Big Island of Hawaii Airport
Kona International (KOA)
The Big Island's west coast is an area rich in history and culture, and is the perfect spot for snorkeling, deep sea fishing, or sipping delicious Kona coffee. And in order to get there, how about heading to the Kona International Airport at Keahole (KOA).
Located about 7 miles northwest of Kailua and 25 miles southwest of Waikoloa, Kona International Airport earns kudos from travelers for its open-air design, ease of navigation, friendly and accommodating staff, and even its tiki hut-style roofs- it is as charming as it is efficient.
The history of KOA began when, in 1947, the Territorial Legislature recognized the need for an airport in the area and plans were undertaken to upgrade the small Kailua Airstrip. Work began on the newly dubbed Kona Airport in the summer of 1948 and the opening ceremony was held in July 1949, with much pomp and circumstance.
The next couple of years brought upgrades and more accessibility, which, in turn, sparked an uptick in tourism. Likewise, hotels and other developments sprouted to meet increasing traveler demands. There came a point during the airport improvements that public opinion became divided, with some wanting to limit the scope of the airport expansion and development. By 1955, the once tiny airstrip covered 120 acres.
Ever-increasing demand eventually necessitated the relocation of the airport; it would now lie 7.5 miles north of the previous location. Construction began in 1969 and the new Keahole Airport was dedicated in 1970.
Over the next two decades, overseas flights increased dramatically, shops and displays were added, and expansion and improvements continued. In 1993 the Hawaii State Legislature renamed the Keahole Airport to Kona International Airport at Keahole.
Today, Kona International Airport occupies about 3,450 acres and acts as the primary airport on the island of Hawaii, hosting an average of 9,000 passengers per day. The facility serves interisland, commuter/air taxi, domestic, international, and general aviation activities. Several airlines serve KOA, most notably United, Delta, Hawaiian, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American, Mokulele, and Kona Shuttle.
Visitors to Kona International love its charm above all else; but don't assume that means there are no amenities or conveniences to make your trip more pleasant. Travelers enjoy a restaurant/bar, lei and fresh flower stands, newsstand, and gift shop. There are also ATM's available if you need some cash. Also, a drop-off mailbox is conveniently located on Pao'o Street. And, if you have any questions or concerns, they can be addressed at the Visitor Information Program booths. Should you arrive outside staff hours, courtesy phones are available.
KOA provides several easy-to-access options for ground transportation. Numerous companies provide taxi service and are located curbside in front of the baggage claim area. Additionally, a number of pre-arranged ground transportation companies such as tours, courtesy cars, and contracted transport service the facility. If you'd prefer to rent a car, doing so is a snap; as several companies have locations just off the terminal. Some of these providers have continuous shuttles that stop across the street from the baggage claim area. There is also a SpeediShuttle counter in baggage claim. Public transportation is not the best option- there is a bus that runs from the airport to Kailua-Kona town; however, service is very limited. Public parking is available in the lot directly across from the terminal, and there is a cell phone lot near the International Arrivals Building.
KOA has an open-air pavilion design. As a result, there are no loading bridges or jetways, so passengers board and disembark via portable stairs. Persons with disabilities may use a boarding lift service which should be pre-arranged with their airline. Convenient curbside loading and unloading zones are available, as are accessible parking spaces in the lot. Many of KOA's ground transportation providers are accessible; we recommend you check ahead to ensure a vehicle will be available. Likewise, airlines will provide porter services with advanced notice. Those needing TTYs will find them in several locations throughout the airport. Family restrooms are available and are accessible, as well. Of course, service dogs are always permitted.
Should you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands while at the Kona International Airport, a trip to the Ellison S. Onizuka Space Center is in order. This hidden gem (near baggage claim) is dedicated to the memory of the Kona native and first Asian American in space, who lost his life on the Space Shuttle Challenger mission on January 28, 1986. There are interactive exhibits, films, and several of Mr. Onizuka's personal items. Take some time to reflect on the inspirational life and legacy of this courageous man.
And please take our advice to appreciate the lovely Kona International Airport at Keahole. Its pleasant charm is sure to set the mood for the rest of your wonderful Hawaiian experience.