Nomad by Trade

A travel blog for the kid at heart.

Fountain at Detroit Metro Airport

The Best and Worst of US Airports

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Everyone who flies regularly eventually comes up with a list of best and worst airports, as well as a healthy set of air travel pet peeves to go along with it. I asked travel bloggers and frequent business travelers about their favorite and least favorite parts of all of the major United States airports. Read on to find out which US airports have the best food, which airports have the worst security lines, and which airports are so hopelessly outdated that all you can do is shake your head in disbelief.

Airports on the list are alphabetized by the major city they serve. (Anything not credited to another contributor is my own two cents based on four years of frequent business flying and an unfortunately expensive personal travel habit.) Make sure to visit the comments at the end to tell me your favorite and least favorite airports!

Atlanta, Georgia – Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)

Good:
The terminals in Atlanta are linked by a surprisingly efficient train system which makes making connections way less daunting than you would expect for such a large airport. It’s consistently ranked as the busiest United States airport, so you can get pretty much anywhere in the world from here and have lots of options to be rebooked if your flight is cancelled.

Bad:
I’d had connections through the Atlanta airport many times before finally having it as my final destination. Just getting to my rental car from the airport took an eternity. Taking the train to the central terminal, finding my way to another train, and then taking that to the garage took well over an hour. All I wanted to do was leave the airport.

The Atlanta airport has almost no capacity to deal with winter weather, so a tiny bit of snow or ice can cause major flight delays.

Baltimore, Maryland – Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI)

Baltimore airport

This was hours before a record-setting blizzard buried the Chesapeake area under a mountain of snow. I was on one of the last flights out before BWI shut down.

Good:
It’s a really clean airport with lots of options for food. It also has good options for travel that don’t involve getting a car, mainly the light rail.
-Gabi, frequent Baltimore traveler from Tomes Creations

Bad:
The car rental chains at the Baltimore airport are housed in an off-site garage and the bus takes forever to get to the terminal, especially if you’re one of the last stops. Make sure you leave extra time if you have to drop off a rental because I ended up cutting it way closer to my flight than I had intended.

Boston, Massachusetts – Logan International Airport (BOS)

Good:
When traveling, my usual airport is BOS strictly due to proximity, and options to use public transit. Travelers have the option to take the Blue Line Subway from East Boston to Downtown Boston or the Silver Line Bus and transfer accordingly. Other major positives include overall facility cleanliness, free Wi-Fi, availability of charging ports, and hands-free water filling stations!
-Hanna from Rated by Hanna

Boston Logan airport is probably the easiest airport I’ve ever had to get to and from. It’s so close to the city that the free Silver Line shuttle takes 15 minutes to get you to/from the main transit hub at South Station!
-Katie from Weird Travel Friend

Bad:
During the majority of my trips out of BOS, I encountered gigantic lines for each TSA gate no matter the hour. In addition, I’ve noticed more delays in receiving my checked bag than any other airport. I’ve waited an hour before I could leave with my bag, which is why I now only pack a carry-on if possible.
-Hanna from Rated by Hanna

Boston Logan airport doesn’t have much open for early morning flights. If you need a pre-security coffee or extra luggage lock before 8am, you may be out of luck. The terminals at Boston Logan are a little odd in that they’re named A, B, C, and E: B has two totally separate entrances and stops on the shuttle, and E is the international terminal. They also range from modern and comfortable to kind of gross.
-Katie from Weird Travel Friend

Charlotte, North Carolina – Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)

Good:
I love all of the food options available at the Charlotte airport. The main hub is easy to get to from most of the terminals so you’re not stuck having to resign yourself to whatever is being served at the closest food source to your gate.

Bad:
The security lines in Charlotte can get crazy, and the D and E terminals are kind of tucked away off to the side. Trying to make a tight connection to either of them can be a challenge.

Chicago, Illinois – Midway International Airport (MDW)

Good:
I love flying through Midway Airport in Chicago because of their yoga room. It’s the perfect way to spend a few hours on a layover or the time you have between check-in and boarding. The yoga room provides a great opportunity to stretch your tight muscles and get moving. Sometimes it’s even nice to just lay down on a yoga mat, close your eyes, and just relax to the sounds of the ambient music. If you’re ever flying through MDW, head to the C Concourse to check out this little relaxation haven.
-Katy from Around the World in Katy Days

Bad:
It’s much smaller than Chicago O’Hare and the amenities aren’t quite the same.

Chicago, Illinois – O’Hare International Airport (ORD)

Dinosaur at Chicago O'Hare

There’s a dinosaur here, so O’Hare has that going for it.

Good:
It’s really well-signed and easy to find your way around, with lots of facilities.  Some gate areas are surprisingly serene.
-Bernadette from A Packed Life

Despite being huge and spread out, you can access all of the terminals without having to go back through security. This is huge if you have an airline club membership but aren’t flying that airline that day because many airports don’t have that kind of accessibility. I used to have a Delta Sky Club membership, but if I was flying American I couldn’t access the clubs in Detroit. I could in Chicago though, so I’ve spent many connections power walking through O’Hare to get to my free food and drinks.

