Traveling for work is less about seeing cities and more about seeing hotels and airports. I’m not quite a “road warrior,” a title many others claim, but I’ve visited my fair share of American airports.
From Burlington, VT to San Diego, CA – I’ve been there. Does it really matter which airports I think are best? No, it doesn’t. Have I spent an unnatural amount of time considering how I would rank airports? Yes, and now you will be subjected to it.
[sidebar: I also have stubborn opinions regarding the best and worst student unions in the country, but that’s for another day]
I don’t know which airport is the best in America, and I don’t know which is the worst; that’s not my call to make. Here; however, are two underrated airports, two airports in need of improvement, and two airports I find obnoxiously “extra,” as the kids say. These opinions are extremely biased.
1. Indianapolis, IN [Underrated]
The Indianapolis airport (IND) is quick, well designed, and features enough amenities for the 30 minutes it’ll take you to get from check in to your gate. It has the unique distinction of being the first airport designed and established after the 9/11 attacks, though I’m not really sure what that means aside from it being FRIGGING AMAZING.
There’s a Brooks Brothers (which is like, 90% of my scoring), two security lines and two terminals emanating from a central hub. It is packed with Indy character, spacious, futuristic, and the parking and rental cars are not too far.
A special trick: Whether your flight departs from Terminal A or B, choose whichever has the shorter security line. There is a connection between the terminals just after security and few seem to take advantage of it.
[Special props to my brother from another fraternity Geoff McDonald (an Alpha Sig). He loves Indy and basically inspired this post.]
2. Philadelphia, PA [Needs Improvement]
I am sitting behind a bus at a stoplight. Immediately after the intersection is a ramp toward the rental car return. I hear sirens, look into the rearview mirror of my rental, lock eyes with a man in an old Cadillac desperately trying to escape the police. So desperate, in fact, that he pushes my car out of the way with his car and into the bus in front of me. I have two hours until my flight.
After calling the police (no help) I drive the car to the rental facility, shout “I know it’s damaged, email me!” and book it to my terminal.
All is well – except this airport looks like the most run down of subway stations. It’s dimly lit with low, foam, tiled ceilings, and seems to be stacked with “airport food.” Airport food is a restaurant you would only find in an airport. This is Philly – there should be cheesesteaks galore!
A special trick: Don’t fly here. Avoid waiting behind a bus at the intersection just prior to the rental car return ramp.
3. LaGuardia, New York City, NY [Obnoxious]
What’s up with all the iPads? How about trying to get a flight out on time and how about selling a sandwich for less than $15?
A special trick: I dunno. I paid $6 for Chapstick here. . . Find a table with an iPad, i guess? Oh, never mind, every seat at every table has an iPad.
4. Midway, Chicago, IL [Underrated]
Far less of a hassle than O’Hare (which can literally take 30 minutes on a tram to get from the first to the last terminal), a direct commuter train line into the city, affordable parking, and decent amenities. These are the benefits one receives in traveling through the sort-of-international-not-really airport of Midway.
It’s flight schedule has grown and improved over the years, it’s got Greek food, Chicago hot dogs and a Potbelly (moved from its original location). There is surprisingly interesting art for an airport of its size and it’s wait times aren’t bad – especially when compared to O’Hare.
A special trick: I don’t think this is a trick as much as stubbornness and it may be illegal – get picked up from arrivals. (Which I never do. I’ve just heard of people doing it).
5. Kansas City, MO [Needs Improvement]
The gate area beyond security is not suited for anyone wary of cramped spaces. It specializes in airport food (again, off-brand restaurants) and so the line at the Starbucks is longer than security. It’s also particularly strange to lock eyes with someone waiting to be groped by the TSA while sitting at your gate.
All in all this airport is just too cramped, too empty, and too cramped. Did I say it was cramped? It’s really cramped.
A special trick: Bring your food from home.
6. Reagan Int’l, Washington, DC [Obnoxious]
Twice in my life I’ve had a day to kill in D.C. After walking around aimlessly and not calling my friends in the city, I decide, “You know what, I can get some reading done at the airport and shop a bit. Three hours seems like enough time.”
Twice in my life I’ve waited for more than 90 minutes in a car to get on to an exit ramp to this airport. People are desperately cutting one another, honking, waiting in the middle of intersections and blocking traffic to hold their spot. It’s like the Hunger Games, and so it’s fitting that this ridiculous display of poor ethics occurs just outside of our nation’s capitol.
A special trick: Start driving today if your flight is tomorrow. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t a holiday. If your flight leaves between the hours of 12:00AM and 11:59 PM, leave a day early.
BONUS: 5 Tips Regarding Air Travel
1. Pick a Hobby – I can’t sleep on airplanes, but I sure as hell can read on them. The majority of my reading from 2011-2016 occurred on airplanes. At least 30 books were completed a mile in the sky.
2. Five Guys at ATL – Everyone will likely pass through ATL at some point (it’s huge and Delta’s hub). If you are there in the morning, find the Five Guys and order from their breakfast menu. It’s the best, most fresh fast food breakfast I’ve ever had. It’s reason enough to fly through here. (sidebar: ATL airport bathrooms smell like Welch’s Fruit Snacks)
3. Understand What You Need At Security: Keep your ID and your ticket in your hand from the moment you enter the airport until you are through security. Pack your carryon so that you can easily access your laptop or liquids (which I’ve honestly never even removed from my bag b/c I’m smart) and get all that stuff out and ready between having your ID checked and arriving at the conveyer belt. No one has time for your mismanagement.
4. Be Nice To TSA, Even If They Violate your Constitutional Rights: Airport security existed before the TSA. It was actually just as good. 9/11 really messed that up. Sometimes I read the TSA propaganda through the line and think to myself “It’s almost as if they’ve caught a terrorist, as if this isn’t all just for show, and as if they don’t steal a TON of stuff from people.”
[sidebar: I used to carry a U.S. pocket constitution in my pocket through the microwave that exposes your genitals to TSA agents. They’d be like, “sir we need to check your pocket,” and I’d be like, “Oh, my bad, it’s just my rights as a U.S. Citizen.” I’m less dramatic about being a libertarian now]
5. People Watch. Airports Are Packed With Sexy People: When my mom was translating for the army in Iraq she noticed at an airport in Kuwait that women from the nearby city would often go to the airport to sit, eat, and watch people from around the world pass through. “This is where we see different people,” they told her when she asked.
It’s true – airports are great for people watching. Just don’t stare too long.