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7 Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing an Airport

Fodor’s member AnnMarie_C recently asked fellow travelers in the Air Travel forum how they choose which airport to use as their home base. When booking their flight, do they opt for the closest regional airport and take connecting flights? Or do they drive to a further-flung major airport to take advantage of lower fares and fewer connections? Many shared how far they were willing to drive to save time or money. Some lamented that they didn’t really have the option to choose; they had to drive hours just to fly anywhere. In the end, AnnMarie_C acknowledged these long pre-trip treks by saying “I have a whole new appreciation for what people go through to travel and I admire those of you who make such long treks in order TO travel.”

Below are a few things to consider when deciding what airport to fly in or out of. You may find, like many of the travelers that shared their experience, that your choice really just depends on the situation.

Share your experience: How far are you willing to drive to catch a flight?

How far are you flying and how long is your trip?

If your flight is super long (flight to Tokyo) or if your trip is super lengthy (3 weeks in Europe), it might make more sense to persevere through a 3-hour drive to a more major airport.

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“Destination has a lot to do with how far I’d be willing to drive, but I would make the trip to Dulles for a great deal, overseas flight. I had a friend who once drove 3 hours, San Antonio to Houston, for an international flight and swore he’d never do it again.” — AnnMarie_C

Are there transportation alternatives?

In some mid-size cities, you might find that there are public buses or private shuttles that can take you to a major airport. You’ll save on both gas and parking.

“I’m in a medium-size city with its own local airport. That same city has a bus shuttle that runs about 10 times a day (day and night) to O’Hare at three hours and $25 one way. If the Chicago fare is a lot better (and it’s gotta be a lot better), I’ll take the bus to O’Hare. Driving myself I’d rather not do.” — Jeff_Costa_Rica

Do you have more money or time to burn?

If you’re short on money, but have the time to spare, you might find the schlep to a major airport to be worth the hassle after seeing how much cheaper your airfare will be. Of course, be sure to consider all of the costs associated with getting to the airport that’s farther away. Driving costs adds up quickly.

“When I used to live in Philadelphia, I was ‘fortunate’ to have US Airways as my hub, so I pretty much used it exclusively, except ONCE. I flew out of/into Newark NJ to get to Germany. I think I save a couple hundred bucks. The major downside was the pain and hassle to get to EWR. To get to EWR, it involved 3 changes of trains, and took about 2.5 hours. Was it worth it? Probably not, esp considering after ALL THAT traveling, I was faced with another 10 hr flight to get to my actual destination. But, back then, I had more time than I had money, so that’s why I did that. Of course, the worst part was coming home – after a 10+ hour on the plane, another hour through immigration, I still had another 2.5 hours of 3 changes of trains to get home.” — yk

What is your personal tolerance for connecting flights and their layovers?

Some travelers don’t mind connecting flights. What’s one more flight after all? Others can’t stand the idea of flying out of the way or wasting time on a layover. Everyone is different. Two members voiced their separate strategies for deciding when connecting flights were worth it.

“My gut feeling is that I would drive up to maybe 30 minutes less than the extra time added by a connection. In other words, if my connection adds 1:30 minutes, then I would drive an extra hour. I would probably max out at around 2 hours of driving time, though, since there are too many variables beyond that.” — travelgourmet

“I will drive farther than travelgourmet would. A ‘comfortable’ connection of say an hour will mean at least 2 extra hours of scheduled departure and arrival time.” — rkkwan

How likely it is that you will be delayed?

Is a connecting flight taking you through an area plagued by seasonal weather backups? If one of your connecting flights takes you through a frequently jammed airport, you may want to reconsider your route.

“I live 45 minutes from each of two regional airports; but that said, I traditionally drive 3 hours to O’Hare to make sure I get on my long non-stop international flight! Those smaller flights can sometimes be delayed by weather (especially in winter months).” — simpsonc510

How much can you really save?

Always price out multiple airports—especially if your area only has a small regional airport. You may find that your savings are in the hundreds.

“I live in California in the Central Valley. Fresno is the nearest airport but it is direct to no where and has issues with it being too foggy or too hot, so lots of delays and it costs as much to fly to Los Angeles as it does to New York. I either have to drive appx 5 hours to Los Angeles or 3 hours to San Jose or 4 hours to San Francisco. I mainly go to San Francisco because San Jose has more domestic and Mexican flights and I mainly travel Europe or Far East. I am going down under this September and I will have to leave home at 3pm in order to catch a 11pm flight out of SFO.” — JoanneH

How late will you be arriving on your return?

If your flight is delayed on the way back, will you be arriving very late at night? If you decide to drive to an airport 2 or 3 hours away you may want to be sure to select a return flight that has you landing earlier in the day. That way you avoid risking a late night arrival, which would make for a sleepy (and potentially dangerous) ride home. Of course, you could always spend the night at hotel–but that would chip away at your original savings.

“We’ve gotten lazy as we’ve traveled more. We fly out of our local airport which is about 20 mins to a half hour away from us. We connect in Philly or Charlotte since we tend to take US Air. The last time that we drove 2 hours to Philly was back in 1998. We had a long delay when we returned home and didn’t get to our home until about 3:30 AM, so we decided never again and have used the local connection since.” — travelenthusiast

Share your experience: How far are you willing to drive to catch a flight?

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