Over the last half decade, as a result of continuing education opportunities, conferences, personal travel and the variety of work that I do, both volunteer and career-wise, I have found myself on airplanes and in airports much more frequently than I did for the first 45 years of my life. This year also involved a job search, and as a result, I’ve made nine round trip flights to somewhere since January. I know there are a lot of business travelers, and others, who fly much more often than that, but since I am writing this while passing the time sitting in an airport waiting for a delayed flight, I thought it might be time to comment on the experiences, and share a little bit of what I have learned.
Keep in mind, I’ve not flown through or to the big airports in New York or Los Angeles, and I’ve never been to the Far East or South America. Mainly, I’ve flown between Houston and a variety of destinations in the West, upper Midwest, Deep South and Mid-Atlantic. I’ve made one trip to Europe, from St. Louis to Zurich, via Boston and Paris on the way there, and Paris and Newark on the way back. Here’s a little bit of what I have learned.
Best shopping in an airport: Philadelphia Worst: Greenville/Spartanburg
Fastest security lines: Pittsburgh Slowest: Tie, Chicago Midway and St. Louis
Best airport dining: You can smell the deep dish pizza at Chicago O’Hare when you’re coming off the jetway. Worst: Greenville/Spartanburg
Easiest plane changes: Charlotte Worst: Atlanta
Quickest baggage claim: Greenville/Spartanburg (They only have one carousel and twelve gates) Slowest: Houston Hobby
Quickest car rental counters: Chicago Midway, Washington National Slowest: St. Louis
Best airport bookstores: Philadelphia, Dallas/Ft Worth
Lots of Starbucks: Houston Intercontinental, Chicago O’Hare, St. Louis Starbucks-less: Houston Hobby
Best airport for direct and non-stop flights: Phoenix. You can go just about anywhere non-stop from Phoenix on a convenient schedule, and you’ve got a good choice of airlines as well.
The biggest are certainly not always the best among domestic airports. The biggest and busiest airports are also the ones most affected when there are problems or delays. For me, personally, Atlanta has always posed a special set of difficulties including equipment failure and flight delays. I’ve learned to try to avoid, if at all possible, making connections there. And for such a large, busy airport, where most of the passenger traffic is making a connection behind the secure area rather than originating locally, the dining and shopping on the concourses is not very good. Chicago O’Hare isn’t bad for making connections, though the walk can sometimes be long, but if that’s your final destination, be prepared to wait in long lines for the car rental shuttle, and in major traffic getting back to the airport. In Phoenix, its a long ride to the car rental garage, and a long walk to wherever the car might be parked.
There are some airport conveniences that have made some airports a real pleasureable experience. Pittsburgh’s landside terminal, with the ticket and check-in counters and security in one location, makes getting bags checked and getting through security easy, and is connected to the gate area by a train. Changing planes in Charlotte is a breeze, with a well designed airport that is compact, rather than sprawling. Dallas/Ft. Worth’s train system offers a great view while you’re changing terminals. And any airport with a Brookstone store is going to get my vote for being a great place.