If you’re lucky, you live near one.
Wait, are those open check-in counters for real? Where are the snaking lines? Where’s the litter? The jostling crowds?
It’s Albany International Airport serving New York’s Capital Region, eastern New York State and Western Massachusetts. It’s a Saturday afternoon in October. I was headed to Florida.
The first leg of a holiday, business trip, family celebration — or emergency — often begins in an airport. Emotions are swirling around: excitement, anxiety, sometime grief. Apprehension, too, if you’re not comfortable in the air. Rarely is one’s temperament in a steady state before take-off.
Jetlag may be for amateurs, but the slog through big-city airports — global portals, if you will — is inescapable.
Enter the regional airport (and skip the slog).
Living in New York City, domestic travel usually meant hauling out to LaGuardia (LGA). I won’t belabor the fact that LGA is arguably among the most frustrating airport for air travelers.
In 2017, LaGuardia led the nation in percentage of flights canceled, 3.23 percent. Departure delays of nearly 90 minutes per delay ranked LGA second among U.S. airports in that dubious category.
By contrast, among the nearly 100,000 flights departing from the top 37 regional airports in North America during September 2018, only 14% experienced a departure delay for more than 15 minutes.
I rest my case, your honor.
I now live in the Hudson Valley, “upstate” in the parlance of New York City residents. Albany International (ALB) is my domestic airport of choice, when possible. ALB could even connect me with the wider world but the easy connection to JFK, via AMTRAK, edges it out.
What makes small airports such a big thing?
Recently, SmarterTravel.com published a piece outlining the criteria for “good” small airports, with a list of top picks. Against that benchmark, ALB fared pretty well, and had its ace.
Here’s what counts:
A good selection of commercial flights
United, Delta, Jet Blue, American, and Southwest serve ALB, in addition to smaller regional carriers.
Easy access to major highways
ALB is located just north of the intersection of Interstate 90 and Interstate 87 (New York Thruway). The approach from the highways is clearly marked.
Near at least one major city
ALB serves New York’s Capital region. That’s its mission. It is not an “alternative” to another airport, but direct routes to major cities (including Boston, Chicago, Denver, and Las Vegas, among others) make it a gateway to the world.
Additional traveler amenities
Check and check: all the big names in car rental, hotel shuttle, foreign currency exchange, ATMs, free WiFi, electric car charging. Restaurants (beyond fast food) and local museum shops are on premises.
Easy (and inexpensive) parking — this is the ‘ace’
I parked (for $9/day) in the “valet” adjacent lot. Which means I dropped off my car, unloaded my wheelie, crossed the covered passenger bridge to the terminal.
Upon return, I texted the number on the receipt, and by the time I reached valet parking my car was waiting, warmed against the evening chill.
Parking was charged against my E-Z Pass account. In minutes I was on the Thruway headed south.
Big airports are hassles, expensive hassles. Water, gum newspapers, coffee offered at prices reflective of your captured status. Delays, crowded facilities, restrooms often less than sparkling clean (due to hordes, not for lack of trying). I was lucky in that my destination was a direct flight, and I’m not suggesting the water and newspapers were a bargain. But I think a simple connection, fingers crossed, would be a willing exchange for the sanity a regional airport provides.
Think about it for next time, if it’s a reasonable option.