Summer travel is picking up, are Hawaii airports ready?

Always Investigating

HONOLULU (KHON2) — The early summer travel boom has sent a flurry of travelers through Hawaii’s airports in stark contrast to summer 2020s doldrums due to COVID-19 restrictions.

How ready are the airports to sustain the rush?

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Always Investigating found out some of the marquis projects at Honolulu’s airport might be done in time for the next seasonal rush in winter 2021, but not this busy summer.

Conditions at the airports are often highlighted because they impact so many people and come with big price tags and inconveniences. The blocked-off overhead walkways at the main terminal and broken elevators and escalators are really trying people’s patience and making everyone get a lot of extra steps in.

“So we have the pedestrian bridges, which connects the parking structures to the terminal, those are all being replaced all three of them,” said Ross Higashi, Airports Division deputy director. “As far as our elevators, escalators, we do have a maintenance plan in there. And we are all over the maintenance provider. Just one walkway is back open and the rest should be done by the end of the year.”

And those bathrooms? Sometimes travelers walk into a nice, new one. Other times — not so much. There is another big project that will just miss the summer rush.

“The Makua concourse, and that will help alleviate the traffic between 10 and 3 p.m. each day, so a lot of passengers will probably end up using the Makua concourse that’s set to open in mid-September,” Higashi said. “Then the other large project that we have going on that will also be completed by the end of the year is that car rental facility.”

That is the garage area that will hold up to 4,500 rental vehicles, but the parking public needs to be patient through the summer. Construction is impacting public parking and has caused changes in entrances, exits and ramp directions.

“The good part about it has been funded by the consolidated facility charges or a car rental charges,” Higashi said. “That’s a $4.50 per day, we generate approximately $75 million pre-pandemic from that collection.”

That is the airport’s biggest concession — and it is up over 350% compared to spring 2020. But people renting out their own cars due to the rental car shortage are not paying into it. Care share apps are something the Transportation Department is hoping to better regulate, especially with car-sharing taking up public parking.

“You can’t do business at the curb,” Higashi said. “So from what we see is happening in the parking structures, so they’ll park their cars in the parking structures and then the customers come in, go through the lockbox on that vehicle and then take the car from there. So basically, we want everybody to pay their fair share.”

One bright spot is that most of the stores and restaurants are back open, except for Duty Free, due to international travel still in limbo.

“It’s helping out our consession revenue as well as our landing fees or holding charges, everything that comes on above with the airport business,” Higashi said. “So we’re really happy to see the traffic here for Hawaii.”

Other big projects on neighbor islands are also comming after this summer rush.

“There’s a project going on in Kahului right now, basically to expand the holding room,” Higashi said. “Right now it’s an open walkway, open-air walkway. So we’re basically enclosed that make it larger, adding more restrooms and gates, one- through 15-side of the airport.”

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