The state’s $2.7 billion Airports Modernization Program can’t be finished soon enough if traveler sentiment is any indication.
Honolulu Airport and Kahului Airport rank near the bottom for traveler satisfaction in their respective categories in the J.D. Power 2015 North America Airport Satisfaction Study released Wednesday. Honolulu Airport is 23rd out of 31 airports in the large airport category while Kahului Airport ranks 31st out of 33 airports in the medium airport category.
“The airport experience is huge,” said former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, now president and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging &Tourism Association. “It’s important that the first impression be positive. Right now we’re not getting that. Our industry is very concerned about this.”
The study, which was last conducted in 2010, measures overall traveler satisfaction with large- and medium-sized North American airports by examining six factors. In order of importance, they are terminal facilities, airport accessibility, security check, baggage claim, check-in/baggage check and terminal shopping. In 2010, Honolulu Airport finished 15th out of 20 airports in the medium airports category. Kahului Airport did not appear in that year’s rankings.
“One of the things that does come through positively for Honolulu Airport is that travelers who dined at sit-down restaurants actually rated that experience very high and, in general, the shopping experience — food, beverages and merchandise — was a little better overall,” said Jeff Conklin, vice president of utilities and infrastructure practice for J.D. Power. “But it’s sort of everything else — the accessibility of the airport, the check-in process, the security process is a little long, and the rest of the terminal experience is not up to current standards and expectations.”
State Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara said the airports are getting better.
“The Airports Division is focused on improving facilities statewide and is working on $2.7 billion worth of modernization projects, including $1.5 billion worth of renovations at Honolulu International Airport and $425 million at Kahului Airport,” he said. “We appreciate the public’s patience during the construction phases as we work to upgrade our airport facilities, which includes new terminals, upscale retail and dining areas, and efficient rental car facilities. The various projects are being completed at different dates. The final project is expected to be finished in 2020.”
J.D. Power, which based its rankings on a 1,000-point scale, listed Honolulu Airport with 712 points. The online study was based on responses from 21,009 North American passengers who traveled through at least one domestic or international airport with both departure and arrival experiences from July through October.
The top performer, Portland International Airport in Oregon, had 791 points while New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport finished last with 646 points. Honolulu Airport, though, did beat out much larger airports such as New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Boston’s Logan Airport, Philadelphia International Airport, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport and New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
For 2015, Kahului received 705 points in the medium airports category while Dallas Love Field topped the list with 792 points.
“There doesn’t seem to be any particular area standing out for Kahului,” Conklin said.
Both Conklin and Rick Garlick, also with J.D. Power, acknowledged that ongoing renovation at an airport can skew the rankings.
“That might explain a lot (about Hawaii’s low rankings) because in our model, one factor that represents 25 percent in the satisfaction ratings is evaluation of the terminal facility,” Garlick said. “So if the airport right now is undergoing renovation and needs modernization, that’s something likely to impact the study.”
George Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said the state airports are on the right track as Hawaii closes in on its fourth consecutive year of record visitor arrivals.
“Improvements to our state airports are in progress and I’m confident residents and visitors will appreciate the changes being made when the work is complete,” he said. “It’s important to remember that Hawaii as a travel destination consistently ranks very high in visitor satisfaction studies.”
Hannemann said there’s a lot to be done before the Honolulu airport will be up to the standard of other major airports.
“The perception and image that people have of Honolulu Airport is that it’s an old airport and hasn’t been modernized, upgraded or improved, which is now a reality in this study,” he said. “The restrooms aren’t good, renting a car is cumbersome and archaic, and we don’t even have free Wi-Fi. Some of this stuff is a no-brainer and should be done immediately.”
Honolulu resident Margaret Murchie said she’s disgusted whenever she flies into or out of Honolulu Airport.
Among her complaints are some information desk workers speaking little English; confusing directions to the baggage area; and air conditioning leaking black, moldy water on passengers’ heads and luggage around the baggage carousel.
“It’s so embarrassing,” she said. “I think the message when you come to Hawaii is that you’ve landed in prison. You walk off after your long flight and you walk on smelly, gray concrete that’s dirty. Its absolutely banana republic, third world. And then you don’t know where you’re going and then you have to stand in line for a cab for 30 minutes.”
Garlick said an efficient airport can pay big dividends.
“If the check-in process is smooth, passengers will take the extra time and spend it in the shops and the restaurants,” he said. “So really time is money. If you’re performing poorly, it’s because your facilities need sprucing up or there’s inefficiency in the process.”