As a travel addict, I’ve seen my fair share of airports around the world, including the good, they bad, and the ugly. I FINALLY got around to visiting Hawaii after all these years and I loved it all around. We visited both Kauai and Oahu and Kauai was by far the big winner. It was truly paradise! Oahu was nice but Honolulu is quite the urban contrast compared to even the North Shore of Oahu. Honolulu felt a lot like Miami Beach so after visiting the peaceful paradise of Kauai, it was a lot to take in.
We flew United in Economy to Honolulu out Denver. We snagged incredibly cheap tickets about 3 months in advance so for the price, Economy was bearable. We connected onto Hawaiian Airlines on to Lihue. We also returned to Honolulu for a few days before returning back to LAX from Honolulu. So throughout the whole trip, we got 3 visits to HNL and a good perspective on how bad the airport is.
Rather than feeling like a major airport, HNL felt more like a small regional airport; quite dated and with limited amenities. While some of the mid-century fixtures were charming, a nice remodel could go a long way in the terminals. Taking advantage of the pleasant Hawaiian weather year-round, a large portion of the terminals is outdoors. The gates are confined into individual air-conditioned areas but they are small and the seating is limited. There are very limited food options, even in the overseas terminal, and the bathrooms were filthy. Imagine transiting from the mainland to Asia through Honolulu and wanting to freshen up, only to find very dirty, dated restrooms!
The layout is disconnected with the overseas terminal, international arrivals, and inter-island terminals completely separate. There is an inter-terminal shuttle but it is usually about a 15 minute wait. The walk is outdoors and takes about the same amount of time as you would wait for the shuttle. There is also no free WiFi and even the paid WiFi was down while we were there. I found this to be quite irritating. Also, don’t plan on finding a spot to charge your phone unless you want to sit on the floor. United clearly did not install power ports like they do at nearly every other major airport they serve.
Through the entire trip, we checked in with both United and Hawaiian Airlines. Hawaiian Airlines utilizes self check-in kiosks and the attendants were friendly. Everything was efficient for the inter-island flights. TSA PreCheck was extremely quick each time. United on the other hand, was a huge hassle. Don’t forget to stop at the USDA station before heading to check your bags. The Premier Access line was incredibly slow and the staff unfriendly. I’ve never had a negative experience with United’s Premier Access bag-check so this was a first.
Honolulu definitely gets forgotten by the airlines due to the fact of a low number of business travelers and tons of tourists. There seems to be a low incentive to make updates to HNL since the tourists keep on flowing and the inter-island flights so vital to Hawaii’s economy. While the terminal facilities are among the worst I have seen, the good service by Hawaiian Airlines and the quick TSA PreCheck are bright spots for HNL.