If you’re in a hurry and in the H or K terminal, you can recreate the airport running scene from “Home Alone.” Bonus points if you’re there around Christmas time.

Bad:
I don’t think I’ve ever had a flight depart on time from O’Hare, and I seem to pass through there a lot. I’d like to see the official stats, but I’d be willing to guess that over half of US domestic flight delays can be directly or indirectly attributed to the chaos that is Chicago O’Hare.

The bathrooms have weird plastic covers on the toilet seats that stick to your legs when you sit down to pee. The sensation is unpleasant and I don’t understand why we can’t just use normal toilet seats.

Dallas, Texas – Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)

Good:
There are two things about DFW International that make it a great airport. If you are traveling into either Dallas or Fort Worth, the airport is conveniently located between the two major cities. If you are passing through DFW and have an overnight layover, or if you have an extended flight delay, there is a hotel attached to the airport, so you don’t have to go far to get a good night’s rest.
-Melissa from Parenthood and Passports

There is a really good system of airport kiosks that give you maps and exact locations for stores and restaurants in the airport. I hate having to gamble and guess which direction I should head in search of food because I never seem to pick the best way. In Dallas’ airport, you can scroll through and find the restaurant of your choice as well as its location.

Bad:
DFW International is one of the busiest airports in the nation. With so many people traveling through its multiple terminals, the airport could stand to have gates on each side of the terminal. Instead, all of the gates line one side of the terminal, resulting in passengers often having to walk much further to get to their gate.
-Melissa from Parenthood and Passports

I don’t think I’ve ever had a connection through the Dallas airport that didn’t require me to take the train to another terminal. The cars run quickly and efficiently, but it’s time-consuming and can be a problem if you’re trying to make a tight connection.

Denver, Colorado – Denver International Airport (DEN)

Good:
The architectural design of Denver International is probably my favorite thing about it. The fabric roof – yes, fabric – is designed to look like the snow-capped mountains that Colorado is known for.
-Melissa from Parenthood and Passports

Bad:
I frequently travel through Denver International Airport, and have come to loath the security lines. Although Denver is one of the busiest airports in the nation, the airport is split into only two terminals, East and West. Almost all passengers must funnel through one of these two security checkpoints. The lines are always exhaustively long. The airport is also located on the outskirts of the city, making for a long cab or Uber ride into the city.
-Melissa from Parenthood and Passports

There are almost no hotel options right by the Denver airport, so even the ones that call themselves airport hotels are still 15-20 minutes away. There is a Westin right on-site, but it’s expensive.

Looking for things to do in the Denver area? Check out these great hikes.

Detroit, Michigan – Detroit Metropolitan Airport (DTW)

Delta check-in counter at Detroit Metro Airport

This was taken obscenely early in the morning.

Good:
Detroit Metro is one of my favorite airports (though I might be a little biased). It has two large terminals, both of which have been completely reconstructed in this century, with the MacNamara Terminal (home to Delta and its partners) opening in 2002 and the North Terminal (home to everyone else) in 2008. The major reconstruction makes Detroit one of the “newest” airports in the country, even though the location has been in use for almost 100 years. The high ceilings and modern amenities make it much more pleasant to navigate than older airports.

Because both Detroit terminals are newer, there are tons of shopping and dining options available after security so you won’t go hungry. If you want a taste of Detroit while passing through, check out the National Coney Island restaurants and get yourself a coney dog and some chili fries.

Bad:
There are two on-site garages, one for each terminal. The garage at the MacNamara terminal is inexplicably $10 more/day than the other garage. There is a shuttle connecting the terminals, so if you’re flying Delta but don’t want to spend $23/day to park, you can use the North Terminal’s cheaperr garage and catch the bus. On that note, if you’re changing airlines, you may have to exit the secured area, take the shuttle, and then go back through security in the other terminal.

The North Terminal only has TSA Pre-check screening at one end, so if you check in at one of the counters toward the opposite side, you might have to walk all the way to the other end of the building (at least a quarter mile) to use your Pre-check, and then potentially backtrack once you’re through. This is worst for Spirit customers because it’s at the completely opposite end.

Looking for things to do in Michigan? Check out these guides with great activities for all seasons.

