Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Airports (page 1 of 5)

The 5 of the Top 25 Busiest U.S. Airports I Haven’t Visited

Every once in a while I like to see how the airline and airport statistics stack up across the U.S. and around the world. The busiest airports are easy to name: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Denver (although my initial guess was New York’s JFK). All of these I have visited, some a number of times.

Looking further down the list, I realized that there are only 5 airports among the top 25 busiest U.S. airport that I have not visited. None of the airport in this list really surprised me, but a few did in terms of their placement on the list, such as Las Vegas, which ranks #9 in the country in terms of passenger traffic.

Top 25 busiest U.S. airports

I used the Wikipedia list of total passengers, based on 2018 data reported by the airports themselves. Here are the top 25 busiest U.S. airports:

  1. Atlanta Harstfield-Jackson (ATL)
  2. Los Angeles International (LAX)
  3. Chicago O’Hare International (ORD)
  4. Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW)
  5. Denver International (DEN)
  6. New York John F. Kennedy (JFK)
  7. San Francisco International (SFO)
  8. Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA)
  9. Las Vegas McCarran (LAS)
  10. Orlando International (MCO)
  11. Charlotte Douglas International (CLT)
  12. Newark Liberty International (EWR)
  13. Miami International (MIA)
  14. Phoenix Sky Harbor (PHX)
  15. Houston Intercontinental (IAH)
  16. Boston Logan International (BOS)
  17. Minneapolis-Saint Paul (MSP)
  18. Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood (FLL)
  19. Detroit Metropolitan (DTW)
  20. Philadelphia International (PHL)
  21. New York LaGuardia (LGA)
  22. Baltimore-Washington (BWI)
  23. Salt Lake City International (SLC)
  24. San Diego International (SAN)
  25. Washington Dulles (IAD)

Any guesses as to the 5 I haven’t transited? Being based on the west coast, you can imagine that the large hubs of San Francisco and Los Angeles were checked off the list ages ago. Providing airline info would help in theory, but I have such split “loyalty” that it actually doesn’t. I’ve flown all the major airlines a number of times, although Delta and United have received the bulk of my air miles. Southwest used to be my favorite airline (not really the case anymore) and I’ve flown my share of Alaska as well.

Not to mention without some recent travels, I wouldn’t have the list whittled down to the remaining five. When my daughter and I visited Buenos Aires and Montevideo, we made a quick stop in Florida on the way home, hitting both Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports. Last year I also checked off Salt Lake City, Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, Minneapolis-Saint Paul and Chicago O’Hare.

So which remain unvisited among the top 25 busiest U.S. airports? Here they are:

  • Boston Logan
  • Detroit Metropolitan
  • Philadelphia International
  • New York LaGuardia
  • Baltimore Washington

No plans to pass through any of these either. Someday I’ll hit all 25.

The Club at ATL Review

During my travels back and forth across the country for work, I’ve passed through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport a number of times. Thanks to the Priority Pass membership I have through my Chase Sapphire Reserve card, The Club at ATL has been my go-to spot for waiting during layovers.

Location, hours, and how to access

The Club at ATL is one of “The Club” network lounges, which have locations at a number of domestic airports. I’ve also visited The Club at Seattle, San Jose, and Phoenix over the past couple years. Access is complimentary with a Priority Pass membership through a premium card such as the Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Prestige, or American Express Business Platinum, all of which allow the cardholder and two guest to access lounges for free. You can also access The Club at ATL with a Lounge Key or Lounge Club membership.

The Atlanta location is on the mezzanine level in Concourse F, which is at the east end of the airport and is the concourse for a number of international flights. If you’re departing on KLM, Air France, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, or Lufthansa, you can check in at the international terminal and make your way through security right into Concourse F. The Club at ATL is also the contract business class lounge for passengers of British Airways and Lufthansa (maybe others as well). Those flying Delta partners will get SkyClub access.

The Club at ATL opens at 6:00 a.m. and closes at 10:30 p.m. daily. One note for families: children 12 years of age and under are free.

My priority pass card had scanning issues, as always. I need to get my digital card set up, as the lounge also accepts that. This is something I’ve procrastinated way too long. After typing my number in and then obtaining my signature, I was headed into the lounge.

