A Guide to Airports in the Western United States

Denver International Airport

Blaine Harrington III/Getty Images

The major airports in the Western United States are not only useful for domestic flights, but many of them also serve as the country's gateway to Asia. There are also nonstop routes to Europe and South America.

Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ)

A Cessna Caravan operated by New Mexico Airlines taxis to the runway at Albuquerque International Sunport.
Robert Alexander/Getty Images
  • Location: Albuquerque, NM
  • Pros: Small size means it's easy to navigate
  • Cons: Only one international flight (to Mexico)
  • Distance to Old Town Albuquerque: A 10-minute taxi will cost about $20. There's also a public bus that will take 40 minutes and only costs $1.

Albuquerque International Sunport is a medium-sized international airport, but it's the busiest in New Mexico—it handles around five million passengers each year. Given its small size, it's easy to navigate, though the lines can get long during peak hours. Eight major airlines fly here: Alaska, Allegiant, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, United, and Volaris, which offer direct flights to 23 cities. Two smaller airlines, Advanced Air and Boutique Air, also service ABQ. For international routes, drive north to Denver or southwest to Phoenix, or take a flight with a layover.

Denver International Airport (DEN)

Denver International Airport
Robert Alexander / Contributor /Getty Images
  • Location: Northwest Denver, CO
  • Pros: Offers more than 200 nonstop routes on 20+ airlines
  • Cons: Can get really crowded
  • Distance to LoDo (Lower Downtown) Denver: A 30-minute taxi ride will cost a flat rate of $56.03. You can also take the A Line commuter train, which takes 37 minutes and costs $10.50.

Denver International Airport is the largest by area in North America (52.4 square miles) and the fifth busiest in the United States (serving 64.5 million passengers in 2018). It has more than 200 nonstop routes across the Americas, Asia, and Europe, and it's serviced by more than 20 airlines. It's a hub for United and Frontier. Though the airport is about a 30-minute drive from downtown Denver, it's conveniently connected via a train that runs 24 hours a day.

Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS)

Slot machines at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport
Benet J. Wilson
  • Location: Paradise, NV
  • Pros: It's practically located on the Las Vegas Strip
  • Cons: It's overcrowded and the facilities aren't stellar
  • Distance to the Las Vegas Strip: A taxi takes approximately 10 minutes and costs around $15. There are public buses, too—a ride can take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, and a two-hour bus pass costs $6.

If you fly into McCarran, you'll waste no time getting right to the heart of the Las Vegas action: you can play slot machines right in the airport. But you're also adjacent to the Strip, so you can launch right into your trip with ease. And that's for the best, as you probably don't want to spend a ton of time at the airport—it can get overcrowded (nearly 51.5 million passengers traveled through in 2019), and the facilities aren't as modern as some other terminals across the West. But the good news is there's a massive offering when it comes to flights. More than 15 airlines serve the airport, flying nonstop to dozens of cities across the Americas, Asia, and Europe.

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

The Villaraigosa Pavilion in the Tom Bradley International Terminal in Los Angeles International Airport.
Benet J. Wilson
  • Location: Westchester, CA
  • Pros: Practically limitless flight options
  • Cons: It's beyond crowded and it's very poorly designed; traffic to get in is always terrible
  • Distance to Downtown L.A.: A 25-minute taxi ride charges a flat rate of $46.50. You can also take a $10 shuttle bus.

Los Angeles International Airport, located in Westchester near Marina del Ray, is the busiest airport in California and the second busiest in the United States, serving 84.5 million passengers in 2019. As such, it has a great breadth of flight options, with more than 70 airlines flying nonstop to some 200 destinations across the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia, and Europe. While it's a great airport in terms of its routes, the infrastructure is rough—the majority of LAX's nine terminals are not connected on the airside, meaning you'll have to go through security if you're changing terminals here.

Some terminals are quite outdated with confusing signage and a lack of amenities, while others, including the Tom Bradley International Terminal, are much more modern and offer top dining and shopping experiences. The airport is also currently under construction as of January 2021, which has caused extensive traffic delays (it can take over an hour just to drive the loop through the airport).

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)

A baggage claim area at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Benet J. Wilson
  • Location: West Phoenix, AZ
  • Pros: Hub for American Airlines
  • Cons: Overcrowded
  • Distance to Downtown Phoenix: It's just a 10-minute drive to downtown Phoenix—a taxi from VIP Taxi will cost a flat-rate of $17. There is a range of public transportation options including buses and trains that will take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. A single ride ticket is $2.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport sits between Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe. As a hub for American Airlines, there's great domestic access—there are nonstop flights to more than 100 destinations across the U.S. But 19 other airlines serve the airport, some of which fly to 23 international destinations, primarily in Canada and Mexico. In 2019, nearly 46.3 million people flew through PHX, and its three terminals are not quite suited for such heavy traffic. Ongoing renovations as of January 2021 are upgrading the terminals, however, so some areas are far more modern and spacious than others.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

A sign is posted in front of the new Yoga Room at San Francisco International Airport's terminal two
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images
  • Location: South San Francisco, CA
  • Pros: Wide range of flights, with many routes to Asia
  • Cons: There can be delays due to fog.
  • Distance to Downtown San Francisco: A 30-minute taxi will cost about $50. You can also take the train, which will take the same amount of time but will cost only about $10.