Honolulu, Hawaii – Daniel K. Inouye International Airport (HNL)

Good:
Honolulu International Airport’s best feature is its indoor/outdoor atmosphere. There are several open air sections, including the garden in the center.
-Sarah from The Moment Mom

Some of the immediate positives include the welcoming Aloha decor, friendly staff, and of course free Wi-Fi while you wait! The tropical island humidity hit me as soon as we disembarked, but I still loved the breezy open air sections of the airport with a tranquil garden to peruse.
-Hanna from Rated by Hanna

Bad:
Unfortunately, the airport interior looks as if it has not been updated since the 1980s. I was not surprised to find no charging stations available at the gates. Naturally, people sat on the ground close to the outlets with their various gadgets.
-Hanna from Rated by Hanna

The signage and directions can be very confusing. It is really the only option for accessing Oahu so you don’t have a lot of choice when visiting the islands.
-Sarah from The Moment Mom

Houston, Texas – George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)

Good:
When we travel, we carry two car seats with us through the airports and use them on the airplane. Since we are traveling internationally, we always have to change terminals. Thankfully, Houston has a train! It has a nice countdown board to let you know when the next train is coming (90 seconds between trains). We’ve always managed to ride in the end cars and they have huge windows. It’s fun to see where we are going or where we’ve been! Another pro about Houston is that even when we traveled through around the holidays, customs went quickly. They have many kiosks and that helps alleviate wait times (for American citizens with valid American passports). Additionally, there are plenty of restaurants available on the way to the gates.
-Natalie from Blissmersion

Bad:
Restaurant lines can be long and slow moving on busy travel days (this is probably every airport everywhere!). Though they have spots for charging cell phones, they aren’t designed as well as they could be. They are on posts on the edges of rows. You might get stuck standing in an aisle while charging your phone. Even with the train, you have to walk so much and take a lot of escalators. When you are carrying heavy car seats or have mobility issues, this is a challenge.
-Natalie from Blissmersion

Kansas City, Missouri – Kansas City International Airport (MCI)

Good:
This is a huge stretch (Kansas City’s airport is really bad), but the design is so out-dated that it’s honestly kind of fascinating to look at the way the secure area was cobbled together as airport security requirements were increased over time. They just sort of built a glass wall in the middle of the terminal to divide secure and non-secure, which is nice because passengers can stare longingly at the food available outside of security while waiting at their gate. I’m pretty sure they also built walkway hanging over the edge of the tarmac along the outer wall of the building just to provide extra space. It really is a classic head-scratching American infrastructure solution. And, I suppose security lines aren’t too bad since it’s not that large of an airport.

Bad:
MCI (Kansas City) is the worst airport in the United States because its 1972 design is no longer relevant in a post-09/11 world of travel. The majority of amenities are outside of security and closed by 7:00pm. Behind security, expect one restroom with two stalls, three or fewer food options, no place to sit, and no place to charge your electronics. Fortunately, residents overwhelmingly voted for a $1 billion plan to overhaul the airport this past November. But, you can expect MCI to continue to be the worst airport in the US for several more years until the new airport is constructed and open for business.
-Sage from Everyday Wanderer

The good news is that once you’re out of the airport, Kansas City is actually lots of fun. Read all about what you can do in a day here. (Hint: you’ll want to try the BBQ.)

Las Vegas, Nevada – McCarran International Airport (LAS)

Slot machines at Las Vegas McCarran Airport

I was tempted to unplug one of these slot machines just so I could charge my dying phone.

Good:
The Las Vegas airport is literally right on the Strip. The fenced in area is directly across the street from famous casinos like the Luxor. It makes for fantastic views as you’re taking off or landing and quick access to the casinos. If you have a long layover, you can easily leave to do some exploring and get back to the airport.

Bad:
The major casinos don’t offer airport shuttles and the monorail system doesn’t reach the airport. That makes cabs, limos, and multi-stop shuttle buses as the main way to get to the Strip. A cab can run you $20-25 depending on where you’re heading and the shuttle took me 45 minutes to get to the Wynn because I was the last stop. Plan accordingly.

Heading to Las Vegas? Check out this list of five things that surprised me there.

Long Beach, California – Long Beach Airport (LGB)

Long Beach Airport - LGB

Photo by Jeanine from Le Wild Explorer

Good:
The Long Beach airport is a gem! It’s a tiny airport with retro style, and drop-offs and pick-ups are a breeze.
-Jeanine from Le Wild Explorer

Bad:
Unfortunately, it only serves domestic flights but if you’re flying JetBlue, Delta or Southwest within the U.S., this airport is an excellent alternative to the bustling LAX airport.
-Jeanine from Le Wild Explorer

Los Angeles, California – Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Waiting area at Los Angeles International Airport - LAX

This was taken at 11pm. That’s how busy this place is.

Good:
For many Angelenos, the LAX airport is a nightmare, but I love it (for the most part). Although public transportation in Los Angeles isn’t great, there are many options for getting to the airport. The Flyaway is a shuttle service that will take you to the airport from Downtown LA, Van Nuys, Long Beach, and more for $10 and under! A lot cheaper than an Uber ride.
-Jeanine from Le Wild Explorer

Playing “Party in the USA,” in which LAX is mentioned, as you deplane is a pretty awesome way to start your vacation.

Bad:
Trying to get an Uber to pick you up is a nightmare.
-Amy from Page Traveller

The downside to LAX airport is that traffic going in and out is usually insane.
-Jeanine from Le Wild Explorer

The terminals in Los Angeles seem to be insanely crowded at all times of day and night so just scoring a seat to wait in is a triumph. You can tell it’s packed in my picture above because strangers are sitting next to each other in the chairs in the waiting area.

