Organized chaos at Kahului Airport on Maui as visitors leave amid devastating wildfires
It was organized chaos on Friday morning at ticket gates and security as the mass exodus of travelers continues to inundate the Kahului Airport following the devastating fire that erupted in Lāhainā on Tuesday and has left at least 55 people dead.
While the security line appeared daunting, with more than 300 people snaked around three rows outside and inside like a Disney World ride, it moved efficiently fast.
Travelers were able to make it through in less than 30 minutes. Anna Pinkos, traveling home to California, said she and her son got through security in about 15 minutes.
“We did have “TSA PreCheck,” Pinkos said with a smile.
On an average day, 11,000 people leave Maui. Maui Airports District Manager Marvin Moniz said the airport’s number of departing passengers reached an all-time high on Thursday where they counted about 15,800 people flying out of Maui.
Anna Pu, Lead supervisor at the transportation company Roberts Hawai‘i, has been in charge of the TSA line for at least three years. She estimated 14,000 to 15,000 people a day are trying to fly out of Maui since Tuesday.
Pu said her team doubled up in staff to get travelers through the lines. Passengers, Pu said, have been good.
“I’ve told my staff to treat them with the same courtesy they would their own families, because we don’t know what they’ve been through,” Pu said.
Holding back tears, Pu hasn’t been able to contact her family still in Lāhainā. But, she’s been coming to work, working double shifts, to help people get home.
In an effort to keep operations running smoothly, Moniz said the airport beefed up staffing in all departments with help brought in from neighbor islands. Tour buses are now picking up visitors to take to Lāhainā so they can get their belongings.
Eighteen-year-old Sherene Lee along with her sister and nieces were among the 400 to 600 people that slept overnight at the airport after their flight home to California was canceled.
When they arrived at the airport Thursday, Lee said, she didn’t know it would be this severe. “Everyone is trying to get out of here.”
Lee said other travelers have been sleeping at the airport because of canceled flights. Maui locals have come to the aid of visitors, however, bringing couch cushions to sit on, food to eat, toiletry items and more.
Lee said some families have opened their homes to visitors giving them places to shower. The Starbucks in the airport gave out free coffee before closing the store Thursday night.