Five Airports, Four Islands, One Day of Hawaiian Flyin’ (Trip Report – Part 2)

Hawaiian, Trip Reports

In the first part of this story, Alex and I were just about to miss our flight from Kahului to Lihu’e thanks to some sort of computer error. The problem was solved just in the nick of time, and they shut the door right after we scampered on to the airplane. I’ll pick things up from there.

August 7, 2019
Hawaiian 209 Lv Kahului 1107a Arr Lihu’e 1157a
Kahului (OGG): Gate 15, Runway 2, Depart 3m Late
Lihu’e (LIH): Gate 5, Runway 35, Arrive 3m Late
N490HA, Boeing 717-2CM, Maile Lei colors, 97% Full
Seat 19F, Coach
Flight Time 35m

That 3 minute delay? Yeah, that was our fault. We sat down as fast as we could, and we pushed back right away.

I had my second POG juice of the day as we made our way west. The weather forecast said Maui and the Big Island would be mostly dry, but O’ahu and Kaua’i would be wetter thanks to the passing of storms Erick and Flossie. They weren’t wrong.

We passed O’ahu with good views of Honolulu.

Halfway from there to Kaua’i, after we had started our descent, we found a line of storms to navigate. We stayed just above the weather before descending quickly into the airport.


Kaua’i was an uncharacteristically sticky, wind-free mess that day with clouds surrounding the airport on all sides. Passing showers were the only sweet relief from the stagnant heat. We started our visit by joining Brandon over at the cargo terminal.

Along with Hilo, Lihu’e is one of the first two stops for the new ‘Ohana by Hawaiian ATR-72 freighter service. Interestingly, it doesn’t sound like it’s making an enormous difference. Now it just gives the cargo team more flexibility to not have to squeeze things into the bellies of the passenger fleet. If it doesn’t fit, they can just put it on the night freighter. But other than that, it sounds like it’s mostly business as usual.

Lihu’e is a bit more complex than Hilo since it also has mainland flights (both Oakland and LA), but not much cargo outside of pets goes on those. Just as Hilo has it papaya shipments, Lihu’e has taro which is delivered three times a week. And of course, there is the daily inbound Love’s bread shipment from the stalwart company’s O’ahu bakery.

As interesting as that was, I found myself distracted by the Shorts 360 that arrived while we were there. Now that’s a blast from the past.

After our cargo visit, it was time for lunch. I was told on my first visit to Kaua’i a few years ago about Hamura Saimin. It’s set up like an old lunch counter, and the saimin (plus the pie) can’t be beat. We may not have picked the best day for it since it was sweltering outside and there is no air conditioning, but that didn’t stop me. I did have to stop with saimin, however. We were out of cash and they didn’t take credit cards. The pie will have to wait until next time.

After a short driving tour of Lihu’e, we came back to the airport and Gary the ops manager took us around. Of all the airports I visited, Lihu’e seems to be the most neglected by the state. That is saying a lot. The Hawaiian counter still has two cathode-ray televisions above to show arrivals and departures. They don’t work. Hawaiian is currently working on a renovation of the ticketing lobby to match what they did on Maui, but there is still one glaring problem.

Kaua’i is the Garden Isle, and apparently when the airport was built, they put these large, lush planters separating the roadway from the counters. These now act as giant funnels that create massive bottlenecks. It is awful, and it should be removed. Supposedly it is going to happen… sometime… maybe next year.

Gary took us down into the bowels of the airport and showed us the poor excuse of a baggage system. That relies on the state as well, and it is overwhelmed regularly. When the system breaks, Hawaiian has to share with American, and American’s makes Hawaiian’s look state-of-the-art. It’s so bad that when Kona got a new baggage system this year, Lihu’e was able to go and scavenge parts from the old system to keep its own running.

The terminal is set up like Hilo’s in that it again starts with gate number 3, and then goes in a line toward gate 10. The holdrooms are all air conditioned, however, but there isn’t enough room in them. At United’s gates down at the far end, there was caution tape stretched across a window. Upgrades that were being done to the terminal to keep it functioning apparently haven’t been finished. While Gary didn’t know why the caution tape was there, he said it could involve rot.

Once we had finished, Gary took off and we had an hour to kill before our next flight. We went to the holdroom, and I found a rare unused power outlet in the corner (away from any seats), so I recharged. Staring out the window, we could see the clouds building.

We boarded on time. Once again, we had a problem with Alex’s reservation showing him as unchecked, but they were able to work it out.

