By Katrina Brown Hunt, Travel + Leisure
Of her three hometown airports, D.C. resident Katie Stanton prefers Reagan—for travel, and even for dinner.
When she comes home from a business trip, the Social Media Director at travel-planning platform Exploring.is says she often picks up pizza from local favorite & Pizza, which has an outpost in Terminal C. She also enjoys the airport’s A-list people-watching (recently she saw Mitt Romney), but mostly, she loves how close it is to the heart of the city.
“I can get from my downtown apartment to my gate within 30 minutes,” says Stanton. “I’ll pay up to $100 more to go in and out of DCA, as opposed to Dulles or BWI.”
She’s not the only one: the D.C. area’s smallest major airport is the favorite for many Travel + Leisure readers, who ranked airports around the world as part of the magazine’s World’s Best survey. One category in the survey focused on airport location and access—how close the hub is to the city center, and how user-friendly it feels. Among the top 20—which includes 10 international airports, and 10 in the U.S.—one winning airport has a golf course next door, while another makes it easy to visit a global icon during a short layover.
Several winners also have an intangible quality that just makes travel feel easier. Jennifer Aquino likes international top-10 winner Zurich because “making connections is easy. It’s unlike Frankfurt, which feels unfriendly and depressing, in the way that it’s laid out, its low ceilings and the lack of light.” But Zurich offers an aesthetic pick-me-up, says the Singapore-based education and career coach. “It’s clean, bright and smart,” says Aquino. “I love passing by the shops and cafes after a long-haul flight. It’s a nice place to arrive, after feeling gross and groggy. Zurich is a pleasure.”
Here are the 10 most accessible airports in the U.S.
Orlando International Airport (MCO)
An airport that serves a high volume of over-stimulated kids and beleaguered parents deserves special credit for making anyone’s top 10. The airport’s hub-and-spoke design, combined with people movers, helps minimize walking (and whining), and the airport’s new app lets you track your flights or get directions within the airport. Your best bet for transfers is by way of your hotel: more than 50 hotels (about half being Disney-affiliated resorts) offer free rides to and from the airport. To make your transfer really short, you can always stay at the on-site and AAA four-diamond Hyatt Regency, which has porters who will go to baggage claim for you.
Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
The Hawaiian airport may not made the top 10 for having efficient mass transit, but readers did like that the hub is decked out in welcoming tropical foliage—and that it sits only three miles from downtown, and eight from Waikiki. Readers did say, however, that they look forward to completed renovations at HNL: The airport is undergoing a modernization program that includes wider runways, a new concourse and a compact car rental facility, scheduled to be done in 2017. In the meantime, your best on-site places to soak up local flavor are Samurai Sushi and Bento, near gates 24 and 25, or the Hawaii Market En Route, nears gates 12 and 13, where you can get bags of Kona coffee. For a time-efficient excursion, the USS Arizona Memorial, at Pearl Harbor, is just three miles away.
Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
Even if readers found this airport to be a bit sprawling, getting around inside it isn’t tough: light rail links the two terminals, and buses or trains can take you to either downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul. (In this physically fit city, there is also a bike trail leading to Terminal 2.) They’ve so minimized your need to schlep here that they’ve created a 1.4-mil walking path in Terminal 1, just so you can be sure to get some exercise during downtime. For more stationary layovers, the airport gets points for having 24-hour videogame arcades in both terminals (thoughtfully labeled as welcoming both kids and adults). And while the airport has its own mall—featuring local-goods store Uptown Minnesota—the big daddy of shopping, Mall of America, is less than 20 minutes away by light rail.
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
Salt Lake City, UT
Skiers love this airport, given that there are 11 resorts within an hour’s drive. And despite its active winter weather, the Utah hub tends to score very well for on-time performance, making it pleasantly reliable. If you’re just heading downtown, you can take a 15-minute cab ride or a 30-minute light-rail ride (the latter costing less than $3 one way). Like a lot of airports, SLC has an art collection, but you don’t have to hunt it down: many paintings hang next to the people-mover. For layovers, the airport offersWingpointe, a seasonal 18-hole golf course right next door (just $44, if you get a cart), and free one-hour tours of Temple Square.