Memphis, Tennessee – Memphis International Airport (MEM)

Good:
You may detect the faint aroma of Interstate Bar-B-Que, where you can pass some very happy time before your flight enjoying a final Memphis delicacy.
-Bernadette from A Packed Life

Bad:
Not a lot of airlines fly there.
-James, former Memphis resident

Miami, Florida – Miami International Airport (MIA)

Good:
The empanada places are on point and super affordable. Seriously, you have to get one. You’re probably on the way to someplace tropical if you’re here, so happy vibes.
-Grace from Impulsive Adventures

Bad:
The waits at immigration here can be ridiculous. It took me 3 hours to re-enter my own country the last time I flew through here.
-Grace from Impulsive Adventures

Looking for things to do in the area? Check out this guide to a long weekend in Miami.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin – General Mitchell International Airport (MKE)

Good:
We happen to love the Milwaukee MKE airport, which we happen to call home. We can park the car, check in and go through security in under 15 minutes. We traveled the world nonstop for 4 years and decided we needed a base and the MKE airport was a huge selling point for us. Oh, and they have frozen custard and cheese curds which are a must when visiting Milwaukee.
-Hannah from Getting Stamped

You can kill time while waiting for your flight at the airport ping pong table!

Bad:
As a smaller airport, there aren’t a lot of food options in Milwaukee if you need to grab a meal before your flight.

Minneapolis, Minnesota – Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP)

Map board at the Minneapolis airport

Good luck getting from the end of terminal F to terminal A in time for your connection.

Good:
Minneapolis-St. Paul has a whole mall in the airport. It’s full of food options and stores, so there’s no reason to be bored on your layover. Try to find the awesome Snoopy statue too if you have time.

Bad:
Getting from one end to the other takes an eternity. There are moving walkways in some parts that will speed up the process, but you’ll still be doing a lot of walking. I always seem to have to transfer from A-F or vice versa, which is quite a walk.

Nashville, Tennessee – Nashville International Airport (BNA)

Good:
It’s probably the only airport I’ve ever visited that has charm.  From porch rockers and blankets, to guitars on the ceiling and a brilliant soundtrack, Nashville’s got plenty to recommend it.
-Bernadette from A Packed Life

It has live music as you go to pick up your bags! Walking past a musician strumming a guitar, perched up a bar stool really told me I was in Tennessee!
-Amy from Page Traveller

Bad:
I tried to get breakfast at a “diner” style restaurant and had the most miserable service we experienced in the whole of the US.
-Amy from Page Traveller

Newark, New Jersey – Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)

Good:
I travel to and from Newark Liberty International fairly regularly, and am often questioned (accosted) by people who don’t understand why I would subject myself to such an experience. I actually prefer Newark out of all of the NY metro airports for one simple reason: I don’t actually have to go to New York City to get there. I’m originally from a town just north of the Jersey border in NY State, and driving to JFK or LaGuardia is such a time-consuming hassle, that a quick trip down I-95 is a MUCH more pleasant experience. And for those who actually want to visit NYC? Connections from EWR are just as simple as from either of the other options- just take NJ Transit directly from the airport to NY Penn Station, in about 25 minutes you’ll be in the heart of Manhattan. I also find that Newark usually has it together in terms of processing people through the busiest parts of the airport- their immigration and security lines don’t want to make me give up traveling for good (typically), which I can’t necessarily say about the other NY metro airport options.
-Katie from Study Hard Travel Smart

Bad:
If massive traffic, the horrible smell of body odor and the unhealthiest food options are you travel requirements then you have met your match at EWR. Long lines, loud travelers, and lousy communication is not lost at EWR. When I think of EWR I actually think of EWWWW.
-Tracy from Tracy Says

Newark has some of the longest security lines I’ve ever seen. In 4 years of constant business travel, this is the only US airport in which I’ve encountered a security line long enough that I thought I was going to miss my flight.

Woe to ye who has a flight out of the weird little pod terminals at Newark. I got stuck waiting for a delayed flight in a tiny little circular terminal with a handful of gates and nowhere to sit. The only food sources were an Auntie Anne’s stand and a coffee counter. The  only way to escape to a place with better food options without going back through security was a slow shuttle, so only risk that if you know you have a ton of time.

Using this airport as your gateway to New York City? Here’s a detailed guide on how to get to Newark from Manhattan.

Newburgh, New York – Stewart International Airport (SWF)

Good:
As a New Yorker, I am used to overcrowded airports with overworked staff  are not only rude but that make you wait forever. That’s why, I was more than happy to fly out of an airport that was about an hour North of the tri-state area.

