This past week, I took a trip to Tokyo via Dallas/Fort Worth. Since I just completed my Tokyo–Narita terminal silhouette yesterday, I used it to create a size comparison of the two large airports I visited on my trip.
Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport · Amarillo, Texas, United States
First Visit: 24 January 2016 · http://www.flighthistorian.com/airports/AMA
I often have to travel to Altus, Oklahoma for work – and Altus is a city small enough that it doesn’t have its own commercial airport.
The closest commercial airport is Lawton, Oklahoma, about an hour’s drive away, but Lawton’s a tiny airport; there are no jetbridges, and it’s only served by a few flights a day on American Airlines to DFW. Wichita Falls, Texas and Oklahoma City are also viable options, as is just flying into DFW and driving for three and a half hours.
Basically, there are no great ways to get to Altus, so for my most recent trip, I decided to at least try a different way and fly into Amarillo, as the price wasn’t substantially different from any of the other options.
Amarillo was pretty decent for a small airport; the terminal felt modern, and it had glass jetbridges and airplane-themed carpet, both of which I like.
On the negative side, it didn’t have a true TSA PreCheck lane; having PreCheck entitled me to a plastic card enabling me to keep my shoes on and to go through the metal detector rather than the body scanner, but I still had to take my laptop and liquids out of my bag. Signage also was not great for the rental car return; I missed it the first time and had to circle the airport before I found the entrance to the rental car lot, which still had no signs that I could see.
It’s still a bit of a drive from Amarillo to Altus (about two and a half hours, depending on route), but I’d consider using it as my Altus airport again.
Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport · Little Rock, Arkansas, United States
First Visit: 21 June 2015 · http://www.flighthistorian.com/airports/LIT
Arriving on a Sunday, I didn’t find Little Rock remarkably different from any other airport of a similar size; a dozen gates with a few small shops and restaurants. The signage could have been a little better – several passengers passed the less-than-obvious, unmarked door to pick up gate checked baggage, and the rental car signs pointed to unmanned counters when the employees were all just operating out of the garage booths directly. Still, it was an airport that it wouldn’t be terrible to be stuck at for a few hours.
I found that out the hard way.
I was originally supposed to travel home on a Friday evening after a full day of work, so my coworker and I had booked a flight departing at about 18:30 local to a 45-minute layover at DFW, and then on to Dayton from there. We’d finished early on Friday, however, so after a late lunch we were done for the day and with nothing better to do, we headed to the airport about four hours early to see if we could get rebooked to an earlier flight.
That didn’t turn out to be possible (our fare didn’t allow same-day same-cost flight changes, and the cost difference wouldn’t have been justifiable), so we each headed our own way to burn a few hours before our flight. Looking to pick up some steps on my Fitbit, I walked around the terminal for a while before passing through security and walking a few laps around the single concourse, before finally settling down to take advantage of the spectacular free wi-fi.
Then, at about 17:00, I got an alert that my flight was delayed an hour and a half to 20:00, due to incoming aircraft availability. My second flight was still showing as on time, and I would almost certainly miss my connection, so I talked to a gate agent to try to find another way to get home that night. Nothing was available, though, so the best I could do was take my chances with my original flight and hope the flight to Dayton ended up being delayed as well – if not, I’d be spending the night in the Dallas area.
So, watching American Airlines’ app and FlightAware, I finally saw that my incoming flight was at DFW and ready to come to Little Rock to pick me up – right as the weather that had been hovering west of us came right at us.
It was a bad storm. The concourse windows were shaking violently, and I got to experience my first (thankfully brief) power outage at an airport.
And, just as the storm started to clear, another big thunderstorm hit DFW. A little bit after 20:00, I finally and unsurprisingly got the notice that my flight had been cancelled. I quickly booked a room in Little Rock, called American Airlines to get rebooked on flights the next morning, and finally left the airport to catch a cab to my hotel.
The next morning I headed back into the airport, and was able to depart without much trouble.
Because of all of that fun, Little Rock may now be the airport with my highest average time spent per visit – 9 hours at the airport, with two flights recorded in the flight log.
