Have you ever been distracted by something so interesting that it causes you to make a mistake that nearly ruins your carefully planned Hawaiian vacation? I have. Let me explain what happened…
Getting off that Alaska Airlines flight from SAN and being dumped into one of the most casual and laid back airports I’ve ever seen (KOA) was sensory overload. Landing in Hawaii after a long flight is a special feeling all it’s own, but landing at Kailua-Kona cranks that up to level 10 and it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by the warm tropical breezes, swaying palm trees, and those pretty Hawaiian Airlines 717’s all over the place.
This airport is unique on so many levels, and all I wanted to do was to sit and watch for a while and soak it all in. And that’s exactly what I did for the two hours before my connecting flight to HNL.
The problem was I didn’t realize that I was waiting in the wrong terminal. Yup, the Island Air gates are in terminal 1 at KOA, and I was inadvertently waiting in terminal 2 (the terminal I flew into).
I thought it was strange that I hadn’t seen a single Island Air airplane (or sign, or gate) while I was waiting, so 10 minutes before boarding was scheduled to begin I asked the kind lady at the information desk what gate Island Air departs from. As soon as she raised her arm and pointed to something way over my left shoulder, I knew I had screwed up. She didn’t even have to say anything – I knew I had to make a run for it if I was going to make this flight.
Kona, HI (KOA) – Honolulu, HI (HNL)
Saturday, April 29, 2017
Duration: 40 minutes
Seat: 7D (economy class)
Thankfully this is a small airport and the two terminals are located very close to each other. It only took 2 minutes to walk between the two, and then another 5 minutes to get through security. Whew. Disaster averted! Especially since the flight was running just a bit behind schedule and I still had a bit of time to wait before boarding would begin. Heck – the plane wasn’t even here yet so there was still plenty of time.
The temperature had risen quite a bit since my arrival earlier that morning, and I was a hot mess by the time I got through security and out into the terminal. Kailua-Kona airport is an outdoor facility with no air-conditioned gates to escape to, so the best you can do is find a spot in the shade that has a nice strong breeze blowing through it. Once I did that, I was good. Living in San Diego has made me forget what real heat and humidity feels like!
I ended up having to wait about 30 minutes due to the late arrival of the aircraft, which was totally fine – the weather was absolutely beautiful despite being so hot, and I was quite enjoying that fresh Hawaiian air and those warm tropical breezes. I wasn’t any in any rush to get to Honolulu either (no plans for the evening), so I was perfectly content just to sit and wait.
Boarding began just minutes after the last incoming passenger had deplaned, and once past the gate door it was a rather neat walk out onto the ramp. It was windy and hot though, so taking pics and video of the experience was tough. But I did my best, and I was very much looking forward to getting a ride on the first ATR 72 I’ve been on in over 16 years. Yeah, it’s been a while. That was back in 2001 on an American Eagle flight between St Louis, MO and South Bend, IN. My route today would be far more interesting I think.
The boarding door is in the rear of the ATR 72, with the cargo going up front. It’s a bit of a weird experience to sit in the aft section of the airplane like that (separated from the pilots), and to make things even more interesting, they usually keep the first 4 or 5 rows empty for proper weight balance. They did that on my last ATR 72 flights way back in 2001, and they did it again today.
Unfortunately, it was hot and miserable onboard, and I was sweating profusely by the time they pushed us off the gate. I saw many other passengers using the safety card as a fan, as there sure wasn’t any fresh air coming from the vents. I assumed things would cool off nicely once we took off though, so I was a perfectly happy trip-reporter taking pics and video of anything that moved.
We took off to the south today (runway 17), and then made a big gradual turn back towards Oahu. I still wasn’t completely in my happy place yet though, as it was still incredibly hot in the cabin and the windows were so dirty that I couldn’t get any decent pics of the departure. Frustrating! But hey – I was in Hawaii, so how bad could things really be? It’s important to keep things in perspective!
The clouds began to build as we made our way towards Honolulu, and the flight attendant came by offering complimentary cups of water – which ended up being a lifesaver for me due to how hot and muggy it was. I slammed that cup of water back like it was a shot of straight vodka, and it only left me wanting more. I probably could have drank 10 of those things, but thinking that it would be rude to ask for more, I toughed it out and sat in thirsty silence for the rest of the flight.
The heat combined with the solid white mass of cloud outside my window were starting to make me sick by the time we started the descent into HNL. This was an extremely bumpy flight due to the high winds across the entire Hawaiian Island chain that day, and the fact that I couldn’t see anything out the windows to help me get my bearings was starting to give me motion sickness. I’m usually fine if I can see the horizon, but…that wasn’t happening today. I didn’t see the ground (or ocean) until just minutes before landing, so unfortunately, I can’t offer you amazing travel magazine-style pics of Oahu from the air. This was all mother nature was giving us today:
Crummy weather, right? Oh well. As I said before, it’s always a special feeling to arrive in Hawaii and I was still feeling energized (with a twinge of motion sickness) and very much looking forward to hitting the beach that evening. I had a series of really fun inter-island flights planned for the following morning, so it was important to relax and get some rest before taking to the skies again…