The Busiest, Yet Least Connected, Airports in the United States

Previously, I looked at which metro areas in the United States are the most connected to the rest of the states via nonstop flights. Chicago took top honors. You can fly nonstop to 48 of the 50 states from Chicagoland.

Today I'd planned to focus on the least connected locations, but almost immediately I realized that's not reasonable. There are literally thousands of airports in the US, many of which don't offer commercial service. Of the ones that do offer commercial flights, you're not interested in seeing a list of 400+ municipal and regional airports in tiny towns you've never heard of that only fly to a single state. Instead, I'm going to focus on commercial airports that are the busiest in their state yet fly nonstop to a surprisingly small number of other states. 

Let's take another look at Fargo, North Dakota. I found it notable for being the only airport I've visited that shuts down security between flights. Yet Fargo (FAR) is the busiest airport in North Dakota, serving the most populated city (131,000) in the state. It has nonstop flights to only 8 states. The busiest airport in New Hampshire, Manchester (MHT), also flies to 8 states. What about tiny Rhode Island, our smallest state? The airport in Providence (PVD), which is only an hour from Boston Logan (BOS) airport, flies to a whopping 19 states! That really surprised me. 

Let's head west. Wyoming is really interesting. The most populated city is the capital, Cheyenne (CYS), with a population of 63,000. Their airport flies to exactly ONE destination (a 57-minute flight to Denver). But Cheyenne is not Wyoming's busiest airport. That honor goes to Jackson Hole (JAC), located within Grand Teton National Park and close to Yellowstone. There are nonstop flights to 10 states in the summer. 

It jumps to 12 in the winter. I would have expected the opposite - more tourists coming to the national parks in the summertime. Instead, it looks like it's Wyomingites heading to (mostly) warmer climates. (Note that Minnesota is a summer option only and Arizona and Florida are winter options only). 

Twelve seems to be a fairly common number for mid-size cities. There are nonstop flights to 12 states from Little Rock (LIT) and Boise (BOI), the capitals of Arkansas and Idaho respectively. Wichita (ICT) is the most populated city (389,000) in Kansas and has nonstop flights to 12 states as well. Same with Birmingham (BHM). It's the busiest airport in Alabama with nonstop flights to 12 states. 

When I was trying to find the most connected locations, the states that were most often missing off the list of nonstop flights were Mississippi, West Virginia, and Delaware. Let's look at those. Jackson-Medgar Evers (JAN) is the busiest airport in the state of Mississippi. We flew home from Jackson on New Year's Day 2020 (unaware that we wouldn't be flying much for the next 2 years) via Houston, because there weren't any nonstop flights to California. It definitely was a small airport, but didn't seem as small to me as Fargo. Yet it has nonstop flights to only 6 states. 

Yeager International Airport (CRW) is West Virginia's busiest airport, located in the state capital of Charleston. It has nonstop flights to 7 cities in 6 states, which include: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Illinois, and Virginia. Fun Fact: As of July 2021, the airport's full name is West Virginia International Yeager Airport. They changed the name following the completion of the U.S. Customs Building in the General Aviation portion of the airport, yet there are no commercial international flights in or out of Yeager. 

Finally, Delaware. Delaware's busiest commercial airport is Wilmington (ILG), which currently has scheduled flights to exactly one state - Florida. It makes a lot more sense to drive the 25 miles from the Wilmington airport to Philadelphia (PHL), which offers nonstop service to 36 states. Even those who live in the southermost part of Delaware are better off driving 90 miles to Philadelphia, or a little bit farther to Baltimore, than flying from their home state. 

Time to update my map!

Delawareans have the least options for flying nonstop to other states from their home state, but they are close to major airports in other states. Even though they each have nonstop flights to six states, people in many parts of Mississippi and West Virginia live farther away from a major airport. And then we're back to Fargo. It is 254 miles to Minneapolis, the closest major airport. That's not a reasonable drive just to take a nonstop flight. 

I realize that I may be alone in how much I loathe layovers. I will go far out of my way, or pay significantly more money, to fly nonstop to a destination rather than deal with a layover. In some cases, I've actually chosen my destination based on nonstop flight options. While I wish I had as many options as the Chicagoans do, I'm glad to be as well-connected as we are. Visiting all 50 states would have been a lot more challenging (or at least more time-consuming) without the many options we had to fly nonstop to other states. 

Even though it was a lot of work, I really enjoyed doing this research. I learned so much about airports and air travel in the process. So much, in fact, that I'm working on a post dedicated to some of what I learned. I expect that to run next week. 

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