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United CEO Demands Action at Hawaiian Airports

United CEO Demands Action at Hawaiian Airports
Joe Cortez

United Airlines chief executive Oscar Munoz is not happy about the current state of Hawaii’s airports. Speaking to the media, the aviation leader warns that without upgrades and improvements to air traffic facilities, Hawaii could start to lag for air tourism dollars.

In light of increased aviation attention to Hawaii’s islands, one executive believes the airports need to be fixed sooner rather than later. Speaking to the media, United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz called on the island to improve their airports, or get left behind by tourists.

Munoz met with United employees on the islands as part of a world tour of United’s service. In Honolulu, he told reporters he was not pleased with his findings at Honolulu Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

“I hate to be over dramatic but we’ve got to fix this,” Munoz told Hawaii News Now. “I toured this airport with our team this morning … and literally things are coming off the wall.”

In Maui, Munoz specifically called out the need for terminal upgrades and improved baggage handling systems. And while United is interested in being part of the process, the executive put the impetus for change on the state government.

“The baggage system in particular would be something that we would love to participate in the investment of,” Munoz told Maui Now after touring Kahului Airport. “But everybody has to agree and the government has to help fund.”

United has pledged $200 million in upgrades to their facilities in Hawaii, including terminal and lounge spaces. The money is only 6% of the $3 billion that the Hawaii Department of Transportation has earmarked for airport improvements.

While Munoz is unimpressed by Hawaii’s airports, FlyerTalkers are torn about their current state. While some appreciate the retro charm, it’s agreed that the facilities could use some improvement.

“On one hand, I love the 70s-era nostalgia and “feel” of the terminal…but on the other, it’s functionally obsolete and clearly becoming costly to maintain,” writes FlyerTalker EWR764. “Hopefully the renovations can strike a balance between the Island ethos the current facility most definitely has and still meet modern needs.”

“A lot of people flying to HNL are not necessarily tourists,” HNLBasedFlyer notes. “Honolulu is roughly the 50th largest city in the US – there are business travelers, and military and government workers. And residents…many things can be done to retain a unique island feel – I suspect it was a nice terminal in the 70’s but it is downright awful now. The State waited far too long to start modernization projects.”

“Given the overall level in infrastructure in Hawaii, and that Hawaii does not need an airport to try to attract industry, I think the best course of action is what Hawaii did – which is wait for the airline to pony up the [cash],” FlyerTalker spin88 opines. “If [United] pays for $200 million in improvements, great for them!”

How do you feel about Honolulu’s airports? Let us know in the FlyerTalk forums.

[Featured Image: Flickr/ Ken Lund]

View Comments (10)


  1. HomerJay

    June 10, 2019 at 12:26 pm

    Oscar Munoz certainly knows what air travelers want and what air traveler think. Of course we all travel to Hawaii to see the airports.

  2. edgewood49

    June 10, 2019 at 12:43 pm

    Spin88 is spun out of control ! I own a construction company who has over the years done work at HNL and OGG both of which are greatly out of date and in dire need of upgrading. When someone the Islands don’t need to attract business your sorely wrong wait till there’s downturn and see what happens. Hawaii use to be a “staging” area for equipment and material for Guam, Wake Etc now their being by passed and workers are coming off the mainland as well. Thats a fact. That coupled with the rapid rise in room rates fueled by equity capital’s ownership of properties in the islands will take its toll.

  3. KRSW

    June 10, 2019 at 1:03 pm

    United could start by fixing its employees’ attitudes first.

  4. edgewood49

    June 10, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    KRSW yep !

  5. formeraa

    June 10, 2019 at 2:42 pm

    First and foremost, the airlines need to encourage the Hawaii Airport Authority to try to maintain timelines for future projects. Hawaii is putting a large effort into their airport infrastructure — it’ s long overdue but the plans are in place. The difficulty in Hawaii is that timelines are often unmet and costs increase dramatically due to supply chain issues. If they can overcome these obstacles, the future plans look great.

  6. HawaiiFlyerDC8

    June 10, 2019 at 9:00 pm

    As a long time Hawaii resident and somewhat frequent flyer, I, too find our Honolulu airport disappointing. The Governor has for several years tried unsuccessfully to have a law passed that would establish the airports as an entity that could do repairs and changes faster than the government, and this has been supported by the airlines, but not gotten the needed approval of the state legislature.
    Public buildings in Hawaii are rarely kept in good repair or designed with innovation, daring, or flair, as if the Hawaii public might be afraid of something unfamiliar and certainly would complain about any expense. People in Hawaii have had to get used to finding their way around inconveniences like non functioning dated bathrooms, worn out materials, lack of recharging stations, etc.
    Still there are pleasant aspects of the airport such as its large open check in areas, its open corridors and gardens, as well as views of Diamond Head. Unfortunately even those are threatened with the addition of boring shops and banners for the same . as well as overcrowding with not enough gates for planes at busy times, poor signage, and badly displayed art, leaving aside the ridiculous parking structures that fill completely up at busy times.
    I would love to see improvements and am glad the United chief has spoken out.

  7. Superjeff

    June 11, 2019 at 5:44 am

    I think a lot of the problem is the use of exclusive CUTE gates. Allow specific airlines to have long term leases on specific gates and they are intented to make improvements. Since United primarily uses the Diamond Head Concourse, give them an official long term exclusive lease on the gates they primarily use anyway. Ditto for American, Delta, and Alaska in the Central Concourse, and Hawaiian on the Ewa and /or Interisalnd. There’s plenty of room for CUTE gates in the international area in the middle of the terminal. HNL is a nice airport, so is OGG (although Air Conditioning would be helpful at Kahului). Fix the baggage systems. The terminal isn’t that bad, but it was built in the 1960’s and, although it has been updated, it isn’t that different today.

  8. drvannostren

    June 11, 2019 at 3:56 pm

    I don’t think people are travelling to Hawaii for the airports, or NOT travelling there for the airports.

    That said, the last time I went through HNL a couple years ago it was pretty sad. The airport absolutely could/should be redesigned with a bit of a retro feel. I want it to be a unique airport, open air check-in, that kinda stuff. But for an airport with so much traffic, there really needs to be improvements made.

  9. cairns

    June 12, 2019 at 8:21 am

    If Oscar spent a dime to upgrade the filthy, stinking hellhole that is the C and D complex at IAD he might have leg to stand on. Otherwise he comes off as a self serving hypocrite with a crappy airline that I avoid whenever possible.

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