A Guide to Hawaii's Major Airports

A Guide to Hawaii's Major Airports

Here’s what to expect when you land in the Aloha State By: Marty Wentzel
<p>A painted sculpture of a sea turtle is one of many tropical touches at Hilo International Airport on Hawaii Island. // © 2014 E....

A painted sculpture of a sea turtle is one of many tropical touches at Hilo International Airport on Hawaii Island. // © 2014 E. Kinoshita

Feature image (above):  Honolulu International Airport, Hawaii's largest travel hub, hosts more than 20 million visitors each year. // © 2014 HTA/Ron Garnett

First impressions count. That’s why the airports in Hawaii are making a concerted effort to create a sense of place from the moment visitors land in the 50th state. As airports add destination-specific touches to their terminals, they’re making sure visitors know they’re in Hawaii.

Here’s a primer on Hawaii’s five major airports. Next month’s Hawaii newsletter will take a look at developments at the five smaller terminals around the state.

Hilo International Airport, Hawaii Island (ITO)
Ferns, red ginger, bird of paradise and gardenia blossoms set a tropical tone in this comfortable duel-level airport, and so do the Hawaiian-print sofas and chairs in the airport’s lower-level lobby. Two miles east of Hilo, ITO is ideally situated for visitors looking to explore the eastern side of Hawaii Island, including Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. United Airlines flies direct to and from ITO, and its two runways also accommodate interisland flights. Travelers can purchase a floral treasure at the airport’s lei stands. A display honors Albert Kualii Brickwood Lyman, the first person of Hawaiian ancestry to be appointed as a U.S. Army brigadier general. 


Honolulu International Airport, Oahu (HNL)
Views of Waikiki, Diamond Head and Oahu’s southern coastline welcome incoming passengers to HNL, Hawaii’s largest air travel hub. Ten miles north of Waikiki, it hosts visitors from around the state and the world on over 30 carriers. HNL has four runways, one of which is built on a reef. It serves clients’ needs with a range of stores, restaurants and bars, plus business facilities, ATMs and currency exchange offices. Tropical landscaping enlivens its open-air walkways. Recently renovated ticketing lobbies boast designs reflecting Hawaii’s natural beauty. A new exhibit pays tribute to Hawaii’s late U.S. senator Daniel Inouye and Hawaii sports legend Wally Yonamine. 


Kahului Airport, Maui (OGG)
With its al fresco design and gardens, OGG embraces visitors with the smell of plumeria from the moment they get off the plane. Although it’s Hawaii’s second busiest airport, OGG has an intimate, laid-back vibe. Once through the security checkpoint, departing travelers can grab a bite in one of the restaurants and pick up Hawaiian-style gifts from kiosks and shops in the airy promenade. Three miles east of Kahului, OGG features two runways that welcome 10 interisland, national and international airlines. Plans call for a new consolidated rental car facility with a tram system and quick turnaround area, scheduled to open in March 2017.  


Kona International Airport at Keahole, Hawaii Island (KOA)
First-time incoming KOA visitors are often surprised to see a runway constructed in the middle of lava fields. The distinctive delights continue as passengers disembark the plane using mobile outdoor stairs rather than jetways, something not found at Hawaii’s other major airports. KOA’s open-air terminal structures greet arriving travelers with a charming, low-key first impression. Scheduled upgrades to the passenger experience include a centralized security checkpoint and improved baggage handling, with work to be completed by 2017. Clients can fly direct to KOA from the U.S. mainland and Canada as well as other Hawaiian islands.


Lihue Airport, Kauai (LIH)
As the plane approaches LIH, passengers are rewarded with breathtaking vistas of the mountains, beaches and natural beauty that define Kauai. Less than two miles east of Lihue town, the airport is centrally located between the island’s major destinations. To keep the facility up to snuff, the main lobby will be expanded by the end of 2015. At the same time, the one-level terminal remains refreshingly casual as it reflects the heritage of the island. A handsome exhibit spotlights Kauai’s arts and culture, and local entertainers serenade travelers from a new stage in the lobby. It’s small wonder that several movies have filmed scenes at this innately Kauai-style airport in Hawaii.