San Diego International Airport (SAN)
San Diego, CA
The sunny city is so nice to fly in and out of that even Charles Lindbergh—for whom the airport was first named—launched his first transatlantic flight nearby. Today, the airport sits right off the bay—complete with sailboats and cruise ships—and the descent into San Diego glides past the downtown skyscrapers. Once on the ground, you’re just a few blocks from downtown, Little Italy and the all-important I-5. Recent renovations have simplified the already compact airport, with separate arrival and departure zones to keep things moving smoothly. Terminal 2 may offer an edge for local dining and chilling, with a branch of beer-nerd-magnet Stone Brewing and the PGA Tour Grill, featuring murals on the Torrey Pines course.
Tampa International Airport (TPA)
Even though this Florida airport keeps extending its network—it now gets as many international travelers as Orlando—readers found Tampa to be almost magically consistent. The average time it takes those international travelers to depart the plane, go through customs and baggage, and then get to the street is 26 minutes—and you’re only a half hour from Clearwater Beach. An expansion project, due to be completed in 2017, will add about 1.5 miles of people movers, lighten curbside congestion and add a car rental facility closer to the airport entrance. In the meantime, the best spot for a killing a little time over a local beer is Airside C’s Cigar City Brewing, which offers such beachy beers as a Patio Pils and a white ale called the Florida Cracker.
Portland International Airport (PDX)
Not many airports inspire affection the way PDX does: even its recently replaced green carpet has developed a fan following. But the Oregon hub also offers compellingly easy transfers, thanks to the city’s excellent mass transit—like the MAX red line, the light rail that takes you downtown in a little more than half an hour for just $2.50. Since Portland is so bike-friendly, PDX also has bicycle parking and bicycle repair stations. For the best local shopping and snacking, check out the airport branches of Elephants Delicatessen, Powell’s Books and Made in Oregon, where you can buy airport-carpet-inspired t-shirts and mugs.
Dallas Love Field (DAL)
The home base of keep-it-mellow Southwest Airlines has long charmed travelers with its easy-to-manage vibe: It’s just 20 minutes from downtown Dallas and a short hop to the main freeways. A recently completed renovation has made Love’s fans swoon even more, with streamlined outdoor pick-ups and a new baggage claim hall that speeds up luggage retrieval. Plus, the recent repeal of a 1979 regulation has allowed airlines to offer more non-stop flights out of Love, which only widens its reach. For the best local-flavor refreshment before your flight, stop in at the airport’s branches of Jason’s Deli, wine bar Cru or Texans’ beloved Whataburger.
McCarran International Airport (LAS)
Las Vegas, NV
Unlike some casinos, this international airport does a good job of keeping the crowds contained and moving efficiently, according to readers. Since it’s located just two miles from the Strip, you get a postcard-worthy view of the city while taking off or landing, and cab or shuttle rides to the main hotels often take less than 10 minutes. If you’re just passing through, you can get a healthy dose of Vegas without ever leaving the airport, thanks to the slot machines scattered around the terminals. Despite the city’s sometimes-gritty rep, the airport got accolades from readers for seeming clean.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) Washington, D.C.
With the Washington Monument and the Capitol building often in clear view during takeoffs and landings, it’s no surprise that the airport that used to go by “National” took the top prize for location in the U.S. Offering only domestic flights, Reagan may just feel mellower compared to Dulles and BWI, but the more distant D.C. airports also can’t compete with Reagan’s proximity: From DCA you can typically get downtown in less than a half hour by cab, and you have easy access to the Metro’s blue and yellow lines. For some pleasant downtime, Reagan also channels the city’s museum scene, offering permanent and rotating exhibits, like an upcoming look at the Hubble Telescope.