August 7, 2019
Hawaiian 340 Lv Lihu’e 348p Arr Kona 442p
Lihu’e (LIH): Gate 5, Runway 3, Depart 1m Late
Kona (KOA): Gate 10, Runway 17, Arrive 1m Early
N489HA, Boeing 717-2BD, Maile Lei colors, 99% Full
Seat 4A, Coach
Flight Time 40m

I had a window seat on the right side originally, but Gary was kind enough to move me to the only available one on the left — the bulkhead — at my request since I figured the view would be better. It’s not a hard bulkhead, just a curtain with the ability to use the First Class seat for storage. That’s my favorite way to do it.

The captain came on and said that there was weather just to our east, so he wanted the flight attendants to stay seated until he said it was ok. I tightened up the seatbelt and prepared for a bumpy ride.

We took off to the north and then immediately turned east, as normal. We weaved just a bit to avoid the storm clouds that had gathered, and it didn’t end up being bumpy at all. In just a couple of minutes, we were past it and service began. I chugged my POG juice, and we pressed on.

Kaho’olawe in the foreground with Maui behind. If you look closely between the two, you can see Molokini

This was the longest flight Hawaiian flies in the islands at a “whopping” 40 minutes. It was also my favorite. We first passed south of O’ahu. Even though most of the island was covered in clouds, I could see the south shore including the airport and Waikiki. Then we stayed south, and I had panoramic views of Moloka’i, Lana’i, Kaho’olawe, and Maui. The clouds were light over these islands, and the view was breathtaking.

I could see Maunakea in the distance when we began our descent. The view of the Hualalai volcano and the lava fields made for an other-worldly scene that so far I’ve only seen rivaled in Keflavik (Iceland). I felt bad for those on the right side who had a view of absolutely nothing but clouds and ocean the entire way.


In Kona, we taxied back to the gates and walked off using a ramp. This is the last primary airport in Hawai’i that has no jet bridges, and the people seem proud of that fact.

We walked out and left security to go to the ticket counters. I had to appreciate that, with no inline baggage screening to worry about, Southwest was able to just build a counter from absolutely nothing and stick it on the side of the building.

We went back into Hawaiian’s offices and met Brandyn. Brandyn used to work for Aloha Airlines and even stayed on with the cargo business after the passenger airline failed. He’s only been with Hawaiian for a few years, but he’s a Big Island native with a thick local accent who knew his way around with his eyes closed.

The first stop was the new breakroom which was being painted by artists as we stopped by. This is the most important room in the airport at every station, as far as employees are concerned. All the work to bring those up to speed is big news for them.

Kona is set up as a village of small huts, and it’s very unique. But there are 5 gates on one side with 5 on the other, and they are not connected behind security. This is going to be fixed by year-end, if all stays on schedule. Kona has received a ton of state investment.

First, the airport had to relocate its baggage sort area. It build a brand new one that’s closer to the runway, in between the two terminals. This thing is just a work of art. It’s a huge facility that’s befitting of a larger airport. It made me feel even worse for the good people of Lihu’e once I saw this gleaming marvel.

With the baggage system moved, the old baggage sort area could be transformed into a central pavilion behind security to connect both gate areas. A large hut, keeping in the same style as the rest of the airport, will be a central shopping/dining area. Rumors suggest there may even be a half-decent coffee joint. Brandyn was particularly excited about this. Progress is being made quickly, and it should be open by the end of the year.

I was surprised that this project would really matter, but Brandyn said they do see a fair number of interline passengers who have to leave security. This is going to help them. It will also help since JAL is on one side and Hawaiian the other today. Since they are working on a joint venture, there is likely to be a big increase in connections.

Currently both airlines fly to Tokyo — Hawaiian to Haneda thrice weekly and JAL over to Narita every day. We kept walking north to the tent that was erected to be the customs and immigration facility. It’s obviously temporary, but it sounds like it functions well.

The Haneda airplane for Hawaiian usually comes in at 1 and then sits around until it departs after 6. That day, the airplane had an extra job taking hundreds of people in a group charter over to Maui. We saw it come back in time to operate the Haneda flight as scheduled. The employees in Kona were on high alert that day since they had a few hundred more passengers than normal.

I was tired, and it was time to head back to O’ahu. Alex had Brandyn make sure he was checked in properly. He even got an upgrade which I encouraged him to take instead of sitting in the back with me. He deserved it after being stuck with me on this nutty adventure.

We had hoped to grab a beer after security, but there wasn’t time. Unfortunately, the restaurant didn’t sell to-go cups either, so we just found a giant fan and stood in front of it before boarding.

