Step off the plane in Kahului and into the airport, code OGG. A pause by the viewing windows in the departure area before sprinting down for the luggage is well worth it: jaw-dropping views of 10,000-foot mount Haleakala framed by bright blue sky and waving coconut trees. Welcome to Maui.
Downstairs on the lower level, arriving passengers claim their bags. There are several exits leading to the lower level of Kahului airport, but the escalators just beyond the Stinger Ray’s Bar & Grill near gate 23 lead to a special treat most visitors miss: a wall-sized salt water aquarium stocked with Hawaiian fish. Look for it near the lei greeters.
Once downstairs, the baggage handlers tend to take their time so before crowding around the carousel with the rest of the mob, there is time to stroll over to Starbucks for a cool refreshing drink in preparation for the long drive to the resorts. While stretching your legs, survey the mob of holiday-makers and brides-to-be. Look for the brown spotted beagle. He’s very a cute dog and will likely have his nose in your carry-on luggage, sniffing for illegally imported drugs and agricultural items.
If your not sure where to go for more information about ground transportation and accomodations, the State provides an information booth located across from carousel 3. It is always staffed during operating hours. The taxi and hotel shuttle stand is next to it. If your luggage is missing, the individual airline baggage offices are nearby. Rental car shuttles pick up passengers outside and to the right of baggage claim.
The biggest time waster for departing passengers is not sending luggage through agriculture screening before checking in at the counter. These ag screeners look like big security screening machines, but they are designed to detect organic materials. Things like fresh leis and fruit are not allowed. You can buy approved leis and pineapple from the airport shops. Send all checked luggage through these before proceeding to the counter to save time.
Most of the airlines offer online check in to speed the process, but in reality, you still have to queue up to check bags. Coach lines can take up to an hour to move through so come early, but not too early. The counters don’t allow check in prior to four hours before departure. So checking in bags in the morning for an evening flight won’t work. And be wary of excess weight. Most airlines strictly enforce weight limits because fuel to jet across the pond is so expensive. Starting in May 2008, United is going to start charging $25 for a second checked bag regardless of weight. It may be cheaper to ship home a flat-rate box of souvenirs through the US Post Office.
Food choices in the airport are very limited. Starbucks inside security offers the usual sandwiches and pastries. For hot food, there is one overpriced mediocre cafe that serves burgers and hot dogs. If airport and airplane food leave something to be desired, consider buying food before coming to the airport. There are plenty of places near the airport, such as Quiznos, Balle, Burger King, Pinatas Mexican and a yummy Thai place on Dairy Road. Take out food is allowed through airport security.
After picking up food and dropping off bags, after going through the security rigmarol, after finding your gate, don’t forget about those giant picture windows. The views of Haleakala from the departure lounge windows are stunning. Despite the travel logistics, green fields, waving palms and a towering volcano will remind you of why you can’t wait to come back.