How Can Smaller Airports Lure Travelers Like You?
“A s more airlines replace smaller airplanes with larger ones to gain financial efficiencies, smaller airports especially are having a harder time providing their customers with as many flight choices as they once had”, Barbara DeLollis wrote in this article she posted earlier today in her Travel Update weblog.
This may indeed be true — especially if smaller airports are attempting to attract more business travelers.
I personally like smaller airports. They are typically less crowded. They take less time to go through. Lines are shorter — if they exist at all. The airport employees seem friendlier. The experience overall is usually less stressful.
Unfortunately, schedules of flights are not as convenient as at a larger airport; and flights are usually not non-stop unless your destination is at a “hub” airport. There are not as many dining choices. You will not typically find an airport lounge. Some of the terminals seem to have a total area smaller than what you would find in some airport lounges at a major airport.
I remember being on a stopover at Watertown International Airport in Jefferson County, New York. The airport provides “free parking, quick boarding, handicap accessible restrooms and a friendly flying experience” as well as free wireless Internet service. I sat at a picnic table outside under a tree. An agent of the Transportation Security Administration unexpectedly came outside and offered me a frozen treat: one of those plastic strips of flavored ice. I must admit that it was rather refreshing; and the gesture was greatly appreciated by me. Do not hold your breath hoping for that experience anytime soon at any of the three major airports which serve the New York metropolitan area.
To me, the advantages and disadvantages of smaller airports usually mean nothing to me if I cannot get past the one criterion which would convince me to use that smaller airport in the first place:
The cost of airfares to Las Vegas from Atlanta had been rather high recently during my search; so I thought I would try flights to smaller airports. Allow me to use Tuesday, October 21, 2014 as the departure date; and Tuesday, October 28, 2014 as the date of the return flight. I chose Tuesday for both segments because it is usually the day of the week when flights are least expensive; and I chose just beyond a month from now to allow for airfares greater than 21 days in advance but not months ahead of time.
Using the flight search map by Google and without even determining whether or not flights are non-stop or which airlines or equipment operate those flights, you can see that a round-trip airfare between Atlanta and Las Vegas is as low as $303.00. The closest airports — Kingman, Prescott and Saint George — are either $498.00 or $499.00.
Other smaller airports are not much different: Visalia is $484.00. Fresno is $461.00. Page is $462.00. Cedar City is $446.00. Show Low is $553.00. Moab is $631.00.
I do not know about you — but as much as I like smaller airports, I have no desire to spend up to $328.00 more to be a passenger on an airplane flying to a smaller airport when a larger airport offers better flight schedules at lower airfares.
In fact, the reverse situation would be true: if I wanted to visit Moab, I would most likely have to rent a car anyway. Why not use the difference of $328.00, rent a car in Las Vegas and drive to Moab?
Let us go one step further with Moab being the destination using the airport in Las Vegas: using Orbitz.com, I could rent an economy car at Enterprise — the only rental car company in Moab, apparently — for a total of $370.00. Renting a similar car at the airport in Las Vegas for the same time period would cost me a total of $140.00 at Fox Rent A Car — and I would have a choice of no fewer than 16 different rental car companies from which to choose.
Ironically, renting a car from Enterprise in Las Vegas is two dollars more expensive in total than renting one in Moab.
Just the round-trip airfare and rental car alone would cost me $558.00 more in Moab than it would in Las Vegas. The one major disadvantage, of course, is that driving between Las Vegas and Moab would take slightly greater than 6.5 hours each way. At 458 miles each way, that is roughly equivalent to two tanks of fuel at as low as $3.25 per gallon in Las Vegas; so if you figure on 30 gallons of fuel just for the two trips — not including any intermediate driving which you would have had to do anyway in Moab if you chose to visit there — you would pay close to $100.00 in fuel. Cut that from the $558.00 figure and there is still a difference of $458.00. Divide that by 13 hours: is your time worth $35.23 per hour?
Even if you said that your time is more valuable than $35.23 per hour and you do not want to drive 916 miles round-trip, there are still the other disadvantages inherent with small airports as pointed out by Barbara DeLollis which still need to be considered…
…and I am not including time lost due to stopovers on indirect flights to smaller airports. Factor in at least three extra hours for the round trip versus a direct flight to and from Las Vegas.
Obviously the cost differences would be less when the airport is Saint George or Kingman than Moab if your destination is Las Vegas; and the driving time would be less because they are significantly closer — but despite the airfare difference of at least $195.00, would that be enough to convince you to use those airports instead of Las Vegas?
Let us go in the reverse direction, originating in Las Vegas instead of Atlanta for the same days. While the airfare differences here are not nearly as dramatic, every airport on the map below — with the exception of Jackson and Memphis — is still more expensive than Atlanta.
Macon and Chattanooga — both within two hours from Atlanta, although Macon is closer — would be the closest choices of small airports near Atlanta. Your car rental at the airport in Atlanta can be as low as $200.00 for an economy car for the week from E-Z Rent-A-Car — one of 12 rental car companies from which to choose; whereas a similar car rental would cost you a minimum of $235.00 for the week with Hertz in Macon and a minimum of $253.00 for the week with either Thrifty or Dollar Rent A Car.
For me, that is the problem with smaller airports: cost.
While there are certainly exceptions to what I have highlighted, it usually costs more to use a smaller airport; and unless that smaller airport is considerably more convenient to your final destination, be prepared to pay more for the privilege…
…and if the smaller airport offers such amenities as free parking if that is where your flight is originating, knock $80.00 off of the cost — but is the convenience of free parking worth the stopover you will most likely need to experience each way on your trip, as smaller airports usually have fewer direct flights?
What are your thoughts? Assuming airfares to smaller airports were exactly the same as — or even less expensive than — at larger airports, would you use them more often? If price is not a factor for you, what amenities and factors would entice you to patronize smaller airports more often?