Originally, Stewart International Airport appealed to me because it had a ton of direct and super cheap, Norwegian flights, for about $300 round trip, to Edinburgh, Dublin, Belfast, Oslo, Bergen, etc. However, once I got to the airport I realized that this airport has so much more to offer than cheap flights. Not only is the airport small, so you can easily and efficiently get checked in and through security, but the staff are friendly and more than happy to help you in any way possible. Plus, added bonus, there are buses there that take you directly to New York City. Or, you can always park on site for $10 a day, a fee that maxes out at $60, no matter how long you stay. Needless to say, I won’t be heading back to JFK, LaGuardia, or Newark any time soon.
-Kelly from Girl With the Passport

Bad:
There is no decent food after security in the Newburgh airport. I once made the mistake of not eating before getting to the airport and had to pick between chicken tenders and a pre-made sandwich at the food court. I went with the chicken tenders and fries and got to watch them be microwaved to a soggy, luke warm finish. Eat before you come.

New Orleans, Louisiana – Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY)

Good:
Live music! A brass band moved from baggage carousel to baggage carousel playing “When the Saints Go Marching In!”
-Amy from Page Traveller

Bad:
It has the worst food choices (especially for a city known for food!). I ended up with soggy nachos with plastic processed cheese on.
-Amy from Page Traveller

New York City, New York – John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)

Good:
It’s easily connected to the city via public transit (just take the LIRR to Jamaica and switch to the airtrain). There are always bargain flights and a high volume of flights per day means it’s easier to get rebooked if your flight is cancelled.
-Grace from Impulsive Adventures

Bad:
Driving to JFK is an absolute nightmare. JUST DON’T DO IT. Your flight is 99.999999% likely to be delayed when flying here.
-Grace from Impulsive Adventures

Visiting New York City? Check out this fast-paced weekend itinerary for all of the highlights.

New York City, New York – LaGuardia Airport (LGA)

LaGuardia Airport - LGA

Photo by Alex from Life Well Wandered

Good:
It’s technically the closest airport to Manhattan. Landing approaches will typically offer a sweeping panoramic view of the skyline that never gets old. If NYC is your final destination and you’re going to be renting a car, the rental experience here is the best of the 3.
-Justin, frequent business traveler

LaGuardia is the hub of Delta Airlines, meaning you have much of the world at your fingertips. It’s also a lot closer to Manhattan than JFK or Newark meaning that you’ll spend less time traveling to and from the airport in general.
-Alex from Life Well Wandered

Bad:
LaGuardia has fallen into such disrepair (so much so that former Vice President Joe Biden referred to it as a “Third World Country”)! The airport is currently undergoing major renovations worth $4 billion that will take about 4 years, so the traffic getting into the airport is often horrible and different gates and terminals inside the airport are less than ideal. Flights are often delayed and gates are crowded because they are so close together. It is also inconvenient to take public transportation to and from the city to LGA.
-Alex from Life Well Wandered

Depending on your terminal, you may find yourself in a somewhat modern airport or a relic of the fifties. Low restaurant to patron ratio makes it difficult at times to get a table. Renovations in process may address both these issues.
-Justin, frequent business traveler

The first time I landed in LaGuardia, I was actually momentarily concerned that I had accidentally boarded a flight to a third world country instead of New York City (and that was before VP Biden’s comments referenced above). The ancient terminal was packed with more people than fire code should ever allow and the narrow concourse was cluttered with extra rows of chairs and a couple of food kiosks that had been shoved in after the fact. The low, dirty ceilings make everything noisy and give off a generally unpleasant feel.

Don’t miss the chance to tour the United Nations while you’re in New York City.

Orlando, Florida – Orlando International Airport (MCO)

Good:
The terminals have plenty of food options, if you actually make it through security with time to spare. Another bonus of Orlando International is seeing the happy faces on all the kids that are arriving to go to Disney. I also love being on returning flights, because you usually have a family sitting nearby that is excited and joyful, because they are going to visit Mickey.
-Melanie from Life’s Sweet Words

Maybe it’s my love of the monorails at Disney World, but I kind of love riding the train from the gate areas to the central building here.

Unlike Orlando’s other airport, Sanford, Disney World hotels offer free transportation on the Magical Express for guests flying into MCO. This can save a family heading to Disney World quite a bit of money.

Bad:
Orlando International Airport is my hometown airport. As much as I enjoy traveling, MCO is definitely a hard airport to have as a home base. Flying out of Orlando requires being there at least two hours early, as you never know how crowded security is going to be. It is usually very crowded!
-Melanie from Life’s Sweet Words

This was mentioned by Melanie, but I can’t stress enough how crazy security lines in Orlando can be. There are two security areas on opposite ends of the terminal and I’ve seen them nearly meet in the middle before – which is impressive because there’s a reasonably large shopping and food area in between. The massive amount of passengers trying to get through the Orlando airport is made even worse by the fact that many of them are families leaving Disney and Universal and traveling with kids seems to require an incredible amount of stuff.

Did you know that I used to be a Disney World Cast Member? If you’re heading to the parks, check out all of my guides and budget tips.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)

Good:
There are exercise bikes in the main concourse area in Philly so you can get a light workout while you wait for your flight.