While I have read about instances where folks were denied entry to The Club at ATL due to capacity constraints, I have not experienced this. I *might* have come close this trip, as they were apparently just finishing up a wait-list and callback system that had been implemented when I arrived.

Seating at The Club at ATL

The Club at ATL is basically one open room, but it does have a variety of seating options. There are a number of armchairs, some square dining tables tables, and some two person high tops, as well as bar seating. The business center is a small section behind a couple partitions.

In general, I’ve found The Club at ATL to be very full. There were only two empty tables when I arrived, which made enough sense, given that they had been wait-listed. I’m surprised they even lifted it, considering how full the lounge was. As the only true Priority Pass lounge at ATL (the other options are both Minute Suites), it is a popular place.

I found a high-top near the bar that was unoccupied, dropped my stuff, and grabbed a bite to eat.

Food at The Club at ATL

Food options included a salad bar that had spring greens and just a handful of other veggies. The roasted red bell peppers are excellent, and I devoured two plates of salad while on a conference call. While I don’t mind Delta’s in-flight Luvo wraps and often order one on the flight from Sacramento, the fresh greens and veggies were very welcome.

Other food options include soup, bread, and hot dogs. Yup. Hot dogs. Fine dining, that. I’m glad they have the salad bar, as it would be a pretty sad lounge without it. There are often some sandwich options as well. I paired this with a glass of rosé.

On the other side of the lounge are the snacks, ranging from wasabi peas to Chex mix. I’m sure my kids would have been in heaven had they been here.

Keeping with an Award Travel 101 tradition and in-joke, I finished things off with a small bowl of gummies.

Bar and drink options

The drink selection is fairly extensive, at least in my very unqualified opinion. Expect that there will be a range of wines and beers and plenty of cocktail options. I’ve ordered a rosé and a Merlot and that’s about it.

the club at atl bar

The service during this visit was excellent. Dishes were collected promptly, and one of the bussers asked me more than once if I needed or wanted anything, even bringing me a new glass of tea on one occasion. Much better than any other The Club lounge I’ve visited.

Conclusion

The Club at ATL is now my go-to when I’m at Hartsfield-Jackson during a layover. The food is decent, and it is typically a nicer atmosphere than the crowded, busy terminal, even though it can get busy itself. I’ll be back every time I’m in Atlanta, unless I’m simply unable to make the trek to Concourse F and back in time.

I finally understand! This is what our airport code stands for ​

A couple weeks ago I had quite the trip. Er, non-trip. I was supposed to fly from San Francisco back up to Arcata on the hour long hop after driving one way to the Bay, but that plan was crushed like always. Instead, I found myself driving back up in a rental car through the pouring rain.

Now I’m still fighting to get the miles back that I used for the trip. But that is a story for another day.

The frustrations of flying ACV

It’s no secret we live in an isolated pocket of the country, and our unreliable air service doesn’t help matters at all. Maybe it’s just me, but literally half of all flights I’ve ever taken with United between ACV and SFO (either way) have been either severely delayed or outright canceled. It’s so bad, that I gave up and generally fly out of Sacramento (SEE: 5 Reasons Why Sacramento is my Favorite Northern California Airport).

While at Arcata, I met a fellow member from the Travel Grumps 101 Facebook group that I am a part of. We’ve previously both commiserated online about the difficulties of flying out of Humboldt, and we got to chat travel for a bit. Until our flight was summarily canceled.

She headed out to retrieve her luggage and rent a car to drive home while I decided to grab dinner for free at the Giants Clubhouse before heading back to the city. A little while later I received a Facebook message from her saying the United baggage handler definitely knew the woes of flying into ACV. He asked her if she knew what ACV stands for.

I’ve always wondered what our airport code stands for, and his answer finally shed some light on the odd airport code. It makes complete sense now.

What does ACV stand for? That’s right: Another Canceled Vacation.

