Sunday, August 12, 2007

Honolulu International Airport (Part 3): Volcano Fountain Pre-Mirage

One of my fondest memories of visiting Honolulu International Airport when I was young was seeing the volcano fountain erupting at night. For over a decade visitors to the airport were greeted with this striking landmark that graced many postcards from the islands.

Of course the fountain was not on par with the extravaganza one can presently see at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas. However for the era, the gushing water amid the evening light show of volcanic reds, oranges and yellows was a sight to behold. The fountain operated between 7:45am to midnight daily. In the 1970s, the tangle of freeway overpasses to the airport began to gobble up most of the airport’s entrance lawn and eventually the volcano fountain was reduced to rubble.

When it was built in the early '60s, the fountain was the focal point of the new, clean, modern, spacious airport. Officially opened in March 1963, the $30,000 lava-rock masterpiece featured a central volcanic plume cascading over rock slopes, surrounded by seven smaller spouts. According to the fountain’s architect, the larger pool, designed to convey the feeling of the Islands, represented the Pacific Ocean; the smaller ones, one for each of the major islands, were to suggest water washing up on island shores.

Maybe one day, airport planners can somehow find a way to design and build an equally memorable site that greets visitors, coming and going and again become the image of postcards sent far and wide. Top photo is a postcard of the former airport entrance lawn. Pictured below is a press file photo.

Honolulu International Airport (Part 2): Paradise Found

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 ( or Aloha Lei Greeters ( 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.

Honolulu International Airport (Part 1): Crossroad of the Pacific Part 1

Honolulu International Airport (HNL) is The Hopeful Traveler’s home airport. Although unamazing compared to most modern airports and due for a needed upgrade, HNL does offer some unique features.

Among them is the Reef Runway (pictured below, press file photo) which was the world’s first major runway built entirely offshore. The 12,000-foot Reef Runway opened in October 1977 and also serves as one of the alternate landing sites for the Space Shuttle. HNL also functions as a joint military-civilian airport sharing airfield facilities with Hickam Air Force Base.

Located four miles from downtown Honolulu and nine miles from famous Waikiki Beach, HNL is served by over 20 major domestic and international carriers and is a hub for inter-island carriers Aloha Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines. The airport connects passengers to gates via the antiquated Wiki-Wiki Express (from the Hawaiian word for ‘fast’), a free shuttle that connects the three terminal buildings.

HNL opened in March 1927 as John Rodgers Airport, named after a World War I naval officer and was renamed Honolulu International Airport in 1947. Due to its proximity to the center of the Pacific Ocean, it was historically a stop for many transpacific flights to and from North America. By 1950, it was the third-busiest airport in the nation.

With the advent of ultra-long range aircraft, most transpacific flights are now able to bypass Honolulu. As such, the airport has seen a notable decrease in international passenger traffic over the years, particularly to Australia, the South Pacific and southeast Asia. However, Honolulu has continued to see major growth in the domestic market as major airlines have added frequent and even non-stop links to large, previously unserved markets such as Phoenix, Denver and Atlanta.
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