Raise your hand if you live in or near a large city with access to a sizeable airport. You know, the kind of airport that offers multiple flights daily to numerous destinations. Where there are lines to wait in, restaurants to eat at, and it actually takes a bit of time to get to the gate. Now, raise your hand if you have ever been curious what it would be like to travel when you don’t have these same luxuries. Did you raise your hand?
Most of the US population lives within a reasonable distance to a major (often international) airport. We do not. The nearest airport that fits this description is a 4.5 hour drive to another state. However, we are fortunate that we do still have air service in our community. There are many challenges and many perks to this. Ready? Here it goes!
I always like to get the bad stuff out of the way first, that way I can focus on the good. Here are the challenges for flying via small local airports.
Limited flight options
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, our airport offered limited flight options. Generally, there were 4 flights per day on United Airlines and 2 per day on Delta. Six total flights is all there is! Or was… Unfortunately, this is greatly reduced and it is uncertain whether it will ever return to pre-pandemic levels. Nonetheless, having limited flight options can be a hinderance when trying to get the heck out of dodge for a bit.
Additionally, the two airlines that service our airport operate on a hub-and-spoke system. This means to fly anywhere, we first have to connect in either Denver or Salt Lake City.
Because we have to connect at a hub airport, cancellations are the pits! Most fliers who use a major airport can easily just catch the next flight (or be re-routed) in the event of a cancellation or missed connection. This option is generally not available when you are based out of a small airport. I cannot count how many times the “next available flight” is a few days away. We are no strangers to having to rent a car and drive home.
Higher Ticket Costs
That same hub-and-spoke model and limited flights also means we have to pay higher ticket prices than the average Joe. What is a good deal to us is a rip-off to travelers in other cities.
Not Always Up To Speed
It was only just a few months ago that we received a dedicated TSA Pre-Check line. Until then, some of our TSA screening practices were a bit behind the times. Several other processes we encounter are also a bit dated. Also dated is the actual facility. Small airports don’t have large operating and renovation budgets.
In my early days of flying, I was no stranger to a tiny propeller plane. We called them “vomit comets”. While we have moved up to small jet service, our airport just doesn’t have the passenger volume needed for large planes. Most flights fit somewhere between 20-50 passengers. Anxious fliers find this a bit unnerving.
We have one jet bridge. That’s right – one! And, it’s United’s jet bridge. So, if you are flying on Delta you have to walk outside to get to the plane. That doesn’t seem like a big deal. But, when you are flying in the dead of winter and it’s -20 degrees Fahrenheit with 50mph wind, it is a very big deal!
Dismal Dining Options
Right before security there is a bar that serves limited food options. Its hours of operation are limited. After security, there are vending machines. If you rely on the airport dining options as your pre-flight meal, be prepared to go hungry. We always eat at home before or after our flight.
Would you believe me if I told you that the person who is always working at the ticketing counter also scans the boarding passes at the gate, loads the checked luggage, guides the plane away from the gate and is responsible for de-icing in the winter? Because our airport is so small, with limited flights, staff has to fill multiple roles in order meet full-time employment. Poor things!
Admittedly, we are often jealous of our fellow travelers with better proximity to big airports. On the surface, it seems like the pros outweigh the cons. But, we also know that bigger isn’t always better, even when it comes to airports!
Because there are only a few flights per day and the planes are smaller, the lines are also smaller. This applies to check-in, security and boarding. The same is true at baggage claim.
Less Wait Time
On a good day, when TSA has their act in gear, we can arrive at our airport 20 minutes before boarding starts, pass through security, and have enough time to pack items back in our bags before we start boarding. Granted, we check in online and travel with carry-on bags, but still. There is no need to spend an hour or more sitting around waiting.
Personally, I have found a much better community feel at our small local airport. The staff is friendlier and more willing to help travelers. Their interactions are much more genuine and less corporate scripting. If needed, passengers can easily reach out to the head of the airport and actually get a response!
Generally, we just get a ride to the airport so there is no need to pay for parking. But, for those who do need this option, it is cheaper at our local airport. Parking in the main lot (which is the only lot) costs $5.00 per day. Large airports don’t offer rates this low even at their distant shuttle lots.
Ease Of Access
Speaking of cheap parking, I should mention that the one and only parking lot is directly across the street from the terminal. By walking just a few yards, you are where you need to be. The same is true once inside the small airport. Just walk a little bit and you are where you need to be. Travelers in small airports will never feel lost or disoriented.
If you want a good laugh, once and awhile you’ll get an chuckle from an unintended mistake. Flight attendants have scripts they follow for their announcements. Sometimes, upon arrival the flight attendants forget where we are. They will share the usual information about arriving at the final destination versus finding connecting flight information on the board. It is quite humorous.
While there are obviously a lot of negatives in flying via a small airport, it is clear to see that there are some great benefits too! Hopefully, you learned some things about flying via these small-town gems.