Travel Day – Beijing to Hong Kong

It was a bit sad to wake up and realize that our time in Beijing had already passed. Our five days in the Chinese capital were an amazing experience. I feel like we barely scratched the surface of what Beijing has to offer, but the food, history and people make it a great place to visit. Here are the posts from each day of our adventures in Beijing:

Breakfast was again complementary in the top-floor lounge of our central Beijing hotel (SEE: Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing Review). We even finished up early, a small miracle for my children. My bags in hand, we made our way downstairs and I asked the desk to call us a taxi. We could have taken the subway, but it would have meant a transfer and toting our bags a good distance. Given how cheap taxis are in Beijing, the convenience was totally worth it.

Our ride took off around 8:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I figured we would take an hour to get to the airport. The driver made me a bit nervous at times, cutting quickly from lane to lane. But we made it safely. The ride took 40 minutes on a Sunday morning leaving about 8:45 a.m.

Arriving at Beijing Capital Airport

Front of Beijing International Airport Terminal 3 is impressive. Our flight into Beijing had arrived into Terminal 2, and we’d taken the Airport Express straight from there. I didn’t get a good look at the airport. Plus, it was dark and we were exhausted. We also had an unfortunate incident where my son wet himself, as he hadn’t gotten up to use the lav before our final approach into Beijing. He has a habit of not being aware of his need to use the facilities, not to mention the worst timing on the airplane (every time he got up to go was during meal time). Just one of the hurdles of traveling with kids.

But I digress. The memories of our arrival into Beijing, although it was only a few days prior, already seemed distant. We walked through the doors into the massive departures hall of Terminal 3. There is row after row after row of check-in counters and there were huge queues of people. I’m not surprised Beijing in building a new airport that is projected to be the world’s busiest in short order.

Too early for a flight?

Turns out that due to our early departure from the hotel and faster drive than expected, we were an hour earlier than my anticipated arrival at the airport. We were also there an hour before the check-in desk opened for our flight. Now…I know there are some places where check-in counters don’t operate all the time. But given that Beijing Capital Airport is massive, and Cathay has more than just a few flights per day, the fact that the counter was not yet open surprised me.

There was one counter open. But the signage clearly marked counters for specific flights, something I’d never seen. We unfortunately had to kill an hour wandering the departures hall.

Once we were finally checked in and had dropped the bag, it was time for Chinese immigration. We’d had no issues entering the country on the 144-hour transit without visa (TWOV) exemption, but I would be lying if I said that I didn’t feel a little bit of apprehension about passing through the country. I’d been instructed to keep the stubs from the original visa paperwork, and they were still in my wallet. Everything should be good.

And it was. We got a couple odd looks from the immigration officials, but we passed through just fine. Very glad that we were able to take advantage of this opportunity for a stopover in the Chinese capital.

Security went smoothly as well. This was the 14th segment for both of my older two kids, and they have learned the drill pretty well. I was a dolt this time though and insisted that my backpack didn’t have any water in it even when the security official flagged it in the x-ray. Had totally forgotten that I’d put in the last bottle from the hotel that morning. Oops.

Once through, we hung out in the lounge for a while where the kids did some school and I wrote a couple blog posts and enjoyed a glass of wine (SEE: Air China First Class Lounge Beijing Airport Review). We also ate an early lunch. All for free with my Priority Pass membership through my Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

Our plane was late, but we still got out early enough to make it to Hong Kong in time. You can read all about our experience flying Cathay Pacific 777 Premium Economy.

Hello, Hong Kong

We landed right before sunset and hopped on the Hong Kong Express toward Kowloon. A short bus ride later, and we were walking the last few blocks to our hotel through the bustling Mongkok neighborhood. I wasn’t so sure about staying here, but I would happily do so again. The energy and everyday-ness of Mongkok makes it a vibrant place to enjoy as a foreigner.

Bedtime came at about 8:30. It was a good travel day. Now we had Hong Kong to explore for our last three days!

5 Reasons Why Sacramento is my Favorite Northern California Airport

With all the delays and cancellations that plague our tiny regional airport, I’ve had to look beyond our “Redwood Curtain” for reliable flights. Not to mention cheaper. Prices out of ACV (our little regional Arcata-Eureka airport) are insane.

There are a number of options in the northern section of the state, including Redding, Santa Rosa, Sacramento and three more airports in the Bay Area. But one stands out above the rest: Sacramento.

