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Traveling during the holidays is a classic hassle. But trains and automobiles are no match for the endless torture that flying can entail. Everyone wants to be with their family during the holiday season, but when you think of the overcrowded airports and long delays, you might catch yourself wondering if it’s worth the emotional pain. But maybe the problem is not flying itself – it’s just the big airports. Trying out a small airline this holiday season could make your travel experience a lot smoother.

The Downside of the Big Airline

Chicago O’Hare airport is the primary airport for the Chicago area, and it was the world’s busiest airport until 1998. With so many planes and travelers utilizing the facility, you would think that the airport would be able to stay on top of its numerous national and international flights. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Last winter, 42% of all flights from Chicago O’Hare were delayed. That’s nearly half of their total flights – and while it may seem easy to point a finger at O’Hare for its terrible customer service in this regard, it is sadly not that remarkable. 37% of flights at both Denver International and Newark Liberty International were delayed last winter, with Fort Lauderdale edging them both out with its 38% delays.

Apparently, size is no guarantee of organization, or a satisfying experience. Salt Lake City International was the most punctual airport according to data, but then again most people are not flying in or out of Utah during the holiday season. And even if your flight is not delayed, your time at the airport is still in danger of being wasted. Last Monday the security line at Midway Airport in Chicago was an astonishing 1.2 miles long. Even more remarkable was that the airport spokesperson was reportedly confused by the scene, which saw the end of the line reach outside of the airport. One Thanksgiving holiday flyer reported that it was taking 75 minutes to get through the security line.

Small Airline Alternatives to Consider

The good news is, there is an alternative. Sure, if you are going across the country you might have to use a bigger airport that employs long-reaching airlines. But for shorter flights, you can use a smaller airline to get you where you need to go. Smaller airlines mean that there isn’t a huge company trying to squeeze passengers in together like sardines, so you actually get legroom when you ride with Porter Airlines, based in Toronto. Porter also offers free Wifi and espresso, with a complimentary glass of white wine and airplane pastry food you actually want to eat.

Unlike Midway, the security line at Tradewind Aviation in Oxford, Connecticut, never reaches anywhere near the mile-mark. Their private charter experience means you only need to set aside 20 minutes to get through security – not 75 – because you are actually skipping the TSA lines. And it isn’t only the major companies that offer frequent flier miles. Alaska Airlines has its own frequent flyer program, in addition to a personal USB outlet for your seat, so you can plug in on your way down the West Coast or on your journey to the Midwest. Even Cape Air has small-time perks, although its reach extends to 44 cities. Cape Air is your way to the Caribbean, isolated towns in Maine, or even Cape Cod. If you are lucky enough to book a seat on one of their smaller planes, chances are the pilot will let one passenger ride shotgun – so don’t forget your camera for that incredible view.

    The Ten Busiest Airports in America, and Smaller Alternatives

    1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)

    Alternative: Fulton County Airport, Atlanta, Georgia

    2. O'Hare International Airport (ORD)

    Alternative: Chicago Rockford International Airport, 68 miles NW of Chicago in Rockford, Illinois

    3. Los Angeles International Airport

    Alternative: Long Beach Airport, Long Beach, CA

    4. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

    Alternative: Waco Regional Airport, Waco, TX

    5. Denver International Airport

    Alternative: Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, Broomfield, Colorado

    6. John F. Kennedy International Airport

    Alternative: MacArthur Airport, Islip, NY

    7. San Francisco International Airport

    Alternative: John Wayne Airport, Santa Ana, California

    8. McCarran International Airport

    Alternative: North Las Vegas Airport, North Las Vegas, Nevada

    9. Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport

    Alternative: Phoenix Deer Valley Airport, Phoenix, Arizona

    10. George Bush Intercontinental Airport

    Alternative: William P. Hobby Airport, Houston, Texas

    The Ten Largest Airlines in North America:

    1. American

    2. Delta Air

    3. United

    4. Southwest

    5. Spirit

    6. JetBlue

    7. Allegiant

    8. Frontier

    9. Virgin

    10. West Jet

    Ten Great Smaller Alternatives:

    1. OpenSkies

    2. Air Transat

    3. Cape Air

    4. Go! Airlines

    5. Porter

    6. New England Airlines

    7. Interjet

    8. Sun Country

    9. Direct Air

    10. USA3000

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