In praise of small airports

I know all the reasons small airports are impractical, and why bigger airports are good for the airline and related businesses. Allows for the hub and spoke model, leverages infrastructure investment and scarce land resources better; attracts more flights from more destinations.

But I love small airports. You know who you are – John Wayne in Orange County, Burbank, Nashville. I’m sure there are many others you’ve been to that I haven’t that fit the bill.

I recently flew in and out of Sarasota’s airport (SRQ) to see my Mom; we usually fly to Tampa and make the longer drive because flights are more convenient – Southwest even has non-stop from Las Vegas – and prices are way better. But this time I changed it up. I had a typical small airport “amazing” experience that those who use these airports all the time probably take for granted. Dropped the rental car off at 7:35. Was at the gate with Starbucks coffee and snack in hand at 7:50, for a 7:55 boarding time. Given I was one of the few folks in the security lanes, even the TSA agents were pleasant and helpful.*

If I could do that at JFK or ATL, I’d be a happy camper. But just the train from one terminal to another would take longer. And in New York, the commute time from the city to the airport instantly makes this journey one of the worst.

I wonder how much longer some of these airports will be around. In some areas, where the small airport is the only airport around, my guess is they will continue to be justified. But Sarasota (and Fort Myers for that matter), and the LA area small airports could become obsolete, if just from a cost perspective. Among many reasons I admire Southwest Airlines, there strategy to serve these smaller airports – and in the case of Dallas and Houston and Chicago to embrace them as a strategic advantage and invest in them – is good for the customer, and therefore good for the airline. Heaven forbid, a company knowing that happy customers equals profits.

I certainly hope these small airports can survive. The ability to spend a bit more time with friends and family on vacation, or even to sleep in a bit instead of waking up three hours early to make a flight when on business, is priceless to me.

* No offense to TSA agents at bigger, busier airports; I get that the job takes priority and it’s a pretty damn important job. It’s just a fact that the business makes it harder to engage in positive interactions with folks – not impossible and plenty of them do it well, just more difficult.




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