If you’re a local and am wondering why I associated Sacramento with Northern California, have no fear. I’m firmly in your camp (SEE: 5 reasons you *must* visit coastal northern California). The Bay Area and Sacramento Area don’t qualify as NorCal in my mind. But since there are millions of people in the middle section of the state that don’t agree with us, I have to throw in the towel and go with the prevailing definition.

Couldn’t ask for easier access

The most appealing feature of Sacramento International Airport is the utter lack of traffic. Coming from Humboldt County, I head south on Highway 101, cross over to Interstate 5 by way of State Route 20, and then it’s another 45 minutes south to the airport.

Because the airport is located north of downtown Sacramento and busy Interstate 80, you don’t ever have to deal with any substantial traffic. I’ll take it over Oakland, San Francisco or San Jose any day.

From curbside to gate in no time at all

Along with the lack of the terrible traffic that plagues the Bay Area, everything is faster at Sacramento. The walk and time through security can be comparable to Oakland or San Jose, but its the proximity of the rental car center that helps significantly. It is located much closer, with a fast and frequent shuttle (ease of access to the rentals car center varies at San Jose airport depending on which terminal you are flying into or out of).

I’ve clocked my time through Sacramento Airport on a couple occasions. On one occasion I pulled up to drop my rental car with Enterprise at Sacramento at 4:58 a.m. I made it on the shuttle by 5:03, arriving at security at 5:05. Clearing security took all of a couple minutes and I made it to my gate by 5:09 a.m. Total of 11 minutes. No way I could do better than that at SFO.

Little to no price premium

As a mid-size airport, you might think Sacramento would have higher prices than a large hub like SFO. This is certainly the case if you’re looking to fly somewhere overseas, as Sacramento only has a few international flights (Air Canada to Vancouver and AeroMexico or Volaris to Guadalajara, if you are wondering). But for many domestic destinations, there is little to no difference in price. Sometimes it’s actually cheaper.

Don’t make the mistake of leaving off Sacramento Airport from your flight searches. It’s literally another 4 characters on the keyboard when searching airfare with Google Flights (SEE: 6 reasons Google flights is the BEST flight search engine). Just hit “S-M-F-space”, and then proceed to type in SFO like you planned to in the origin box.

Plenty of options

Sacramento has a leg up on Santa Rosa airport due to the number of airlines and flight options it offers. While Santa Rosa has definitely expanded in the past year, and is on track to continue this trend (SEE: Santa Rosa Airport Expands to Meet Crushing Demand), it still doesn’t have nearly the same number of flights. For example, American Airlines only offers one flight per day out of STS, and it is just after noon, making it hard to catch an eastbound connection in Phoenix that arrives on the East Coast at a reasonable time.

Sacramento offers many more options. Sure, it’s not SFO. But there are a number of reasonable departures on all the major carriers. You can pick from American, Delta, United, Alaska, Southwest, JetBlue, Frontier, and Hawaiian domestically. International carriers include Air Canada, AeroMexico and Volaris, as previously mentioned. Southwest offers the most nonstop destination options by far (which makes sense, as they have 53% of the market share at SMF).

Consistent rental car prices

Since I have to get myself to and from Sacramento Airport, I do have to take into consideration the cost of renting a car. I’ve found that I can pretty much always get a car for $100-150 depending on when and which direction I am going. This may sound like a lot, and it *is*, if it is coming out of my own pocket. But it work is paying, I can often justify it since the difference in fare is more than the cost of the rental car. The typical differential is $300+ between a fare out of Sacramento and a fare out of Arcata.

There is the issue of added travel time, but depending on the itinerary, even this may not be substantial. Most of my United itineraries for work back east involve two connections. Flying out of Sacramento allows me to cut it to only one. In some cases, flying out of Sacramento only adds 1-2 hours to my trip each direction. The added reliability makes this trade more than worth it.

Conclusion

I have a love/hate relationship with our local airport, which has made me look into flying out of other airports many times. Now I’ve finally settled on my favorite of the most easily accessible.

Header image courtesy of jericl cat via Flickr under CC BY 2.0 license

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