Bad:
The F terminal is disconnected from the rest of the airport so you have to take a shuttle bus to transfer there. And I will apparently never not have to transfer either to or from F. When I first started flying regularly for work, the F terminal was undergoing a major overhaul and Philadelphia quickly topped my list of worst airports in the United States. It’s since been surpassed as I’ve visited others, and the construction here actually resulted in a pretty good food court. I do not, however, understand how a major terminal overhaul in the mid-2010s failed to install any electrical outlets for charging things.

Phoenix, Arizona – Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)

Phoenix Sky Harbor PHX - Best and worst US airports

Good:
Most gate areas in Phoenix seem to have charging counters with several seats and power outlets so you can work and charge your electronics at the same time. How revolutionary.

Bad:
This is probably more about the city itself, but the water from the water bottle fill stations in Phoenix somehow tastes like melted cardboard. I refuse to even top off my trusty water bottle here. On an actual airport note, not all of the terminals can be accessed without going back through security, so if you’re booking an itinerary that switches between airlines there’s a chance you’ll have to exit, take a bus, and then go back through security again.

Portland, Maine – Portland International Jetport (PWR)

Good:
From quick lines at security to the rocking chairs at your gate, I don’t see how you could have a bad experience. Small airport with small town feel is just the way I like my low key travel sometimes.
-Tracy from Tracy Says

Bad:
Like most smaller airports, the food options in the Portland airport aren’t exactly plentiful. I’d like to see the interior updated a bit and more charging stations added since the airport proclaims itself to be one of the best in the country.

Reno, Nevada – Reno International Airport (RNO)

Slots at the Reno airport

Big winner here! I could almost afford a bottle of pop at the airport.

Good:
Reno is a small airport so it is easy to park, check in, and get through security. And despite its small size, there are some pretty decent food options while you’re waiting.

I won $1.75 on the slots there. I cashed out after one pull on the theory that I should quit while I was ahead.

Bad:
It’s not easy to get to unless you’re flying from one of its main connecting points. I fly out of a major hub (Detroit) and my last trip there took three segments and 11 hours of travel. Chicago, Dallas, and Phoenix seem to be the best bets for heading east.

The aforementioned slot machines take up a lot of space that could be used for seating in the waiting areas so passengers aren’t forced to sit on the floor or pace the terminal.

Heading to Lake Tahoe? Check out my favorite scenic hike in South Lake Tahoe.

Sacramento, California – Sacramento International Airport (SMF)

Luggage statue at the Sacramento airport

Good:
For a smaller airport, Sacramento has surprisingly good food options after security. And speaking of security, it’s always been a breeze.

I really like the giant luggage statue in the Sacramento baggage claim pictured above.

Bad:
There aren’t a lot of options for long haul flights heading east, so you’ll be limited to certain schedules or have to make a connection somewhere. Like most airports, the waiting areas are pretty lacking in power outlets so you’ll likely find yourself sitting on the floor if you need to charge something.

Salt Lake City, Utah – Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)

Mountains at the Salt Lake City airport

You could do worse for scenery while you’re waiting for your flight.

Good:
The descent/take-off into Salt Lake City is one of the most scenic I’ve ever had in the US. Seeing the Great Salt Lake and beautiful mountains from the air is quite nice.

The Salt Lake City airport also offers shuttle buses to some of the attractions in town if you have a long enough layover.

Bad:
It’s way too busy for its size. Every time I’ve flown through there, the aisles have been packed and there is nowhere to sit.

San Francisco, California – San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

Good:
There are so many amenities! Layovers, even the longer ones, have never felt stressful for me. The variety of food and shops to browse are nearly endless.
-Katie from Weird Travel Friend

Bad:
The signs getting between the domestic and international terminal are a little odd. I commuted between Boston and Korea through SFO, and would always second guess myself. The junction point between the terminals can be very quiet, so you almost feel as if you’re in the wrong place since the signs have slightly ambiguous arrows.
-Katie from Weird Travel Friend

Visiting San Francisco? Here’s how to spend just one evening. Don’t miss the redwoods nearby either!

Seattle, Washington – Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

Good:
It boasts some of my favorite airport architecture which, combined with some of the views outside, makes this one of my favorite airports to look at/around.
-Justin, frequent business traveler

Bad:
Despite a number of flights that board in the middle of the night, everything (shops and restaurants) shuts down in the late evening making for a somewhat unwelcome and boring wait during a connection.
-Justin, frequent business traveler

St. Louis – St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL)

Good:
The newest terminal is the East terminal which is home to Southwest. This is definitely the most modern of all the terminals and has the most restaurants and food choices.
-Amanda, frequent business traveler

Bad:
The airport at St. Louis desperately needs some updating. It’s divided into 3 concourses and only has one airline club (American Airlines) that is only accessible in one terminal.
-Amanda, frequent business traveler

Tampa, Florida – Tampa International Airport (TPA)

