The ten best airports in the South
Southern Business & Development has visited just about every airport in the South of any size. Here are our favorites after 20 years of taking to the Southern skies.
By Lee Burlett
Orlando International, the second-busiest in Florida and 13th-busiest in the U.S., rocks in the efficiency department with its terminal trams. The main terminal's atrium is beautiful and the retail shops available are unlike any airport we have seen. Of course, Orlando is home to SeaWorld, Universal Studios, Disney World and other attractions.
Houston's two airports -- George Bush Intercontinental (IAH -- 7th busiest) and Houston Hobby (41st busiest and one of Southwest Airlines' busiest) -- have some of the best food you will ever find at any airport we have frequented in the 20 years of traveling throughout the South. (Don't pass up the grub at Pappadeaux or Pappasito's.) And some of the bars are incredibly fun. While it might seem that IAH is a little confusing if you are going from one terminal to another, if you are just flying out of one it is a breeze. Free Wi-Fi is a plus.
In our book, the Music City airport is No. 1 in the entertainment department. We counted three live stages and one is in the baggage claim area. There's also good food to be found (mainly barbecue) and a Grand Ole Opry theme in several bars and restaurants. The B and C concourses feature freestanding phone/computer charging stations that include USB ports.
If you live in the Southeast, you have been to Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL). Atlanta is the busiest airport in the United States and with 170 gates, it is also the largest. The old international terminal still seems new to us, but that will last only until the new $1.4 billion international terminal opens later this year. As for terminal D, you can have it. It is just too small; yet, a modernization of the tiny terminal D is set for completion in two years. What we do like about the Atlanta airport is how skillfully travelers there move through each terminal. There are times on busy days when there seems to be no possible way that many people can negotiate those terminals. But they do. Just about every gate has ample supply of passenger-facing outlets and workspaces.
Dallas-Fort Worth International (DFW) was the South's first tech-savvy airport. How do we know that? Just check out the old Ethernet port installations that you will still find at some gates. While the airport is not as big as Atlanta's in the number of gates, you wouldn't believe it if you boarded one of those trains that run above ground from one terminal to the next. The size of DFW is unlike any airport we have ever seen and moving from one terminal to another is easy.
RDU is consistently ranked among the most efficient airports, as it was named "Most Efficient Small/Medium Airport” in North America by the Air Transport Research Society in August of last year. PC World named RDU in December No. 4 in "Most Tech-Friendly Terminals" as well as No. 1 in “Best U.S. airports for Wi-Fi.” Terminal 2 was also mentioned by Atlantic Cities in December as one of nine beautiful new airport terminals.
This airport is one of the South's newest, opening for passenger service in 1999. Austin-Bergstrom International is absolutely gorgeous and it is also ranks high in on-time arrivals and departures. "Live" Austin music greets visitors and welcomes home Austinites, showcasing Austin's incredible music scene. Various live stages are also set up throughout the airport and it is very tech-friendly.
We think that Tampa International was the first U.S. airport to incorporate trams to satellite terminals back in the 1970s. A forerunner then, today it still is. The airport is well organized and easy to move through. Car rentals on the first floor are important for folks like us at SB&D that must get to our cars quickly without having to ride a shuttle. You won’t find a more friendly security detail than in Tampa. One reason is TI didn’t have to scramble to beef up security after 9/11. It was already in place.
This airport’s unique design allows passengers to be off the plane and on the street quicker than a small town airport. The layout also offers flyers that park in short term parking some perks not seen at other airports in the South. You can walk literally across the street, pass through security (read this: there are security entry points at each gate!) and sit in nice, comfy chairs at your gate within 10 minutes of leaving your car in the parking lot.
We don’t fly to many small or mid-market airports. The only ones we have frequented in the last 20 years that we can remember are Roanoke, Tri-Cities, Tenn., Jackson, Shreveport, Greenville, Myrtle Beach and Knoxville. All of these are good, and states surrounding Alabama with good airports like Chattanooga, well, they are too close for us to fly. But of all the small market airports we use, Columbia’s is the best.