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Guide to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL)

There are ten commercial airports located in Hawaii of which Daniel K. Inouye Airport (HNL) in Honolulu is the largest. Formerly known as Honolulu Airport it was renamed in memory of former U.S. State Senator, and native Hawaiian, Daniel Inouye who was once third in line to become U.S. President.

Located approximately 3 miles (5 km) from central Honolulu, the airport is spread over 4,200 acres and runs flights to the northern United States and Canada as well as long distance destinations such as Melbourne and Sydney in Australia.

Daniel K. Inouye International is a hub for Hawaiian Airlines and also an operational base for Aloha Air Cargo. Despite the name change, the IATA (International Air Transport Association) airport code remains HNL, the code originally denoting Honolulu Airport.

HNL Airport History

The airport was first known as John Rodgers Airport when it opened in 1927 having been named after John Rodgers, a naval officer in World War I. It was the first proper airport to be located in Hawaii, the islands previously being served by rough landing strips, levelled fields and some seaplane docks.

Following the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, the U.S. military commandeered all civilian airports in Hawaii including Rodgers which was designated as Naval Air Station Honolulu. Having built a new terminal building and control tower, the airfield remained under U.S. Navy control until 1946 when it was returned to Hawaiian civil authorities. At that time the airport was one of the largest U.S. airports with four paved runways and three further runways to accommodate seaplanes.

Back under civil control, the airport was renamed in 1947 as Honolulu Airport with the “international” tag being added in 1951.

The old terminal was replaced in 1962 by the John Rodgers Terminal which was improved and modernised in the following years and, by 1966, both Aloha and Hawaiian Airlines were flying scheduled flights between the Hawaiian islands.

Commercial Expansion

Throughout the 60's and 70's many international airlines began to use Honolulu Airport as a stopover point on transpacific flights. These included many of the bigger airlines of the day as well as some smaller and up and coming operators.

Some of the bigger airlines using the airport included:

BOAC (British Airways), Air New Zealand, China Airlines, Japan Airlines, Qantas and Singapore Airlines.

More big names followed over the following decades as Honolulu International added more well-established airlines to its roster.

These included:

American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Braniff International, Pan Am, Western Airlines, Delta Air Lines, TWA, Air Canada and United Airlines.

With business and passenger numbers steadily increasing it became obvious that Honolulu International Airport was struggling to cope with demand and an overhaul and upgrade was required.


In early 2006, the sitting Governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, approved a modernisation program for all Hawaiian airports with $1.7 billion being allocated to Honolulu. The priority was to improve security and operational procedures while also improving service to passengers transiting the airport.

A new parking garage has been built and the international arrivals corridor has seen the addition of moving footpaths. A concourse expansion, the Mauka Concourse, was also built at the expense of Hawaiian Airlines and officially opened in 2017.

In the same year, the airport was officially renamed as the Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, retaining the IATA airport code HNL.

Airport Layout and Facilities

There are four runways at Honolulu Airport. The main runway, known as the Reef Runway, was actually constructed offshore and was an alternate landing site for now retired Space Shuttle. The airport also has two offshore waterways for the use of seaplanes.

There are 60 gates spread across three terminals, designated Terminals 1, 2 and 3, at Honolulu.

Terminal 1 (formerly “Interisland Terminal”)

Opened as recently as 1993, Terminal 1 has 25 gates, the new Mauka Concourse and a post-security walkway connecting to Terminal 2

Terminal 2 (formerly “Overseas Terminal”)

With 29 gates, Terminal 2 is the largest of the three terminals and the only one suited to, and used for, international departures and arrivals

Terminal 3

The smallest terminal at Honolulu International, Terminal 3 replaced an older single-story building which was closed and demolished and now handles only smaller aircraft

Moving around the airport is easily achieved using the Wiki Wiki Shuttle (a free shuttle bus service) which operates between all three terminals as well as between concourses in Terminal 1 and Terminal 2.

Airlines and Terminals

Terminal 1

Hawaiian Airlines exclusively

Terminal 2

Handles all international flights including those from major international carriers including:
Alaska Airlines, Korean Air, Qantas, Delta Air Lines, AeroMexico, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, American Airlines, United Airlines, Air New Zealand, Air Canada, Iberia, KLM

Terminal 3

Mokulele Airlines

Extraordinary Security

Although Hawaii might be viewed as a small outpost of the United States, there are stringent security checks on people and goods moving through Honolulu International. No less than eight federal agencies maintain a a presence at the airport including:

  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
  • Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
  • Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

The Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Post Office are also represented and the airport even contains its own jail.

Until recently, Honolulu had a bad reputation as one of the worst American airports when it came to time spent clearing customs and immigration. The situation has improved greatly in recent years but queues can still be expected to be long during peak daytime hours and particularly so during the holiday periods.

Clearning Immigration – ESTA and Visa Requirements

Almost immediately upon landing at the airport international travelers will be checked through immigration as this is the first area encountered after disembarking. There is a separate line for overseas visitors which is designated as either “Non-Resident” or “Foreign Passport”.

When called forward a valid passport should be presented to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agent on duty as well as a U.S. Visa and Customs Declaration Form should they also be required.

Visa Waiver Program

A visa is not required by citizens of countries that are enrolled in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). These VWP countries are considered as low security risks and include most of the European Union member states and other countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Japan and many more.

Instead of a visa, VWP citizens require an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) approved passport. Applying for and receiving an ESTA is mandatory and should be done well in advance of any planned visit to the United States to allow ESTA authorities time to run background checks on applicants.

VWP citizens with an ESTA approved passport are not required to complete a Customs Declaration Form.

It is quite common for the CBP agent to ask incoming passengers a few questions which usually cover the following topics:

  • Purpose of the visit
  • Duration of stay in the United States
  • Details of booked accommodation

While providing the name and address of a hotel may be a simple matter it can be a more complex procedure if planning to stay with relations or friends and having names and addresses already written out and to hand can help speed the immigration process along.

Transfers and Ground Transportation

Transport to and from the airport is relatively straightforward as there are a number of options available including buses, a shuttle service, taxi or car.


The local bus service, imaginatively called TheBus, runs several routes to Honolulu Airport. Route 20 goes to downtown Honolulu while Routes 9, 40, 42, 51 and 303 have a variety of destinations across the island of Oahu.

Shuttle Bus

An on-demand shuttle service operates from the airport to any chosen destination on Oahu.


AMPCO Express taxis operate out of Honolulu airport from outside the baggage claim areas of all terminals.

Car Rental

Since 2021, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport has car rental facilities with more than 4,500 vehicles available for hire.

There is no rail service to the airport although a new station is planned for the airport which will be connected to the Honolulu Rail Transit system. However, this is a work in progress and not expected to be operational until at least 2031.