Flight Log: http://www.flighthistorian.com/airports/MCO
I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with MCO.
Orlando has made its way into my top five most visited airports, and it’s the only one to have done so entirely as a destination. (DFW has a lot of destination visits for me, but it has many more visits as a layover.) In other words, I go to Orlando quite often – I work doing acquisition of flight simulators, and Orlando is a large modeling and simulation hub.
In theory, I should really like MCO.
- It’s a large airport with plenty of room to go for a walk if I get there early
- Given its size, it’s laid out relatively well. If you know where you’re going, you can get there with relatively minimal walking.
- The main terminal has many interesting design elements – the ziggurat-like exterior, its rooftop parking, the Hyatt integrated into the eastern atrium.
- It has enough variety of restaurants that it’s not terrible to eat there.
- Many, many airlines serve it, so it’s great for planespotting.
But with all that, if I were asked to name my least favorite airport, Orlando would be a strong contender, purely due to the lines and the atmosphere.
Orlando is, of course, a world-class tourist destination; when I’m traveling there for work, I often feel a bit like a fish out of water. The airport is not targeted at me; it has all of the noisy excitement of a theme park, but if I’m traveling for yet another central Florida office visit, it’s difficult to get caught up in the vacation enthusiasm. What’s left is an airport that’s hard to do work in and has huge lines everywhere – rental car counters, check-in, security, you name it.
Orlando Survival Guide
It is at least possible to mitigate a lot of the problems I have with the airport; here are a few of my tips.
- Buy TSA PreCheck. Security is often packed, so being able to use a much smaller security line is a huge benefit. I paid for PreCheck entirely because of this airport. Not having to take off shoes or take things out of your bags is a bonus.
- Never check a bag. This is my preference everywhere, but it’s especially important in Orlando. The couple times I have had to check a bag (no overhead bin space for my carry-on, or traveling with someone who checked bags), the baggage claim took over half an hour; likewise, check-in lines can take quite a while. It’s a much better experience if you can go straight from your plane to the rental car counter, and straight from the rental car return to security.
- Print out or download your boarding pass beforehand. Not having a bag to check in doesn’t do any good if you still have to go through the check-in line to get a boarding pass. It’s best to skip the check-in line altogether, so have a boarding pass with you when you arrive.
- Sign up for your rental car’s loyalty program if it’s free. Many US car rental agencies offer a line specifically for members of their loyalty program, and joining is usually free. This can save a lot of time even at smaller airports, but it’s especially important at the rental car megalopolis of Orlando.
- Program your navigation system before you head to your rental car. If you have an in-terminal rental car, your car will be located on one of the lower floors of a large concrete parking structure; if you brought your own GPS system with you, it’s not likely to get a signal in the garage, and once you leave the garage, there’s really nowhere to pull over safely to put in a destination until you’re well away from the airport – and since you can effectively leave the airport in all four cardinal directions, you want to be sure you’re going the right way. (Orlando’s littered with tollways, too, so navigation mistakes can be expensive, especially in a rental car!)
- Eat before going through security, or at least be sure to check the map to know what’s in your concourse. There are many more options for dining pre-security (be sure to find the food court in the middle of the main terminal) than post-security, so just know what you’re getting into if you’re hoping to eat at the airport.
- Bring earplugs or headphones. It’s often quite loud. You’ll probably notice this even on your flight to Orlando – in my experience, there’s more conversation and excitement going on in flights with Orlando as a destination than any other destination I’ve been to (Honolulu is a close second).
Flight Log: http://www.flighthistorian.com/airports/FRA
The vast majority of my travel is within the United States, so Frankfurt remains the sole international airport in my flight log to date. I’ve certainly been to others – I grew up with Air Force parents and have lived in both Germany and the United Kingdom, but both were when I was much younger, and I don’t particularly remember the airports.
I think the biggest thing that surprised me was that, while it was a big airport, it wasn’t as big as I expected. It’s hard to remember, when I routinely fly through ORD and DFW, how big those airports truly are; they’ve become my normal “major hub” baseline, and I’m comparing everything to them.