Airport Visits

On October 25, 2015 · 13 Comments

All that talk of doughnut county captures and airport-only visits in Counting Down a few days ago led me to consider that I’d been to a lot of airports during my wanderings over the years. One would think that I would have counted all of those before, seeing how I make lists of just about everything else I’ve encountered during my lifetime, and yet I’d never considered it before. It was easy enough to resolve by throwing all the airports I’ve transited onto a map:

I took it a step further by compiled everything on a shared Google Sheet that readers should feel free to view, sort, examine or whatever. Currently I’ve sorted it by nation with the USA first for obvious reasons, and then by three-character airport code.

I learned that I’d been to 83 airports. That wasn’t bad considering I’d never thought about it before and hadn’t consciously been trying to pad the score. None of them were doughnuts either except for Frankfurt, Germany. I wasn’t particularly concerned about Frankfurt however because I’ve been to Germany on plenty of other trips. I can’t guarantee that my list is 100% accurate either. I kept recalling airports randomly throughout the day. Regardless, at least I now have a place to write them all down if I ever want to track my use of airports on an ongoing basis.

Milwaukee Airport Security Sign
Recombobulation Area; Milwaukee Airport, Wisconsin, featured in More Strange Signs

Within the United States I’ve traveled to and physically left the premises of airports in 36 states and Puerto Rico. Three of those served the Washington, DC area, my home base, although technically I supposed I couldn’t count DC because even National Airport was (barely) outside of the District proper. I doubt I’ll catch the remaining 14 states either. I can’t imagine going through a substantial monetary expense because I’m cheap, especially for states within easy driving distance. Where would I fly to in West Virginia, for example. And why would I want do that? I’d spend twice as much time in the airport as I would driving there.

I also discovered that I’ve been to every one of the top 31 airports in the United States by total passenger boardings and total passenger traffic. The largest airport I hadn’t yet visited was William P. Hobby Airport in Houston, Texas and of course I’d been to the much larger airport in Houston, George Bush Intercontinental.

Blogging from an Airplane
Inside an Alaskan Airlines 737-800 in 2010, featured in Because I Can

Most of the airports I’d transited were quite large. The smallest one was probably the airport on the island of Pico in the Azores (map). Single-engine turboprops holding only a handful of passengers landed on its tiny runway, serving a terminal atop the lava fields not much larger than a hut. Within the United States, I’d venture that the smallest I’d used was probably the airport serving Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It wasn’t all that much larger than Pico although the facilities seemed much nicer, serving affluent skiers heading to the Grand Tetons on holiday.

I’d also traveled to at least one airport that no longer existed. Stapleton Airport served Denver, Colorado from 1920 until 1995 (map). I used Stapleton in the early 1990’s. Denver International Airport replaced Stapleton and the former site became a planned community. Recently the Denver Post announced that Stapleton’s former control tower was being converted into a restaurant with room for 600 patrons. It still counted on my list. Stapleton was an airport when I used it.

Logan Airport
Logan Airport; Boston, Massachusetts on the way back from Cape Cod Adventures

Maybe someday I’ll break the 100 mark. If so I’d likely need to travel to international locations. That was my weak link. I’ve been to airports in only 12 nations. That left a lot of room for growth.

During this exercise I also learned a lesson in not counting chickens before they hatch (an explanation for the non-native English speaking members of the audience). I was in San Diego, California all last week. I started compiling this spreadsheet as I sat at the airport terminal in San Diego, using my phone and opening a WiFi hotspot. I noticed that I was just about to capture a new airport because my layover would take me through Love Field in Dallas, Texas, so I put it on the list. The flight prepared to board, we all stood in line, the crew opened the jetway door and… all flights to Dallas were halted due to thunderstorms. The next thing I knew I’d been re-routed to a direct flight from San Diego to Baltimore, leaving four hours later. That was better than some of the alternatives though. If I’d wanted to travel to my original destination I wouldn’t have landed until 1:00 am. My wife was less than thrilled to drive all the way to Baltimore to pick me up although it was the best possible solution in a string of bad possibilities. And then I had to remove Love Field from my list.

That might be the biggest reason why I’ll never capture an airport in every state. My recent experience reminded me of what I considered the nightmare scenario: perfect weather on either end (San Diego and Washington, DC) and lousy weather at the layover (Dallas) to mess everything up. I hate layovers and generally try to avoid them at all costs. I would have done the same this time except that my employer required me to use a certain airline between those two points, limiting my options. Yet, layovers would be the only way to capture many of the remaining state airports not yet visited. Direct flights between Washington, DC and Billings, Montana? Not likely in this lifetime.

