As a frequent flier, getting lost in the the Honolulu International Airport was not my proudest moment. I typically fly over 50,000 miles per year (75,000 this year) and have been to HNL probably 20 times in my life. Even sharing the story of how I almost missed my flight there, as you can imagine, is just a little embarrassing. Anyway, I was flying United from the mainland and connecting on Island Air to Kahului, Maui. If you've ever transferred at Honolulu you probably already know its a pretty good distance from the Diamond Head Concourse to the Inter-Island terminal. There is a wiki-wiki shuttle (meaning quick in Hawaiian) but it is usually easier and sometimes faster to walk.
So having caught more than a few routine inter-island flights on both Hawaiian and Aloha over the years I knew which way to go, or so I thought. I had about 2 hours there, and after spending a leisurely hour at the Red Carpet Club, I slowly meandered my way in a westward direction, stopping along the way to check out a few Duty Free shops selling everything from Macadamia nuts to criminally overpriced toy airplanes (Seriously, $55 for a 1:500 die cast scale model of a Boeing 717, you've got to be kidding me). By the time I finally made it to the Inter-Island terminal, I still had a comfortable 30 minutes before I had to board my flight.
Since I'd last been there, Aloha had permanently vacated that part of the airport which was now entirely occupied by Hawaiian. So what about Island Air? With no mention of them, I began to get worried. I had a flight leaving out of gate 80 or 90 something, it didn't matter. It might as well have been 110 because according to official signage, the last gate at the airport I was in the low 70's, and even that was a challenge to find.
At the end of the airport and down some stairs is where I found the un-air-conditioned-Mexican-prison-style holding cell that still wasn't my gate. There were a few paper signs, none of them helpful. The gate agent was equally as informative. She didn't know her way around any better than I did, and all I was able to determine was that that plane there definitely wasn't going to Maui. I went outside through the unmarked door with a disabled alarm, through a construction area, out on the street and around the corner before finding the "other" inter-island "Commuter" Terminal- the one with the small planes...with propellers. Over the mountains and through the woods would have been more convenient. By this time they were paging me, I was freaking out a little, and I still had security to get through. Yes, the little shed on the tarmac out by cargo operations still has security. Somehow it looked vaguely familiar though. It was the building Aloha used to use back in the 80's, when I was still a kid. I'd even been there before...20+ years ago.
So I figured out I wasn't the only one who had trouble finding Island Air after my bags didn't show up at OGG. With over 2 hours and a bright red transfer tag, they still didn't end up where they needed to be. Instead of upsetting me, it actually made me feel about myself. Luckily Island Air was also nice enough to fly my bags to JHM (Kapalua West Maui) for pickup so I didn't have to drive back to Kahului from Lahaina. What this little experience taught me aside from maybe wanting to fly Hawaiian next time, was that no matter how seasoned of a traveler I think I am, there is still stuff to learn and someplace new to explore, even in places we think we know so well. Sometimes that can be a bit humbling, too.
This last week took me through the Honolulu Airport yet again as I returned from my trip on the Island Hopper/Guam and it made me think of this little story. Oh yeah, and this time I didn't get lost. I have to say though I have a love-hate relationship with that place. I've been to airports in third world countries that have better amenities, better signage and haven't been under construction for nearly as long. At the same time I like the funky vintage decor, the worn Koa ticket counters, and everything else that hasn't changed since I was a small child. Every visit is like a trip back in time and I can't help but think how many great memories have been made within those wave and tiki theme wood paneled walls. I love the open air, the fresh breeze, and that bright red Aloha sign on the control tower welcoming you back to the islands. There's no doubt about it, Honolulu, you're one of a kind.
|Map courtesy United Hemispheres magazine. Last gate is 66.|
|Island Air Map. Note discrepancies in gate numbers from above.|