaii and all elected officials in Maui. Unless something is not done to elect government officials who are qualified the issues are only going to get worst.

    Another major issue in Hawaii is the minimum wage. It is currently $12/hour and will go up to $14/hour in 2024. The state needs to move faster in getting the minimum wage up to $19 hour.

  10. Building Industry Hawaii had article about the completed and ongoing construction projects at Daniel K. Inouye Int’l Airport:

    The DKI runway improvement project you mentioned in your blog
    post widened runway 8L from 150 feet to 200 feet and rehabbed the pavement.This project started in October 2022 and cost 111.2 million dollars.

  11. I figure that the architects that came up with the new terminal were either drunk, on drugs, or maybe both for that design! An incredible amount of dead air space that must be cooled at all times because of the huge sun exposure and to say that it lacks real amenities is a huge understatement! And the real kicker is that as bad as this terminal is, if you are flying into LAX you get a giant surprise in just how long it takes to get from the gates that Hawaiian uses to the baggage claim area and please do not insult us by saying that there is a shuttle service that will take you there as they are few and far between. Nice looking versus functional are two very different things as the Hawaiian DOT has demonstrated beyond all imagination!

  12. Amazing how status-quo is fine. All the Hawaiian airports scream of 1960’s and 70’s with band aid approaches at Everything. Sure HNL has one new concourse. In all honest Every part of HNL outside the new concourse needs to be turn down, rebuilt and footprints on buildings adjusted for better use of the space. OGG feels depressing – at check in and in the terminals. Compare this to developing nation airports – Hawaii is way way way behind the curve. Sadly, nothing will change until the state moves it out of DoT and hires people who have built and run airports that are successful.

  13. On our way home from HNL last October I was talking to an architect
    who told me that HNL was the worst designed airport facility
    that he had ever seen.

  14. The Car Rental Center is a prime example of the Problem at HNL. A brand new flashy center with walls of waterfall and no direct access to terminals. It is crazy you have to push all your bags into the elevator go down to the 1st floor push it over the bumpy herb across the road, over the bumpy herb and up the slope through the doors, push it into the elevator and then push it out and try to find an Agriculture scanner this is open and will allow you to use it. As someone with mobility issues I hate HNL. The gardens are cool and the open layout is cool but the facilities and the layout are terrible. Maybe the HART will go through the airport without stopping, that would be consistent.

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