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America’s Best Alternate Airports

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Airport SeatIt’s no secret that America’s airports are congested, with long lines and frequent delays. But for longer journeys, many travelers don’t seem to have much choice but to suffer through the process.

Unless, of course, you seek out alternate airports.

Did you know that major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Miami offer smaller airports with shorter lines and fewer delays?

But don’t take our word for it, here’s Peter himself on the subject:

NEW YORK

You probably know about New York’s major airports—Newark, JFK and LaGuardia—but there’s a smaller one that tends to slip under the radar:

Try flying in and out of MacArthur Airport in Islip, Long Island. First, it’s relatively easy to get to from Manhattan, with the Long Island Railroad running most of the way, followed by a shuttle service from the Ronkonkoma train station. The entire journey will cost you just over $10, far less than it would cost to take a cab. One harassed traveler, who was stuck for nearly 10 hours on the ill-fated JetBlue flight last Valentine’s Day, took Peter’s advice on this … and it worked!

As an added bonus, MacArthur is dominated by low-cost Southwest Airlines, which means that prices can be quite reasonable.

MacArthur Airport Stats:

  • On-time departure percentage = 82 percent versus 68 percent at JFK
  • Number of direct unique destinations: 24

MIAMI

Palms Sky MiamiPeter often likens Miami International Airport to the “last flight out of Saigon.” So instead of facing the crowds, try one of the alternative airports in the area: West Palm Beach and Ft. Lauderdale.

West Palm Beach is about an hour-and-a-half from Miami, but it’s usually worth the extra travel time. You can take the commuter train service Tri-Rail directly from the Miami airport in the center of the city to the Palm Beach airport for $5.50.

Ft. Lauderdale’s airport is only about 40 minutes from Miami and offers a much more pleasant experience. From Miami, take either the Broward County Transit buses or the Tri-Rail commuter trains, which both operate on daily schedules.

Stats – West Palm Beach:

  • On-time departure percentage = 77 percent versus 74 percent at Miami
  • Number of direct unique destinations: 40

Stats – Ft. Lauderdale:

  • On-time departure percentage = 78 percent versus 74 percent at Miami
  • Number of direct unique destinations: 101

CHICAGO

It’s no secret that Chicago’s O’Hare airport is one of the busiest in the country. Many people think of Midway as O’Hare’s alternate airport, but the on-time statistics don’t vary all that much from one another: 73 percent for Midway flights, versus 67 percent for O’Hare.

So next time you fly, try using Milwaukee’s airport instead. Not only is it a hub of the highly-regarded Midwest Airlines, but also Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service makes seven roundtrips a day between Chicago and the Milwaukee Airport. Each 90-minute one-way trip costs $21, much cheaper (and often faster) than using a cab.

Milwaukee-General Mitchell International Stats:

  • On-time departure percentage = 79 percent versus 67 percent at O’Hare
  • Number of direct unique destinations: 64

LOS ANGELES

Sunset Boulevard Los AngelesLos Angeles International Airport (LAX) can be a hassle to get to, and it doesn’t get any better when you’re navigating through the throngs of travelers. Instead of waiting in lines, try one of Los Angeles County’s smaller alternate airports. With several alternatives—Burbank, Long Beach, Ontario, Orange County, and even tiny Palmdale—the real question is which one to choose.

Considering the statistics, Long Beach Airport stands out as the best alternative in the area. It has the highest on-time departure percentage of any major airport in the LA metro area at 86 percent, and it is quite accessible via public transportation (a rarity in Los Angeles). To get there, just take the light rail Metro Blue Line to the Long Beach Transit Mall, and then switch to Long Beach Transit Bus Route 111, which will take you right to the terminal.

The only drawback here is that Long Beach has the most limited selection of destinations to which there are non-stop flights. So if your destination isn’t on its list, try flying out of Burbank, Ontario or Orange County to avoid crowds.

Stats – Long Beach:

  • On-time departure percentage = 86 percent versus 80 percent at LAX
  • Number of direct unique destinations: 19

Stats – Burbank:

  • On-time departure percentage = 79 percent
  • Number of direct unique destinations: 29

Stats – Ontario:

  • On-time departure percentage = 81 percent
  • Number of direct unique destinations: 53

Stats – Orange County:

  • On-time departure percentage = 81 percent
  • Number of direct unique destinations: 48

SAN FRANCISCO

If you don’t want to use San Francisco International Airport (and considering it’s frequently fogged in, there’s ample reason to avoid it), there’s a great alternative for travelers in the Bay Area. Try Oakland International Airport for your next trip.

The easiest way to get from San Francisco to the Oakland Airport is to take BART, San Francisco’s top-notch (if a bit well-worn) train system. Get off at the Coliseum/Oakland Airport stop, and hop on the AirBART shuttle to make your way to the terminal. Prices from San Francisco locations won’t be more than $4 one way.

Unfortunately, Oakland has grown very popular and is starting to approach SFO with its crowds and delays. With an expansion of the terminals and public transportation links at San Jose’s airport underway, Oakland soon may be getting some competition as SFO’s best alternate airport.

Oakland Stats:

  • On-time departure percentage: 79 percent versus 75 percent at SFO
  • Number of direct unique destinations: 68

All statistics are from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (transtats.bts.gov).

By Carly Goldsmith and Matt Calcara for PeterGreenberg.com.

Get more of America’s Best Alternate Airports, including Boston, Cincinnati, Dallas and Washington, DC.

Want to see these popular cities in a whole new light? Check out our Off the Brochure series:

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