The Haneda flight was at the gate next to us, and we both half-jokingly said we should keep this party going and head to Tokyo for sushi. (The flight had a light load.) I didn’t have my passport so that quashed any further discussion. I’m sure we wouldn’t have done it anyway.

Our 717 pulled up, and in a fitting end to the day, it was the same airplane that brought us to Hilo early that morning.

We went to board and… Alex had problems again. They really need to work on their company business booking system, apparently. I didn’t have any trouble and I dragged myself on to the airplane ready to be done for the day.

August 7, 2019
Hawaiian 387 Lv Kona 622p Arr Honolulu 709p
Kona (KOA): Gate 9, Runway 17, Depart 2m Early
Honolulu (HNL): Gate A17, Runway 4R, Arrive 2m Early
N486HA, Boeing 717-22A, 2001 Pualani colors, 93% Full
Seat 20F, Coach
Flight Time 28m

We pushed back and ambled our way toward the end of the runway. I may have been tired, but I was still feeling better than I was at my low-energy point on Maui. We took off and then turned right into the setting sun on our way back to Honolulu.

My windows were severely scratched. That combined with the late-day light meant I really couldn’t see much at all even though I knew there were islands to be seen. I did my last POG juice shot of the day, and found myself briefly delirious in a POG-induced haze.

We began our descent, and the captain came on to say that we were about to go through some clouds and it was going to be bumpy. He told us to make sure our seatbelts were on tight which isn’t exactly the most reassuring thing you want to hear from your pilots.

Sure enough, a line of clouds was standing between us and the approach path to runway 4R. Instead of going around or staying high, we plowed through. It did get bumpy, but only for a couple minutes. On the other side, I looked back at the sun reflecting off the towering clouds.

We landed and taxied back to the terminal where we had departed more than 14 hours earlier. The fading light didn’t mean the end of the day. Hawaiian had interisland flights going to near midnight before the fleet would come together once again in Honolulu.

Alex and I stumbled off and headed out to dinner. It was truly a privilege to be able to see the intricacies of each neighbor island operation. I had expected they would all be about the same, but each faces it own challenges. People think that flying in Hawai’i is easy with the high number of days of sunshine and low number of days with storms, but that’s not the case. Other than the perennial problem with the state, pilots have to deal with very short flight segments, challenging winds, and unique airport characteristics. But for these employees, it’s just another day at the office. I appreciate them letting me tag along for one very long day.

If you missed it, you can see a video of all the takeoffs and landings as well as the first half of this trip report.

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12 comments on “Five Airports, Four Islands, One Day of Hawaiian Flyin’ (Trip Report – Part 2)

  1. All these flights, and Brett didn’t even play the ukelele?

    Guess he must have been really busy and tired.

  2. Can you enlighten those of us not as well versed in the intricacies of Hawaii about why the airports working with the state on funding/projects is so difficult? Is it more than the normal government red tape that a publicly-funded project anywhere would go through?

  3. Waiting for the day every, or nearly every State has an intra-state operating passenger/cargo airline, probably a subsidiary of some larger interstate carrier, with subsidized funding from each State, and the Feds, using the EAS program funds and those we that are but a pipedream of more and better highways.

    Highways are becoming impossibly crowded and are simply falling apart. Nice if we had European-like system of railroads, but that ain’t going to happen in this country. So, for the time being, let’s more on with an real State-by-State air transportation system, like Hawaii, and Alaska.

    1. I wouldn’t say every state, but I get your point. NY, NJ, CT & RI could share one theoretical carrier. CA & TX are each large enough to have there own carrier, that’s how WN started.

  4. As a Hawaii-based flyer loyal to HA I feel HA?s in-flight team is amazing, but their ground staff/experience rivals AA and leaves much to be desired).
    In my experience the ITO station is the far and away the best and the OGG station is the absolute worst.
    I rank them ITO > LIH > KOA > HNL > OGG

    After visiting all of the Hawaii stations I?m curious to know if your experience is similar to my experience.

    1. BeachBoy – I don’t know that I have enough experience to rank them, but certainly from a directional standpoint based on my limited experience, I would agree. You already saw my difficulties with the OGG crew. Just wait until our return flight home report which I hope to publish next week for the mess in HNL. So yeah, I’d say my limited experience at least lines up.

    2. With the exception of HNL and OGG, that basically goes by the number of flights operating at the station. ITO has the least, and HNL the most. Side note, that KOA-HND flight is almost always empty.

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