Great post!! Provides some chuckles as well as providing the pros and cons of small v. large airports. Very interesting. Thank you.
Glad you got a laugh out of it. There’s definitely good and bad when it comes to these little “gems”.
I love small airports, accept for the tax-free stores… small airports, small stores 😛 But then again, small airport – shorter lines 🙂
We don’t even have any tax-free stores! There is one little gift shop… and I’m not sure I have seen it open for business in years…
We have an international airport near us in Turkey, but as soon as the season stops, the international flights stop, and you have the same hub and spoke model, and have to fly to Istanbul, in order to get anywhere else. Last December I had a trip home to the UK planned, and my internal flight was cancelled, and there was a 14 hour delay to the next flight so they put me up in a hotel for the day until the flight, and then when I got to Istanbul, I’d obviously missed my connecting flight, and they put me up in another hotel, and I had to get up at 3am to catch the next flight. It’s so easy to take big airports for granted, and having the flexibility of just catching the next flight, but when you’re in a little airport, any little delay can have a huge knock on effect.
This is so true! Do you have to go through customs and immigration each time you leave Turkey to another European destination? I think that would that would make trips via a small airport even harder as you would have to allot even more extra time!
We live in Malta so our airport is both large and small. Large in that we can fly to many destinations easily, well we can in another month’s time but small, that when we land, we can be home within 15 minutes from touchdown 🙂
Super jealous that you guys are in Malta! We have looked there for both future travels and future retirement!
Oh, I feel your pain. While we have 2 smallish airports within 30-45 minutes, they’re not quite as small as yours. However, having lived in Phoenix, Arizona and in a suburb of Los Angeles, I was pretty spoiled when it came to prices and options. The only time I’ve seen good prices for flights from our new home base has been during the pandemic when no one wants to be traveling. 🙂 We also deal with the lack of non-stop flights to anywhere. The low traffic and minimal wait times on site are definitely a plus though. We will be moving in a year or so and airport access is one of our big considerations. Thanks for sharing your experience.
If and when we ever relocate, decent airport access will be a major factor for us as well! Phoenix is a nice spot and is somewhere on our list.
I got a chuckle as I have lived near small and large airports over the years and your comments are spot on. I live near Seattle now and lines for security can be crazy.
Oh yes, Seattle’s airport is very busy! I’m glad you can relate to the small airport stuff!
I remember once doing an internal flight from a small airport in New Zealand. I was ready with my passport and documents etc and they just waved us through and on to the plane as if it was a bus. I found that really great for time-saving but it felt weird that it was so quickly carried out.
It is strange when you’re used to such formality! I’m glad we aren’t the only ones who have experienced some of these small airport quirks.
Interesting topic for a blog! I chuckled when I read about how flight attendants forget where they are and announce the wrong information. It is good that at least the parking is cheaper and lines are shorter. Thanks for an informative post! 🙂
It is really humorous, especially when they realized they’ve done it and start laughing at themselves. The only place to go is back to the hub airport with the exact same crew on the exact same airplane!
I love those small city airports – sooo convenient! The funniest one was in Buenos Aires where I literally had to wait on a lawn in front of the check-in building since indoors was hardly space to sit.
That is super funny, but I think I would love sitting on the lawn before a flight!
It was interesting to read about the pros and cons of a small airport. We stay in a city and for us the airport is about 3 hours drive away. Being a big international airport it means we need to be there atleast 2 hours before the flight, so any flight for us means leaving home 5 hours in advance!
You make a very good point… Living at a distance and having to be someplace two hours early makes for a very long departure from home. I’m glad we don’t have that when we travel via our local airport. But, I’m sure you guys are able to make it to wonderful destinations from where you live
I don’t know where you live, but you described the airport in Idaho Falls, where we used to live, right down to the hub airports. I just flew there and had a 5 1/2 layover in SLC because so many flights into Idaho Falls had been canceled. Where we are right now, there are 2 large airports within a 90 minute drive. Theres a lot to be said for the smaller airports though. I love not waiting around for a flight when I fly out of there.
Having been to I.F. a handful of times, I can tell you that our town, in a neighboring state, is nearly identical to it! It must be nice to be so close to larger airports!
I love my smaller airport!! Boston Logan is a mess, and the small regional airport is just as close and Logan and if I’m staying on the East Coast, the smaller airport is cheaper. There’s definitely some pits (like limited food options!) but definitely perks like you point out! I also find it funny when flight attendants forget where we are—I feel bad for them knowing they must be tired!!
There’s definitely good and bad a small airports… As well as big airports! I have found myself getting some anxiety lately and some of the bigger ones, which is a new travel experience for me. I guess the smaller ones are looking better and better!
