The Alternative Airports for Avoiding 9 Nightmare Air Hubs

January 19, 2020

“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.

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