Is Honolulu's ailing airport making a good impression?

Bruce Thiel
Bruce Thiel
Shannon Bullock
Shannon Bullock
Dan Meisenzahl
Dan Meisenzahl
Judy Richards
Judy Richards

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Last year more than 18.4 million people flew through Honolulu International Airport and some saw the good, the bad and the ugly.  It's one of the busiest airports in the country, but it's got work to do before it's one of the best.

The state pays millions of dollars every year to market Hawaii's beauty, but the state's first impression arrives at the airport.

"Well I was a bit disappointed actually because I thought Hawaii would be a little more, I'm in the construction industry and I took a look around at the structures and they looked a little bit shabby as far as I was concerned," said Bruce Thiel, from Hervey Bay, Queensland, Australia.

"The overall impression was not that great only because first impressions are what you see when you get off the plane. I had to go through one section of the airport to another and it was all sectioned off and leaks and marred concrete so it wasn't very good," said Shannon Bullock, Ewa. "I think when people get off the plane they are a little disillusioned to see a place that is not quite what they probably thought it was going to be."

At various sections of the airport you find the old and outdated mixed with the new and improved. Like a bathroom with a broken paper towel dispenser on one wall and a new Dyson hand dryer on another.

Another example is a high end makeup store with a big leak in the ceiling.  An employee says it's been like that since December.  We found leaks located throughout the airport.

"It's definitely not as easy as plugging a hole. Unfortunately these leaks, they're a big problem and it's something we're tackling right now," said Dan Meisenzahl, State Department of Transportation Chief of Communications.

Some people that work at the airport have put up their own homemade signs directing people after getting asked the same questions over and over.

"Everyday I'm here which is a good six days a week for eight hours," said Robbie Richards, VIP Trans Porter Supervisor, when asked how often he hears complaints from travelers.

The elevators by Customs have been a recurring problem.  One has been out of order since last February.  Someone even wrote on the out of order sign "ridiculous" and "We don't know how to fix. We only get tape and paper."

"I think it is kind of ridiculous. It really is because it is the most important elevator. We use it every day, passengers use it every day so it should be the most maintained out of all if not everything," said Richards.

The state says it's scheduled to be repaired eight months from now and will be finished in December at a cost of $52,000.

"I think any broken elevator or any broken escalator in the entire airport is a black eye to the entire system and to the employees that work here and work so hard to keep this place running," said Meisenzahl

Airport funding comes from user fees from airlines, parking and concessions.  But janitors and maintenance workers were furloughed anyway even though it didn't save any money from the state's general fund.  But those furloughs will end next month.

Also the hiring freeze will be lifted and 39 custodian and maintenance positions will be open in March. That goes along with the $2.3 billion airport modernization plan Governor Linda Lingle started four years ago.  Four ticket lobbies are being renovated, passenger loading bridges will be replaced and all 77 escalators will be brand new.  Starting next year construction begins on new mauka terminal which will connect to the interisland terminal, widen taxiways and add 11 new gates and passenger holding rooms, rest rooms, and concession spaces.  Among the projects already finished are the new parking garage, new flight information displays and an air conditioned walkway for international arrivals.

"I think the first impression is a positive one but I think it's definitely something we have to improve on," said Meisenzahl. "Every stain, every crack, every broken elevator, none of that stuff will go unanswered. None of that stuff is going to sit."

Which should help land more reactions like these.

"I think it's very easy to get through, the planes come in easy, and it's so good to feel the warm air," said Judy Richards, Cleveland, Ohio.

"It was nice and welcoming and warm and outdoorsy which gave the sweet smell of flowers," said Diana Klingler, Dallas, Texas.

"It's definitely welcoming with the aloha spirit," said Denise Schnitzer, Honolulu.

Because you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

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