I am sure there are members of the Twelve Mile Circle audience who have touched down in more airports than I. What’s the highest number?

On October 25, 2015 · 13 Comments

13 Responses to “Airport Visits”

  1. RSN says:

    170 worldwide as of last week, as I’m currently in Thailand for vacation. Though to be fair, I used to work in the airports business, so it was my job to collect airports.

    Smallest airport I’ve been to is probably the dirt strip at Beaver, UT.

  2. Michael says:

    Hows does one count it when I get in a float plane in a lake in Ontario and fly about 50 miles to another lake? Are those lake airports? I’m at 60 domestic airports, 24 airports in other countries, and 2 Canadian lakes. I’ve also either taken off or landed at Hartsfield 210 times.

    • That’s an interesting question. I took a float plane flight from Moose Pass, Alaska (on the Kenai Peninsula) — I didn’t include Moose Pass on my list. However, where would one draw the line? Would it require landing on a physical runway? Or would there need to be a terminal building? What if the "runway" was a grassy field? What if the plane had skies and landed on a snowfield? What about the thousands of runways that served only private aircraft? For purposes of this exercise I considered that the location needed to have an International Air Transport Association (IATA) code. That’s the three letter code printed on luggage tags to route them to the correct airport.

      • John of Sydney says:

        Once upon a time much international air travel was done in flying boats but that is now not possible. Up until some time in the 50s you could fly into Sydney (Australia) by flying boat into the airport at Rose Bay – so surely that would then count as an airport. However now the same “airport” is used only by floatplanes mainly for sightseeing so it hardly counts as an airport now.

      • Jacob says:

        There are seaplane bases that have the IATA codes and have regular commercial flights. The ones that immediately come to mind are the seaplane bases in the U.S. Virgin Islands. There are multiple flights daily between St. Thomas (SPB) and St. Croix (SSB). I’m sure there’s plenty of other similar examples of island hoppers, these were just the first examples that came to mind. So if your criteria is having an IATA code then these two seaplane bases would count.

  3. Peter says:

    Flying to airports in every state wouldn’t be possible using scheduled airline service as no airlines serve Delaware. United Airlines and more recently Frontier had flights to Wilmington but they lost too much money.

  4. David Manuel says:

    I can claim 79 airports worldwide, including flightseeing to/from Healy, Alaska, two where we put down only for fueling (YQX Gander and LCH Lake Charles), and one that doesn’t exist anymore (the old AUS Mueller, before Bergstrom converted from an Air Force Base to the new airport).

    Smallest airport I’ve been to with commercial service (so not counting Healy) was HOB – Hobbs, New Mexico. One single gate, used by United twice a day to fly to IAH., based in Germany but available in English, is great for tracking.

  5. Thias says:

    Hey there!
    I haven’t commented in a while, but I am still following all your articles.
    Anyway, I found an Instagram account that I thought you might like. I won’t give you any description, the account name says it all (and the pics, too):

    Enjoy scrolling there!

    • January First-of-May says:

      It’s fairly interesting, sure, but IIRC it had already been mentioned on the 12MC Twitter.
      (He did like it, incidentally.)

      On-topic: I hadn’t really been to very many airports; I can think of only 11, in 5 countries. The smallest of these was probably Mineralnye Vody (on the way to, and later from, Russian Mathematical Olympiad at Kislovodsk).
      Between Belgrade and Varna (our trip went Moscow-Belgrade-Varna, which was significantly cheaper than straight Moscow-Varna, despite Moscow and Varna being about in the same direction from Belgrade – go figure), I had to use a relatively tiny propeller plane. Took half the flight to convince my mother that this ancient-looking loud monstrosity was as safe to fly on as a regular plane (for the record, it was an ATR-72, so not even particularly old).

    • Another fascinating feature of the site is that it offers content very similar to what sometimes appears on 12MC and it has 31 thousand followers. Meanwhile, 12MC has… well, significantly fewer followers. I’ve never been able to crack the code to make one of my pages go “viral” although clearly there seems to be a wider audience that’s interested in geo-oddities.

  6. Scott says:

    I use OpenFlights to track my flights: I’m at 171 airports so far on 46 different airlines.

  7. Scott says:

    By the way, if you get bumped from a connecting flight to a nonstop flight, you can call the airline afterwards to get the extra mileage credit you would have earned. They call it ORC (original routing credit).

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