Tampa International Airport - TPA

Photo by Alex from Life Well Wandered

Good:
Tampa International Airport is easily the best airport I’ve ever flown in and out of (and I’m not just saying that because I’m from Tampa!). It is clean and efficient with delicious food (get Cuban food at the Columbia; eat Chick-fil-A, locally brewed beers at Cigar City Brewery; old-time diner food at Goody Goody; burgers at Square One; or Italian at Bella’s depending on your terminal). Security is never excessively long, even at peak travel times over Thanksgiving and Christmas (based on 8 years of personal experience). TPA is also adding more international flights each year so you can get to anywhere from Cuba to London to Alaska to Switzerland and more!
-Alex from Life Well Wandered

Bad:
While there isn’t much of a negative side to Tampa International Airport, some parts of it are currently under construction meaning you’ll hit occasional detours when driving into the airport or when walking around your terminal. Having experienced this construction for a few years now, I can say that it hasn’t affected my travels and it’s only making me more excited to see how much better this airport can get.
-Alex from Life Well Wandered

Washington, DC – Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (WAS)

Washington Reagan airport view

As bad as Reagan airport is, the view of the DC landmarks is pretty cool.

Good:
Reagan airport is right across the river from Washington DC. You can see the landmarks from the airport windows at some of the gates. Its proximity makes getting to and from DC really easy and offers cool views during descent and takeoff.

Bad:
Washington Reagan is small and very outdated. The main building is shaped like a capital E, but each branch has its own security and not all of them connect airside. You’re pretty much stuck with the couple of food options in your little wing. The waiting areas are overcrowded and the amenities are lacking.

In an apparent attempt to increase capacity, some of the gates were replaced with bus gates, so you have to go downstairs to a super crowded room where multiple flights might be boarding at once. Once your boarding pass is scanned, you get loaded onto a super crowded bus that sits there for an eternity with the doors wide open letting in whatever cold, hot, or rainy weather is happening. Then you get driven out to your plane and unloaded to walk up an uncovered ramp again in the cold or the rain while people slowly enter the plane. The Friday afternoon flight to Detroit I used to take a lot always seemed to use this gate and there were several times that I reflected in disbelief on the fact that this awful airport services our nation’s capital as I stood in the freezing rain just wishing I could get on my plane.

Washington, DC – Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)

Rover at Washington Dulles airport

I don’t even know what to call this thing used to transport people between terminals. It’s about double the width of a bus inside.

Good:
Dulles is huge and there are tons of places to eat. Being able to have an actual selection of food is awesome. There are also a lot of cool design elements to admire.

Bad:
Dulles is one of the more bizarre airports in the United States. Unlike most modern airports that have a skylink or underground rail that transports people from one terminal to another, Dulles has what they call “people movers”. These are glorified buses which take you across the tarmac from one terminal to another.
-Melissa from Parenthood and Passports

Washington DC traffic can be a nightmare and getting to and from Dulles airport can be a challenge at certain times of the day.

Well, that’s all we have for now. What are your favorite and least favorite airports? Let me know in the comments!

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Bloggers and experienced travelers discuss the best and worst qualities of the biggest airports in the United States. Find out which airports have the worst security lines, which airports have the best food options, and which airports have the best amenities. #UnitedStates | #USA | Best airports | Worst airports | Airport reviews | Laguardia | LAX | Chicago O'Hare | Atlanta Airport | New York airports

Bloggers and experienced travelers discuss the best and worst qualities of the biggest airports in the United States. Find out which airports have the worst security lines, which airports have the best food options, and which airports have the best amenities. #UnitedStates | #USA | Best airports | Worst airports | Airport reviews | Laguardia | LAX | Chicago O'Hare | Atlanta Airport | New York airports Bloggers and experienced travelers discuss the best and worst qualities of the biggest airports in the United States. Find out which airports have the worst security lines, which airports have the best food options, and which airports have the best amenities. #UnitedStates | #USA | Best airports | Worst airports | Airport reviews | Laguardia | LAX | Chicago O'Hare | Atlanta Airport | New York airports Bloggers and experienced travelers discuss the best and worst qualities of the biggest airports in the United States. Find out which airports have the worst security lines, which airports have the best food options, and which airports have the best amenities. #UnitedStates | #USA | Best airports | Worst airports | Airport reviews | Laguardia | LAX | Chicago O'Hare | Atlanta Airport | New York airports Bloggers and experienced travelers discuss the best and worst qualities of the biggest airports in the United States. Find out which airports have the worst security lines, which airports have the best food options, and which airports have the best amenities. #UnitedStates | #USA | Best airports | Worst airports | Airport reviews | Laguardia | LAX | Chicago O'Hare | Atlanta Airport | New York airports Bloggers and experienced travelers discuss the best and worst qualities of the biggest airports in the United States. Find out which airports have the worst security lines, which airports have the best food options, and which airports have the best amenities. #UnitedStates | #USA | Best airports | Worst airports | Airport reviews | Laguardia | LAX | Chicago O'Hare | Atlanta Airport | New York airports Bloggers and experienced travelers discuss the best and worst qualities of the biggest airports in the United States. Find out which airports have the worst security lines, which airports have the best food options, and which airports have the best amenities. #UnitedStates | #USA | Best airports | Worst airports | Airport reviews | Laguardia | LAX | Chicago O'Hare | Atlanta Airport | New York airports

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20 Comments

  1. Such a good topic – I always want to know about an airport before I go there. And sometimes the airport itself is practically one of the city highlights!

