In Praise of the Small Airport (And Six You Need to Know)

Earlier this month, Paine Field Airport opened in Everett, Washington, a Snohomish County town 45 minutes north of downtown Seattle. 

It’s more of a long overdue reopening than a grand opening — Paine Field began commercial service in 1939, served as an air force base during the ensuing decades of war, and then hosted a Boeing assembly factory for years. Today, with the help of a $40M private investment, it’s welcoming back commercial service and touts a two-gate passenger terminal that’ll handle 18 flights a day to Las Vegas, LA, Orange County, Phoenix, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, all via Alaska Airlines. 

Paine Field is the latest great example of private interests fueling public infrastructure overhaul, and making projects happen where governments simply don’t have the money, or need years and millions in taxpayer dollars to get off the ground. The terminal has the gleam of a well-cared-for European airport (there’s a cheese shop!) with little of the traditional American airport’s came-of-age-in-the-’50s brand of bland.

But more importantly, the new terminal’s a welcome alternative for Greater Seattle residents accustomed to traveling all the way to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for every single flight. That ride (and its gas/Uber expenses) is worth it if the end-destination is London or Honolulu. But for a quick skip to Portland or SF? Less than ideal. Which got us thinking: Where else across the country could a small airport could save us money and time, while providing less horrifying security lines and/or bathrooms? 

Here are five other small airports in the States to know: 

New York Stewart International Airport
Since 2017, Coach USA has run an express bus service to this tiny, once military-run airport about an hour north of Manhattan. It’s rural — including woodlands and a resevoir — but growing rapidly in infrastructure and passenger use by the year. Stewart runs flights to the UK and Ireland via Norwegian Air, and domestic flights to Florida and South Carolina. 

Long Beach Airport
Offering one terminal, and five airlines (America, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Southwest), Long Beach is only 20 miles from LAX. What a difference those miles can make, though. This is a great airport to fly into for a trip south towards Orange County, as it has a reputable fleet of rental cars, to fly locally (with service to Seattle, Steamboat Springs and Salt Lake City) or to begin a Hawaiian vacation sans the stress — it has full service to Honolul.   

Bangor International Airport
Driving New England is more tedious than the postcards suggest. It’s full of narrow, dangerous highways, and day-ruining congestion outside Stamford, Hartford, Providence, and Boston. You could do worse for your Maine summer vacation than skipping the road-trip and flying directly into Bangor International. The airport is currently served by Allegiant, American, Delta, and United. 

Waco Regional Airport
Waco is pretty much directly between Dallas-Fort Worth and Austin — a little under a two hour drive to either city. For those living in the area, Waco is an excellent starting airport for a flight, before connecting in one of the large cities. You can avoid driving into either city, and check-in/security is quiet and smooth. Visitors should take advantage of the airport, especially if they’re not pressed for time or expensing the Uber. Keep in mind, though, the only direct flights to Waco are on American Airlines. 

Charleston International Airport
We already couldn’t recommend this airport enough — it’s a relatively large city airport masqeuarding as a small airport, with the hospitality and car rentals to match. It’s a great way to explore the rest of South Carolina, Savannah, or even Florida if you’re feeling adventurous. And news that next month the airport is launching two flights a week to London, via British Airways, pushes it over the edge. Charleston is served by nine airlines, which you can find listed here

Main image via Unsplash
Inline images via Alaska Airlines//Instagram