The age-old question of whether size matters – uh, well, at least as it pertains to airports and airline volume – has been answered.
And it’s a resounding ‘yes.’
As part of our TravelPulse project of looking for the best 100 U.S. airports, we broke out our survey into seven different categories, including Airline Volume, asking whether an airport serves a high number of airlines and, if it is dominated by one carrier and being used as a hub, are there enough strong destinations and nonstop flights?
This is where the big boys shined in the survey, even if their respective overall grade kept them further down in the final rankings in our survey.
Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York-JFK and Chicago O’Hare were the clear-cut top four, and the three immediately behind them weren’t exactly from small-town America – San Francisco, Orlando and Las Vegas.
“Again, size matters,” said one respondent. “The larger hubs provide much more in terms of choice of airlines and timing. Using Orlando as an example – I'll use Sanford-Orlando airport and Allegiant when it's convenient but, for the most part, I'll fly out of Orlando International as the choices are more substantial.”
And, often, better priced.
Using Orlando again as the example, a flight leaving the New York area to Orlando on Monday, Dec. 5, and returning Sunday, Dec. 11, shows exactly that. At John F. Kennedy, Newark-Liberty and LaGuardia, a round trip was between $154 and $174. At New York City’s outlying airports – MacArthur in Islip, Long Island; Stewart International in Newburgh; and Westchester in White Plains – fares ranged from $193 to $253.
Duly noted, of course, is that size doesn’t necessarily compensate for other things.
“Volume is a plus when you need to find a flight, but tends to be inversely proportional to comfort,” one of our respondents said. “So the highest volume airports would have a hard time competing with tiny airports in regard to comfort.”
Still, some fliers will take it.
“I've never be displeased with airline volume in any airport,” a survey-taker said. “I have lived near Orlando, Portland, San Francisco and (Boston) Logan, and never felt like I couldn't go anywhere I wanted.”
Said another: “Airports like JFK and LAX may be aging, but they do accommodate the bulk of brands.”
According to Department of Transportation figures, here are the top 10 airports in terms of revenue enplanements at commercial service airports. Figures are from 2015.
1) Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson – 49,340,732
2) Los Angeles international – 36,351272
3) Chicago O’Hare International – 36,305,668
4) Dallas-Fort Worth International – 31,589,839
5) New York-John F. Kennedy – 27,782,369
6) Denver International – 26,280,043
7) San Francisco International – 24,190,560
8) Charlotte-Douglas International – 21,913,166
9) Las Vegas McCarran International – 21,857,693
10) Phoenix Sky Harbor International – 21,351,504