  2. O’Hare was my home airport for many years and I could never understand why everyone hated it so much – direct access to the city via Blue Line, great food, etc. But I never had to connect through O’Hare, and that seems to be the sticking point!

    By the way, those plastic toilet covers are the best – never seen them anywhere else, but it’s like a shower cap for your bum, and it refreshes with a wave of your hand!

  3. This is a really useful guide! The US airport I’ve spent the most time in is Cincinnati, which I think was small enough not to have any major issues, but definitely planning more US trips for the future – I shall be keeping ahold of this! 🙂

  4. Mayuri

    Wow! That’s an extensive list! Thanks for sharing
    Although I have not travelled or been to all of the US airports listed, I can definitely relate to your comments about Denver and Las Vegas
    I dread using Denver as a layover when I fly to Europe or Asia – makes the entire lay-over, immigrations process a pain

  5. This post is so great. I’m a DC local and the Dulles people movers are the bane of my travel existence (the joke is if you land at Dulles, your journey begins when you get off the plane). And I totally agree on the New Orleans food situation — it’s bad when you’re HOPING to find a McDonald’s.

  6. Anisa

    I would avoid LGA at all costs until those repairs are done. Getting in and out is an absolute nightmare. I hope all the money they are putting into it will make a difference!

  7. What a useful and entertaining post! As a Chicagoan who frequently flies in and out of O’Hare, I can relate to the revolving toilet-seat covers. And the dinosaur skeleton.

  8. Such an interesting read. I’ve honestly never given much thought to the airports I go through. I’m usually half asleep either ready to get my bag and get out of there or to get my connecting flight haha

  9. Very thorough post. Really useful when we’re deciding which airports to fly into and out of. Isn’t it interesting how different airports can be?

  10. DTW is my home airport, and I totally agree with you about the parking! Sometimes it can be cheaper to book a hotel room and do a Park and Stay deal near the airport! Also, I just recently flew out of EWR and laughed out loud at your “weird little pods” comment. I said that I felt like I was inside a UFO! 😛

    • Kris

      Interesting. I’ve never thought about doing a park and stay deal. I’m almost always traveling for work so I can just expense the parking, but that could really work out well for a vacation. I kind of wish we’d tried it for our last one since we were flying out at the crack of dawn and had to wake up at 3am to get there on time.

  11. Great information on airports in the country. I flew to and from Washington DC Reagan once, and the good and the bad were so true. DFW is my home airport. I want to add if you arrive on the international gate in the afternoon, good luck. The line is really long. Lots of international airlines arrived around the same time.

  12. Wow, this is a really comprehensive post with tons of information. I am from Los Angeles and the airport is at peak time from 10:00 p.m. to about 2:00 a.m. since that is when a lot of reed eye flights depart. Therefore, you should arrive early if you are leaving during those times. There is an app to check how busy the airport and the surrounding streets are. I recommend checking that hours before heading there. You never know how congested the streets are going to be (believe me, I have been about to loose flights because of the mess outside the airport).

    • Kris

      I had no idea there was an app to check that. I’m supposed to start traveling to LAX for work regularly in the near future, so I’ll have to check that out.

  13. Great post! I prefer EWR over any NY airport but LOL’d at “…horrible smell of body odor and the unhealthiest food options are you travel requirements then you have met your match at EWR.” hahahah

  14. Really great list! I loved your inclusion of other travelers’ perspectives. I have to admit I agreed with most of them, though I think LaGuardia may have gotten a bit of a bad rap (or maybe I’ve just lucked out in my terminal assignments).

    • Kris

      You might’ve gotten lucky! The newer areas are gorgeous. I forget which terminal it was, but I loved the food court area and sea of iPads in one of them. The older terminals are horrific though. I can’t wait to see what it looks like after the massive renovations.

  15. Great comprehensive post of the major USA airports. My worst airport is O’Hare in Chicago for the simple reason that wi-fi is not free, past the first 30 minutes. Really hate that about the airport when you have to be there at least 2 hours in advance for international flights. Agree, the food options at SFO are amazing! Happy travels.

  16. Brigitte

    Wow kris! Such an amazing and inspiring post. Thank you for sharing this with us. At least now I know what I can expect from all those airports and that can be very useful! Keep going like this!

  17. Thank you for sharing… Bookmarking this one since I want to know how an airport is like every time I travel. This is very useful:) I am also forwarding this to my hubby:)

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