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The Alternative Airports for Avoiding 9 Nightmare Air Hubs

SmarterTravel

“Best airport” rankings aren’t typically the most helpful in terms of travel planning: If I want to go to Boston, I’m not going to head for Las Vegas instead because its airport is better. But those best airport lists do come in handy in two cases—when you have a choice of airport for your connecting flight, and when you can choose between multiple airports within a single metro area.

J.D. Power’s latest North American Airport Satisfaction Study has some useful guidance about both. The rankings, which depend on both airport size and amenities, include some notable alternative airports to consider if you want to avoid a tight connection, or minimize the airport madness you usually see at massive air hubs around the holidays. For example, why put yourself through the insanity of LAX traffic when you can opt for Burbank’s airport instead?

The Best Alternative Airports

Nine large U.S. metro areas are included on J.D. Power’s list as having alternative airport options. Other than the major airport, most secondary fields are not hubs; they can be well located for at least some origin and destination travelers, but they provide nonstops to/from far fewer other areas.

The study covers 61 air hubs in the U.S. and Canada, divided into three groups depending on total number of passengers: mega (the biggest), large, and medium. Ratings are on a scale of 0 to 1,000 points, awarded on the basis of aggregate scores for six factors: terminal facilities, airport accessibility, security check, baggage claim, check-in/baggage check, and food/beverage and retail. Here are the alternative airports to consider in nine U.S. cities, what they scored, and which notable ones didn’t make the rankings.

Chicago

  • Midway: 763
  • O’Hare: 735

Dallas

  • Dallas Love: 810
  • Dallas Fort Worth: 770

Houston

  • Bush: 769
  • Hobby: 768

Los Angeles

  • Orange County: 815
  • Burbank: 788
  • Ontario: 783
  • Los Angeles: 735
  • Long Beach: unscored

New York City/Newark

  • JFK: 752
  • Newark: 701
  • La Guardia: 678
  • Islip, Stewart, and White Plains: unscored

Orlando

  • Orlando: 781
  • Sanford: unscored

Phoenix

  • Sky Harbor: 765
  • Mesa: unscored

San Francisco Bay Area

  • San Jose: 767
  • San Francisco: 763
  • Oakland: 749
  • Sonoma County Airport: unscored

Washington

  • Baltimore: 759
  • Reagan National: 759
  • Dulles: 751

Some more remote airports sometimes try to attach themselves to a somewhat nearby hub: Boston via Manchester (New Hampshire), Miami via Fort Lauderdale, and Toronto via Hamilton come to mind. Some low-fare lines like Allegiant do focus on airports near, rather than inside, big metro areas, but the obvious requirement is that you stay aware of the geography: If a remote airfield works for where your final destination is, then use it—but don’t bet on a quick or cheap trip to or through the main city center.

The Best Airport Options for Each Airline

I’ve also taken a moment to match popular U.S. airlines with the best-ranked airports they serve, which matters if you’re debating which airline to fly to or through, depending on the connections available. Which airports are “best” might well depend on the airline you’re flying.

For the most part, each giant airline operates a unique set of hubs, each with a relatively small percentage of total flights by other airlines. Thus, high-ranking Detroit is a great hub for connecting between Delta flights, but shouldn’t be on your radar for connections on American or United.

Here are high-ranking air hubs organized by airline:

American Airlines

  • Dallas-Ft Worth: 770
  • Phoenix: 765
  • Charlotte: 761
  • New York/JFK: 752
  • Miami: 750
  • Philadelphia: 736
  • Chicago/O’ Hare: 735

Delta Air Lines

  • Cincinnati: 804
  • Detroit: 775
  • Atlanta: 769
  • Salt Lake City: 768
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul: 767
  • Seattle-Tacoma: 756
  • New York/JFK: 752

United Airlines

  • Denver: 771
  • Houston/Bush: 769
  • San Francisco: 763
  • Washington/Dulles: 751
  • Chicago/O’Hare: 735
  • Los Angeles: 735
  • Newark: 701

Southwest Airlines

  • Dallas/Love: 810
  • Houston/Hobby: 768
  • San Jose: 767
  • Chicago/Midway: 763
  • Baltimore: 759
  • Oakland: 749

Air Canada

  • Vancouver: 781
  • Montreal: 771
  • Toronto: 761
  • Calgary: 756

Which alternative airports do you swear by? Comment below.

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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.

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