Maui News

Kahului Airport sees some of its longest lines; Maui residents wonder if relief is in sight

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Carrier demand for the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. timeframe and jumbo jets have contributed to longer than normal TSA lines at Kahului Airport. PC: Kehaulani Cerizo
Kahului Airport’s TSA line zig-zags in multiple sections recently. PC: Kehaulani Cerizo

In recent months, TSA lines for those without PreCheck are among the longest Kahului Airport has seen, and some residents are wondering if this is the new normal. 

Videos of travelers packed in Maui’s main airport, with lines snaking in multiple sections, have been circulating online. All the while, people are showing up hours in advance so they don’t miss inter-island flights that take less than an hour from takeoff to landing. 

Upcountry resident Kaipo Thomas, who was born and raised on Maui, said lines have been the longest he’s witnessed.

“There were three or four back-and-forth lines, even one outside on the sidewalk before you actually got in,” said Thomas, who recently took an inter-island trip with family. “You are looking around and there are hundreds of people.”

Maui District Airports Manager Marvin Moniz told Maui Now that travelers have voiced concerns about this summer’s long TSA lines. However, there are multiple reasons behind the extended wait times, which are just between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily, he said. 

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“All TSA areas are open and all screening lanes on both sides — they’ve increased their staff on both sides,” Moniz said. “About 80% (of the wait time) is a volume issue.”

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One contributor is that carrier demand for the 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. window is higher than it was pre-pandemic. If there is a gate, federal rules protect carriers from being denied a time slot, according to Moniz. Before the pandemic, arrival and departure times were more staggered and there were larger gaps between flights, he added. 

Another factor is that more jumbo jets, with high passenger volumes, are being used. With international travel still slow, carriers are deploying jumbo jets for trans-Pacific travel.

Moniz said Kahului Airport TSA lines will likely remain long through Labor Day. 

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Maui visitor arrivals are slightly below pre-pandemic numbers and international travel is still suppressed, according to Hawaii Tourism Authority. Moniz anticipates that once Asia and Europe travel markets rebound, the demand for Hawai’i will taper. 

“I think when people start getting more options, some people may opt to go back to Europe and Asia,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be like this forever or the new norm, if you will.”

To alleviate screening times, Kahului Airport is in the process of building a second checkpoint. But the state project will likely take about two years due to procurement, design and contracting, Moniz said.

Once it’s built, people flying out of Gates 1 to 15 will go through a checkpoint on the south side and those departing from Gates 17 to 39 will go through a checkpoint on the north side of the terminal.

“By doing that, we will reduce that whole long line in half,” Moniz said.

In the meantime, the airport official advised getting TSA PreCheck, which allows travelers to bypass standard TSA lines after an application, appointment and fee are processed. 

“Ultimately the idea is to get PreCheck,” Moniz said. “I would highly recommend it. If you cannot, allow yourself two hours, two and a half at the most (before flight time). Between 10 (a.m.) and 2 (p.m.) as it stands, comfortably I would say three.”

Some residents said TSA PreCheck is also in high demand, though, and the wait for an appointment is about a month out. 

Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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