The cochinita pibil (a mouthwatering combination of braised pork, pickled red onions, black beans and habanero salsa smashed between two slices of perfectly crusty bolillo) at Tortas Fronteras is reason enough to pray for a layover at terminals 1, 3 or 5 at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. If only we didn’t have to be stuck there forever thanks to rampant flight delays. Meanwhile, teensy Bob Hope Airport in Burbank is a dream if you happen to find the rare cheap flight and live near Burbank. Is there such thing as the perfect airport? We think not, but having more than one airport option for most major North American cities at the very least offers the consumer some choice in their flying options. Wondering which airport better serves your next big city vacation? We break how to choose when you have two airports in one city.
Location: Few airports can compete with Reagan in regards to proximity to the city. You can literally board the Metro at the airport and be in front of the White House in 20 minutes (no joke). Meanwhile, it would take an hour to reach the Mall via public transportation from Dulles which is 26 miles (yikes!) from downtown DC, nevermind how long it can take in heavy traffic. In short, Reagan rules.
Amenities: Coach, Burberry and Michael Kors are among the more than 100 shops and restaurants at Dulles. Stellar dining options also abound. In addition to fast casual joints like Smashburger, &pizza and Chipotle, there are fancier places to actually settle in for a nice meal like the 135-seat Bistro Atelier at Concourse D. Smaller Reagan equals less options, but folks are cheering the new Chick-Fil-A.
Flights: Sorry international travelers, you’re basically stuck with Dulles. While Reagan does offer some flights to Canada and the Caribbean, most international travel will force you in and out of Dulles. While flying into Reagan is nominally pricier than Dulles, once you factor in the cost of a Metro ticket ($2.45 peak fare to the Mall) vs. a ride share ($40+) from Dulles, it often ends up a toss up.
Location: JFK and LGA are located on opposite sides of Queens and neither are that great in terms of accessing Manhattan (think 60 minutes to Midtown via public transportation). JFK at the very least links travelers to the A, E, J and Z subway stations via the AirTrain ($5 single ride), while a Midtown journey from LaGuardia is serviced by the Q70 bus. At 8.6 miles to the city, LaGuardia is technically closer.
Amenities: Depressing LaGuardia is currently in the middle of a badly needed $4 billion renovation, which includes new terminals, more taxiways and the development of an AirTrain. Bisoux and Tagliare at Terminal D are safe dining bets. Spiffier JFK includes upscale retail like Salvatore Ferragamo and Mont Blanc, while the dining options we love are Le Grand Comptoir, Pizza Vino and Shake Shack.
Flights: Air travel to NYC is technically a three-way horse race that includes Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New Jersey. On a recent roundtrip search from Chicago O’Hare to all three New York City airports on a weekend at travelocity.com revealed $182 to LaGuardia, $202 to Newark and $240 to JFK. Sorry JFK, we can wait until we hit Midtown to get our Shake Shack fix.
Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) vs. Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ)
Location: Remember how we said you couldn’t do much better than Reagan in regards to location? We totally lied. Billy Bishop sits within city limits on the Toronto Islands a mere 2 miles and $10 taxi/ride share (if that) to downtown. Pearson, meanwhile, sits about 15 miles from downtown and takes about 35-45 minutes via a $60+ cab ride (granted that’s in Canadian dollars).
Amenities: Amenity-rich Pearson greets the weary traveler with a permanent art collection, a premium lounge open to all guests regardless of airline or fare class and a plethora of shopping and dining options like LEE Kitchen and Wahlburgers. Get in and get out of Billy Bishop quickly as dining options are downright dismal (although all lounges serve complimentary tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks).
Flights: Literally no competition. While Pearson serves most major airlines, Lilliputian Billy Bishop is almost exclusively served by regional Porter Airlines with Air Canada offering a couple flights daily. Basically, you’re not gonna wrack up any miles flying into Billy Bishop, but if you’re en route to Toronto for a weekend getaway, snagging a cheap seat on Porter is often the way to go.
Location: The genius of Chicago is that the city’s famed “L” system, connects both airports to downtown via a single subway line (Blue for O’Hare, Orange for Midway) for only $3. Expect about a 50-minute journey from O’Hare on the city’s far Northwest Side to the Loop (the city center) and about 35-40 minutes via Midway, located on the city’s Southwest Side.
Amenities: O’Hare has done a lot to spiff up its culinary offerings. Beyond Tortas Fronteras there is also Publican Tavern, Summer House Santa Monica and, of course, irresistible Garrett Popcorn and Vosges chocolates. We also like wine bar Bubbles. Prospects at Midway are dimmer, although recent renovations have introduced new dining options like Go Go White Sox Grill and Tabo Suhi.
Flights: The South Side is under visited (and appreciated if you ask us), but if you’re staying in happening North Side ‘hoods like Wicker Park, Logan Square, Lakeview and Lincoln Park, O’Hare is probably a better option while Midway to the Loop and other South Side nabes is an enticingly quick journey. Similarly, cheap fare can be had at each airport, so let your final destination in the city break the tie.
Location: Sprawling Los Angeles is a tale of east vs. west as in the East Side and the West Side. Oceanfront LAX sits in closer proximity to West Side cities and nabes like Venice, Santa Monica and Brentwood, while Bob Hope in Burbank better serves the San Fernando Valley and is a quick and easy taxi/ride share to a subway line connecting North Hollywood to downtown Los Angeles.
Amenities: Tiny Bob Hope is short on dining and shopping options. Its best feature is that passengers still disembark directly onto the tarmac — how Golden Age of Flying! LAX, meanwhile, is a mad tangle of traffic snarls, bland terminals and overcrowded gates. The dining scene does little to temper moods, but the addition of food trucks is kinda cool and do hit up Border Grill at the International Terminal.
Flights: As convenient as Burbank proves to be for at least some travelers, it doesn’t always translate in price. On a recent search for roundtrip weekend flights originating in Seattle, we found airfare on Alaska Airlines for as little as $140 into LAX and $225 into Burbank (yikes!). This price difference is often the case, although Southwest has occasional bargains into Burbank so always check both airports.
Location: It truly was the dark ages of travel before BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) connected SFO to downtown San Francisco. These days, getting from the airport to Union Square via BART takes around 35 minutes and costs approximately $9. It’s a slightly heavier lift from Oakland; a one-way trip costs around the same price, but requires a connection which tacks on an additional 10 minutes of travel.
Amenities: The San Francisco food obsession has spilled over into air travel. The darling of the SFO food scene is Terminal 2, which boasts Napa Farms Market (the cheese selection alone is dazzling), Lark Creek Grill and wine tastings at Vino Volo. Oakland pales in comparison, but do grab your coffee at Peet’s and hit up Gordon Biersch for a pre-flight craft brew. Oakland also has a Vino Volo.
Flights: Six of one half a dozen of the other if you ask us. SFO is more convenient to the South Bay (and is a West Coast hub for international flights), while Oakland puts travelers close to downtown Oakland and Berkley, but fares are competitive at both. A recent price search from Los Angeles to both Oakland and SFO yielded fares under $100 into each airport — Oakland was slightly cheaper.
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