Airport review: Honolulu International Airport, Hawaii

IATA CODE

HNL

THE FLIGHT

Hawaiian Airlines HA451 to Sydney, economy class

THE ARRIVAL

Shuttle services are available from Waikiki hotels to the international terminal with Roberts Hawaii Airport Shuttles, starting at $US15 ($A22) one-way from Airport Shuttle (airportshuttlehawaii.com) and SpeediShuttle (speedishuttle.com) Many of the larger hotels in Waikiki also offer airport shuttle services. Bus no.19 departs from the Airport Upper Level (Main Terminal E) and travels along Ala Moana Boulevard and through Waikiki along Kuhio Avenue. If you're returning a hire car, give yourself plenty of time, signage at the airport is hard to follow.

THE LOOK

Terminal 1 is for Hawaiian Airlines domestic and international flights, Terminal 2 caters to all other international flights. It's one of the busiest airports in the US, with annual traffic at over 20 million passengers. It feels cramped and dingy. Most of the airport dates from the 1970s, and in the intervening years it's far outgrown the passenger numbers for which it was originally designed. The $US220 million Mauka Concourse, which will connect to Terminal 1 via a walkway, should be a big improvement when it opens early in 2021.

CHECK-IN

Enter the terminal at the Skycap desk which is about midway along the front, turn to the right and you can do a self check-in and get a bag tag from the machines located in the terminal. Go back outside with your bag, turn right and walk past the queue and you'll see an entry with a sign that says "International passengers". Enter and look for the bag drop where you can leave your checked baggage.

SECURITY

The staff member who takes your tagged luggage will direct you to go back outside where you join that humungous line which is the TSA check. Do not do this. Instead, take the elevator to the baggage reclaim one level down. As you're facing the check-in desks the elevator is located on your far left, just outside the terminal. On the lower level, look for the Starbucks and just beyond you'll see another, infinitely shorter, TSA line. Pass through, shoes off and empty all pockets then take the escalator up to the departures level.

FOOD AND DRINK

Airside, there's a fair number of Hawaiian brand names represented such as the Honolulu Cookie Company, the Lahaina Chicken Company, Sammy's Beach Bar and Grill and Makai Plantation. Also several pizza and burger joints – but no McDonald's or Pizza Hut. Starbucks has a stranglehold on coffee outlets throughout the airport.

RETAIL THERAPY

The usual assortment of airport terminal retailers are in evidence, including Coach, Fossil, Hermes, Longchamp, Kate Spade, Prada and Polo Ralph Lauren. There are also several DFS outlets selling duty-free liquor and perfumes. Take Home the Aloha is your last chance to pick up a floral shirt while Hawaiian Isle Memories caters to travellers who may have neglected to purchase a pineapple cast in crystal during their Hawaiian holiday.

PASSING TIME

The Plumeria Lounge in Terminal 1 offers prepaid access with a Priority Pass card. It's old-fashioned but inoffensive, the food and beverage selection is barely adequate and there are no showers. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the terminal and there are multiple charging stations.

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ONE MORE THING

The check-in process is baffling and non-intuitive, not helped by a total lack of signage, the shuffling line for security processing stretches along the front of the terminal and there's a general air of chaos. Plan to arrive 2½ hours before your flight.

THE VERDICT

The experience of passing through Honolulu's international airport will sap much of the calm and pleasure you might have derived from your holiday. The terminals scream out for an upgrade just to lift them into the 21st century. For a state that makes most of its income from tourism it's disappointing.

OUR RATING

2 out of 5

Michael Gebicki was a guest of Hawaiian Airlines.

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