There are not many airports in this world where the traveler can order a custom-made lei of local flower blossoms, munch on Korean barbecue, meditate in a Japanese garden and soak in the cooling tradewinds while walking to the gate. All of these can be found at Honolulu International Airport.
Most of the 46,000 or so passengers who arrive daily on more than 300 flights are off to Waikiki hotels or transferred to flights to the islands of Maui, Kauai, Hawaii, Molokai or Lanai. But for thousands of others, HNL (the fifth busiest American port of entry) is a connection point among the major overseas carriers.
Idle travelers can take a stairway from the Central Concourse down to the lower level to the Japanese, Chinese and Hawaiian gardens, all within the secured transit terminal area. It is a serene refuge with fishponds and magnificent blossoms with places to sit quietly and shed any stress.
Unlike most airport terminals, HNL is practically outdoors. Walkways and lounges are open to the tradewinds. In this open-air terminal, Hawaii’s fragrant and comfortably humid climate quickly envelops the visitor. On hot and muggy days, one still can be thankful that the concourse around the gates are enclosed and air-conditioned.
Everyone imagines arriving in Honolulu and having a lei draped over their necks. With more than 23 million passengers a year, this would leave every commercial garden barren and bankrupt the state to guarantee a lei for everyone. So unless a visitor is being met by a tour agent or friend, one shouldn't be expected. Prior to arrival, however, visitors can arrange for a lei greeting through Greeters of Hawaii (www.greetersofhawaii.com) or Aloha Lei Greeters (www.leigreeters.com). Leis may also be purchased at stands in the terminal and outside of the parking garage. Note: the stands outside offer more selection, at lower prices, than the stands inside the terminal.
Shopping is not HNL's strong point. All airport stores, no matter what they're called, are operated by Duty Free Shoppers (under a bid contract agreement), and carry very much the same merchandise. Souvenir shops are stuffed with fresh pineapples, packaged, pre-inspected (by Department of Agriculture) and ready for boarding. You'll also find bags of gourmet Kona coffee, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, surfer T's and aloha wear, all the things you meant to buy but forgot during your vacation. Galleria shops throughout the main terminal are more upscale with things like sculptures and ceramics.
Depending on the terminal, the eating choices are limited. Starbucks is present in several locations. On the horizon is a Gordon Beirsch. Presently these common eateries can be found among others: Burger King, Yummy's BBQ, Lappert's Ice Cream, Pizza Hut and TCBY.
Overall, HNL has a long way to go to entertain the way other world class airports do. On the horizon is an improvement project approved Hawaii's governor that will at least update some features including the addition of moving sidewalks and a new tram system.
Oahu is nicknamed the 'gathering place' for its concentrated population. But in ancient times voyaging canoes from the other islands would meet on Oahu too. Today Oahu is still the 'gathering place', this time with visitors from around the world. Pictured below is the one concourse T.H.T. always passes through on his way overseas. This is one of three concourses in the overseas terminal. The gates serviced by American Airlines are all at the end of the concourse. Delta and Continental flights also depart from this concourse.