We live near a major airport (San Jose), but it’s considered a second tier, so it’s smaller than places like San Francisco. It’s pretty easy to get in and out of, and the same goes for our home airport in Orange County. I’ve always appreciated that these airports give you the feeling of a smaller airport, but with all of the usual conveniences. However, the regional airport you guys live near (Grand Junction?) has some nice perks as well, since it actually is a small airport! I definitely like a more relaxed vibe and it sounds like you have it there. We picked up some family at the airport in Jackson, Wyoming when we got married there a few years back and it was so crazy to just drive up, park for free and walk into the terminal (no Sheriff standing guard or anything).
I lived in Jackson for a while several years ago! Believe it or not that Airport there offers quite a bit more service than what we have where we live now. It’s weird to think that San Jose would be a second-tier airport. I guess every place has its challenges.
I raised my hand for the smaller airports! I have 3 all within an hour drive from me and I MUCH prefer them to Toronto Airport. I love that there are no crowds and it’s much more relaxed, but I just wish that they travelled to more destinations!
I agree – the smaller ones are much more relaxed but just so darn limiting in their offerings!
I don’t mind small regional airports at all, though if I had to drive 4.5 hours to my nearest airport that wouldn’t be ideal. Shorter queues are a big plus, also I find the staff much more friendly and helpful at the smaller airports. It will be interesting to see how your flight service will be once the travel restrictions lift.
Yes, like many others, we are anxious to see what travel is like once the restrictions lift – especially for these smaller establishments.
This was very insightful! I’ve only flown from a small airport a few times–in the Bahamas Out Islands and in a small city in Greece. I actually had no idea we even had small airports in the US! (doh!) I usually fly out of Boston and the next nearest airport is Green in Providence, which is small but not really that small. It’s fascinating that the staff is responsible for multiple roles, too. The biggest bonus in my mind: I would love to arrive less than a half hour ahead of my flight and be able to board and take off. Waiting 3 hours is for the birds…LOL.
Oh, I have been to many small US airports. But, many of them are a lot nicer than ours… which I find really interesting! I guess it goes to show how much effort and money a destination will put into their airport if it’s in a tourism hot spot! And yes, I agree that waiting around for hours is no good!
I agree with all your pros and cons about small airports. I’ve traveled through some that only had one flight per day and only to one location. But I agree with you that sometimes these small airports are much more desireable than the gigantic ones.
There are nice benefits to them, especially where some of the massive airports can be so overwhelming!
I can totally relate! I live near Vancouver and the lines can be horrendous depending on the time of day. But for the last few years my fiance lived in Saskatoon and when I visited him, I could literally show up 15 mins before boarding and not have any issue. Definitely both have their pros and cons 🙂
I would have imagined Saskatoon’s airport to be a bit bigger!? I’m glad its a relatable travel experience though!
This was such an interesting and relatable post. I couldn’t stop laughing reading some sections. Loved the way you shared the pros and cons of small vs large airports. We too have a lot of cases like that in India. I am really dying to fly again once the COVID situation proves.
Glad you enjoyed the post. I’m sure India has a good variety of big and small airport experiences! We can’t wait for the day that we can safely fly again!
I have not had a flight out of a smaller airport. We always try to just get the cheapest flight, but this is interesting insight!
I wish we had better cheap options that didn’t involve driving so far!
We have used both large and small airports during our travels. You are right, there are definitely pros and cons to both. 🙂
There certainly are!
Awesome post! I agree that flying from small airports can be a quite fun and relaxing experience. Recently, I flew out of a small jungle airport and it was so relaxing. Basically only had to arrive 30 minutes before boarding, there were no more than ten other people around me, and I even convinced the staff to carry a little kitten on my lap.
A kitten!?! How fun! Yes, some smaller airports definitely have many perks… even cute, fuzzy ones!
I haven’t gotten a chance to go through a small local airport before. Thank you for the viewpoint.
It is a much different experience than that of massive airports!
We are spoiled having DFW in our neighborhood – which, as you pointed out, also has some drawbacks. We do have to get to the airport as much as two hours early to allow time for parking, check-in, and TSA lines. For a while I used to fly in-out of Reading Regional Airport in Reading, PA. What I remember most is an on-site restaurant with pull-up parking…for airplanes! That was actually pretty cool to see. 🙂
Ooh you’ve got me thinking now because I’ve never flown from a small airport before! It looks like there are lots of benefits to it! I’ll have to try one out some time! Thanks for the great advice!
Great post! I grew up in Vermont, and the parking at Burlington airport is so affordable and TSA is very fast. Now I live in NYC, and JFK and EWR are a totally different story…
I generally fly out of a a major international airport because it is close to my house. I never would have guessed that at a small airport the person who works the ticket counter has so many other jobs, including de-icing the plane.
I have experienced something like this while flying from Nairobi to Masai Mara. It was so amusing. Your post made me nostalgic.