Serving 57.6 million passengers in 2019, San Francisco International Airport is a major airport that's a popular gateway to Asia, with a strong domestic holding, too—there are 47 airlines that connect SFO with over 100 destinations. Though it's a busy airport, it's generally well-run, with great local food offerings, clear signage, and modern terminals. The only downside to SFO is the city's famous fog, which often creates delays.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)

A painted window in Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Curtis + Renee/Flickr
  • Location: SeaTac, Washington (between Seattle and Tacoma)
  • Pros: Great service to Asia and Europe
  • Cons: Concourses and terminals are not made equal, and some are quite abysmal.
  • Distance to Downtown Seattle: Some taxi companies offer flat rates from SeaTac to downtown—the ride takes about 25 minutes. There's also a light rail that takes about 40 minutes and costs around $3.

As a hub for Alaska and Delta, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, also known as SeaTac, served over 51 million passengers in 2019. But a total of 31 airlines fly into the airport, offering 119 nonstop routes across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, plus destinations in Asia and Europe. The airport is undergoing renovations, which will provide sorely needed upgrades to the terminals—in some areas, dining and shopping options are extremely limited, and the infrastructure is outdated.

Portland International Airport (PDX)

A terminal at Portland International Airport.
Dileep Eduri/Flickr
  • Location: Northeast Portland, OR
  • Pros: Well laid-out, great connection to downtown
  • Cons: Limited international flights
  • Distance to Downtown Portland: A 20-minute taxi will cost about $35, or you can take a 50-minute MAX Light Rail ride for $2.50.

Almost 20 million passengers flew through Portland International Airport in 2019, making it the busiest airport in the state of Oregon. Despite having quite a large passenger count, the airport is efficiently run and therefore ranked highly by frequent flyers, who appreciate the modern facilities and range of amenities. Most routes flown by the airport's 16 airlines are to the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, though there are some nonstop flights to Europe and Asia, too.

Oakland International Airport (OAK)

Oakland International Airport
 Weegee010/Wikimedia Commons
  • Location: South Oakland, CA
  • Pros: Less crowded than SFO; budget airlines offer great prices
  • Cons: Not many international routes
  • Distance to downtown San Francisco: A 30-minute taxi will cost about $60. A 40-minute train ride on the BART costs about $10.

While Oakland itself is becoming more of a destination in its own right, the airport is located just 25 miles west of San Francisco, making it a great alternative to SFO. A number of budget airlines fly here, which means you might be able to find a good deal on airfare, even to international destinations. All in all, 10 airlines fly to more than 50 destinations, the majority of which are in the U.S. and Mexico, serving over 13 million passengers in 2019. The airport also doesn't suffer the same fog-related delays as SFO, so it has a far better on-time percentage. It's also well-connected to the region via BART.

Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)

Salt Lake City Airport
 JayLazarin/Getty Images
  • Location: Northwest Salt Lake City, UT
  • Pros: Delta hub
  • Cons: Limited international routes
  • Distance to Downtown Salt Lake City: A 10-minute taxi costs a flat rate of $25. You can take a bus or the light rail to downtown for a cost of $2.50—the ride will take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes.

Salt Lake City International Airport served more than 25.5 million passengers in 2018, flying to 98 nonstop destinations, including a few cities in Europe, on eight different airlines. The airport is a hub for Delta, meaning there's great domestic access, too. As of January 2021, it's undergoing a multi-billion redevelopment program to include a new parking garage, new terminal, and two new concourses.

San Diego International Airport (SAN)

San Diego International Airport
ianmcdonnell /Getty Images
  • Location: Northeast San Diego, CA
  • Pros: Very convenient to downtown; easy to navigate
  • Cons: Some outdated facilities; limited international flights
  • Distance to Gaslamp Quarter: It's just a 10-minute taxi ride downtown, which will cost about $15. There's also a public bus, which takes just 15 minutes and costs $2.25.

This Southern California airport served 25 million passengers in 2019, flying to 60 destinations around the world on 17 airlines, though the majority of its routes are to the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. There are a handful of nonstop flights to Europe and Asia. The airport has just one runway (it's the busiest single-runway airport in the U.S.) which is extremely close to San Diego's skyscrapers, meaning pilots have a very steep approach. Thus, SAN has developed a reputation for having one of the most difficult runways to land on in the U.S.

Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport (SJC)

The exterior of San Jose International Airport.
Hensel Phelps
  • Location: Northwest San Jose, CA
  • Pros: Less crowded than SFO; easy access to Silicon Valley; good international routes
  • Cons: Quite far from San Francisco
  • Distance to Downtown San Francisco: A 45-minute taxi can run as high as $100. Public transportation options to San Francisco aren't ideal, as it'll take well over an hour minutes to get downtown (without traffic), though fares are far cheaper than taxis.

Mineta San José International, located 65 miles south of San Francisco, is another Bay Area airport that primarily serves Silicon Valley. The airport is a focus city for Alaska, Delta, and Southwest, offering quite a few domestic routes. But there are also nonstop routes to Asia and Europe, plus Canada and Mexico. In 2019, 15.7 million passengers traveled through SJC.

Article Sources
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