Living in the corridor between New York and Washington D.C. has some advantages, one of them being that I live a reasonable drive from the Philadelphia and Baltimore airports (with Newark being just a little farther away). Philadelphia is the absolute closest and certainly offers the most flights in the immediate area. But even though it takes a half hour longer to drive to Baltimore, when I travel with the kids I’ve started booking all my flights from there. Why?
I find that when I’m traveling with my kids I care more about our actual airport experience. It’s a big part of what sets the mood for the trip, the difference between excitement and misery as we board the plane. You may recall that when we left for Paris, Newark Airport proved to be something less than stellar and I’ve had similar experiences in Philadelphia. And this doesn’t have to do with the cleanliness, shops in the airport mall, or availability of play areas (not that those things hurt). I’m talking about more basic things: I don’t want the long-term parking lot to be full, or to be stressed out by long lines, unpleasant staff (especially at security), or a mile-long walk to a gate, car seat in tow. And when I get to the other end I don’t want to wait an hour for my luggage, so I try to book my arrivals at smaller airports when I can as well. Although, not all airports of a larger size are like that. I have visited many airports in my time and quite a few of them are very well equipped. Moreso, my friends have told me that it must be American airports, as the parking aéroport genève (Geneva Airport Parking) is very generous with car washing services and mechanics on site! Maybe I’m just not travelled enough…anyway, for now, I like to use the smaller airports.
Certainly there are fewer dining options at smaller airports, which I deal with by packing my own food – a necessity on today’s planes anyway. And there’s also the fact that if your flight is canceled there may not be another one that day to replace it. But you know, the last time I got stuck at O’Hare on a flight to Lincoln, Nebraska for a friend’s wedding, my only option that would get me there in time for the wedding (at which Matt was the best man) was to fly to Saint Louis, where we had to spend the night, then fly to Omaha and rent a car (at our own expense) and drive the rest of the way. So I’ve decided it’s worth the risk.
I do often have to pay a little bit more for tickets at the smaller airports (usually the price different is negligible) and do have fewer choices for flight times, but I’m committed to smaller airports whenever I can make them work. In my experience the BWI (that’s Baltimore/Washington International for you newbies) beats both Philly and Newark. Milwaukee also makes a nice substitute for O’Hare. I’m also wondering I the same thing holds true in other parts of the world – I know that I’ve vowed to avoid Heathrow on future European trips because of the hideous lines I’ve experienced there the last two or three times I’ve used it as my stopover. How about you dear readers? Do you have any favorite smaller airports or nightmare stories about bigger ones?
Photo courtesy of Ken Lund.