Not every airport needs to be a stressful, chaotic experience. You shouldn’t have to stand in long lines only to dig deep into your budget for an overpriced, bland meal and perhaps end up sprinting to your gate.
While some people rightfully detest airports, NerdWallet has rounded up a collection of nine U.S. airports that are enjoyable to spend time in. Some are like a cozy coffee shop, while others have retro vibes that harken back to the golden age of aviation. These airports were chosen for several reasons, some of which might include their unbeatable views, unique amenities, charming atmosphere — or a combination of it all.
But NerdWallet also included key details that can impact the airport experience, including on-time arrivals rate, based on Bureau of Transportation Statistics data between February 2022 and February 2023. For comparison, the national average on-time arrivals rate is 76.98%.
To qualify for this list, airports also had to have fewer than 1.5 million arriving passengers in 2022. To put that into perspective, America’s largest airport by arriving passengers — Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International — had more than 37 million arriving passengers in 2022.
The data is sorted by the number of arriving passengers in 2022, also based on BTS data, from most to least.
9. Long Beach Airport
(Photo courtesy of Long Beach Airport)
Long Beach, California
On-time arrivals rate: 78.9%.
Total 2022 passengers (departing): 1.3 million.
Total 2022 passengers (arriving): 1.3 million.
Airlines served: Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, Southwest Airlines.
Long Beach Airport is the oldest airport in California, and it still largely maintains the art deco style there when it was built in 1941. Today, the avant-garde work of architecture is a recognized historical landmark. And while many of the original features have been preserved, such as a mosaic masterwork incorporating more than a million hand-cut tiles, there are also modern touches.
A sprawling, post-security outdoor space makes it possible to take advantage of Southern California’s sunshine before departure. Most eateries are an extension of Long Beach’s local food scene, such as the airport outpost of Sweet Jill’s Bakery — famous for its cinnamon rolls.
8. Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport
On-time arrivals rate: 78.2%.
Total 2022 passengers (departing): 981,807.
Total 2022 passengers (arriving): 970,728.
Airlines served: Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, American Airlines, Avelo Airlines, Delta, JetBlue Airways, Southwest, Sun Country Airlines, and United Airlines.
Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport has cozy mountain vibes, designed with natural wood and stone. Gaze at the crackling fireplace inside, or enjoy the picturesque views of the mountain outside.
7. Asheville Regional Airport
Fletcher, North Carolina
On-time arrivals rate: 77.23%.
Total 2022 passengers (departing): 756,726.
Total 2022 passengers (arriving): 761,652.
Airlines served: Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue, Sun Country, and United.
Asheville is known for its vibrant art scene, and that extends to Asheville Regional Airport. Inside, you might hear a concert pianist performing on the airport’s grand piano or a live musical performance by local schools, choral groups or folk musicians. There’s also an art gallery featuring rotating, curated artwork exhibits by local fine artists.
Though small, the airport is growing: The airport says it saw a 29% increase in 2022 passengers over 2021 — and that 2022 marked the highest number of passengers ever served in one year for the airport.
6. Santa Barbara Municipal Airport
(Photo by Sally French)
Santa Barbara, California
On-time arrivals rate: 78.9%.
Total 2022 passengers (departing): 505,104.
Total 2022 passengers (arriving): 503,645.
Airlines served: Alaska, American, Southwest, and United.
Santa Barbara Municipal Airport is decorated with Mediterranean-style colorful tiles, rustic lanterns, modern art and beautiful Spanish murals, reflecting the distinctive architecture throughout the city. There’s also a small outdoor seating area for plane spotting and enjoying the landscaping of local plants, such as purple sage, magenta bougainvillea and lemon trees.
The airport is growing, having “experienced a faster than predicted operational recovery” in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a statement from the airport. Much of that was driven by the addition of Southwest, which began service in Santa Barbara in 2021 with routes including Las Vegas and Denver.
The airport also has a mini museum on Santa Barbara’s aviation history, including photos of actor James Dean with a 356 Speedster race car — as his last drag race was at the airport.
5. Jackson Hole Airport
On-time arrivals rate: 78.4%.
Total 2022 passengers (departing): 351,977.
Total 2022 passengers (arriving): 338,015.
Airlines served: Alaska, American, Delta, Sun Country, and United.
Located within Grand Teton National Park at the base of the Teton mountain range, Jackson Hole Airport has spectacular views.
The airport offers standard services like a restaurant, market and gift shop, but here’s something particularly charming: the Teton County Library Bookshelf. You can take a book with you or leave a book for the next visitor.
Cozy up to the fireplace or spread out on one of the branded wooden benches, representing the ranching families in Jackson Hole for generations.
4. Cherry Capital Airport
Traverse City, Michigan
On-time arrivals rate: 79.8%.
Total 2022 passengers (departing): 254,263.
Total 2022 passengers (arriving): 250,777.
Airlines served: Allegiant, American, Delta, JetBlue, and United.
Cherry Capital Airport’s architecture and design are inspired by the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s works, with details like copper light fixtures, stone wainscoting and stained glass. The welcome area, complete with a stone fireplace, feels more like a lodge than an airport.
3. Ketchikan International Airport
On-time arrivals rate: 80.1%.
Total 2022 passengers (departing): 125,641.
Total 2022 passengers (arriving): 125,994.
Airlines served: Alaska.
To get to and from the airport and the actual city of Ketchikan, you’ll likely end up boarding a ferry. The five-minute ride on the water only adds to the charming experience of Ketchikan International Airport, located on Gravina Island.
2. Martha’s Vineyard Airport
(Photo courtesy of Tim Johnson, Martha’s Vineyard Airport)
West Tisbury, Massachusetts
On-time arrivals rate: 76.7%.
Total 2022 passengers (departing): 66,698.
Total 2022 passengers (arriving): 67,464.
Airlines served: American, Cape Air, Delta, and JetBlue.
The airport terminal is built in the same Cape Cod style found across the island of Martha’s Vineyard, down to its cedar shingles. Look out the window as you take off and land for aerial views of the island’s beaches and lighthouses.
It’s centrally located in the middle of the 100-square-mile island. And for those staying in Edgartown, you might even take the bus, as it’s just a three-minute ride to the classic New England seaport village.
1. Branson Airport
(Photo courtesy of Branson Airport)
On-time arrivals rate: 61.7%.
Total 2022 passengers (departing): 5,999.
Total 2022 passengers (arriving): 6,016.
Airlines served: Sun Country.
Located in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, Branson Airport captures the broader spirit of Branson, which is known for its live entertainment, lakes, museums and historic downtown. The airport has a wild west vibe, featuring facades of a saloon and sawmill, plus a real babbling creek inside.
If you have time before going through security, you might grab a meal at Branson Jet Center, which offers outdoor patio dining adjacent to a putting green. And while Bass Pro Shops is generally known for its massive size, there’s also a relatively tiny Bass Pro Shops General Store inside the airport.
(Top photo courtesy of Blake Bronstad, Santa Barbara Airport)
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