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How to choose airports for arrival and departures

Hi all. As I've started to travel more and gain confidence, I recognize that one thing I still struggle with is understanding which airports to fly into and out of. I live in the Washington area, so I'm near BWI, Reagan and IAD. When I start researching flights with google flights, I usually put in Washington as my departure airport since it defaults to those three, then start looking at airports in the general area of where I want to go, but I feel like there must be a better way to do it. For instance, I'm now thinking of a trip to the Baltic region in the fall. I have no idea which airports to put in as my destination so I start trying out different options, but I find it's easy to suddenly realize I've been on the computer for hours researching airports and potential travel itineraries based on my destination airports. Then when I consider that multi city airports probably makes more sense, it gets overwhelming.

Occasionally I've seen people giving advice on which airports to use depending on where someone is coming from or going to which makes me think many (most?) of you understand how to choose airports better than I do. I guess this is my plea for help, both in general and specifically for a trip to the Baltic region. As always, I appreciate any guidance you can offer.

Posted by
6670 posts

From Washington there are direct flights to Copenhagen with SAS. If you want more specific advice you have to be a bit more specific than "Baltic region".

Posted by
538 posts

If you want more specific advice you have to be a bit more specific than "Baltic region".

Thanks for the response. I'm actually just starting to think about this trip, so I can't really be specific yet. So far it looks like Tallinn, Vilnius and Riga are probably good bases, and from what I've read, it's possible to go between cities by train and/or bus, but that's about as far as I've gotten. I usually plan further in advance (I've already got a trip to London in December and I'm thinking about visiting the Puglia region of Italy in March/April), so I may need to push this trip back if things don't fall into place for the fall, but my initial research made me realize I don't understand as much as I should about choosing airports, which is what prompted my request for help.

Posted by
2522 posts

Since you haven't yet decided where to go, another approach could be to use the Google Flights search - put in "Washington" for your departure airport (that gets all 3 airports) and "Europe" as your destination and hit search. That will give you a map showing flight prices to a variety of major cities which could potentially help narrow options down. I think it defaults to a one week trip in the near future, but you can adjust the dates to specific dates or for a date range. For example I selected a two week trip in October and it shows options for round trip flights to Tallinn ($463), Vilnius ($436), Riga ($446), Helsinki ($407). BTW it may not seem like it, but having three major departure airports to choose from is a problem I would love to have, at least from this west coast traveler with basically one big airport option. Best of luck making a decision!

PS you might check out some of the trip report section for ideas, several people have traveled to the Baltic region in the past year or so.

Posted by
4689 posts

I can relate because I live in the DC area. Here is how I look at it: I live in Arlington and so it would take an exceptional deal or confluence of events for me to fly out of BWI--I just don't want to add that trek to the start or end of my trip. So, when traveling internationally, I almost always enter IAD for the search because Dulles is an easy cab ride for me. Since in most cases when flying to Europe I will have a connecting flight, I prefer to have any layover overseas (not at JFK for example). So that mostly (but not always) precludes flying out of Reagan, which I live ten minutes from and frequently take domestic flights out of. There are rare exceptions, for example when I went to Brazil I of course flew Reagan to Miami. I think a couple of other times I have been able to fly home to Reagan, but it's just nice if it happens and I rarely expect it.
So, it depends on where you live and your flying preferences, but for most international flights, I think one of the big intl airports would be your best bet--and definitely for a direct flight, which you can't do to Reagan. If you are equidistant to BWI and Dulles, no reason to not try both, but I would do individual searches to avoid confusion.
Another tip is that you can go to the airport websites and see a list of all airlines that base there, but I tend to just go to Google Flights these days (and then buy direct from the airline).

Posted by
8245 posts

I go to Wikipedia and enter the name of my destination's airport. Then I go to the list of airlines and where they fly to/from non-stop. If there are numerous airports within close distance of home, That's where I start investigating airfares, etc. on Google Flights or Matrix ITA.

What's important to me is the times of arrival at the other end. For example, I avoid flying into a city at 6:00 a.m. because it's mid afternoon before I can get into my hotel. I also look at the time the trip takes as I'm looking at 8 to 10 hours to Europe--on both coming and going. I don't cherish sitting in some connecting airport for hours when I can find a non-stop. I also don't want too short of a time in a connecting airport either--prefer 1.5 to 2 hours. I also find multi-airport/open jaw flights to be cheaper than back tracking going into one airport and flying home from another.

For flying into Scandinavia, I prefer going into Copenhagen. I've also flown home from Oslo a couple of times without incident. With the demise of Norwegian Air Shuttle, the ultra budget airfares are no longer available to the region.

Posted by
932 posts

Google flights is your best friend...there is a learning curve to get the most out of it, but it is exactly what you need.

Posted by
23472 posts

I am always surprise as to what is important to people. The last thing I look at is airports in Europe. My chief concern is schedule and price. All I want is the most convenient airport. Every the worst of airports just means extra time and that is not significant to me. There are a couple of US airports I try to avoid most European airport work pretty well. And most of our tickets are open jaw/multi city and frequently we do not have a return ticket when we land so the return airport is always up in the air. I really don't think airports are that important -- but that is just us.

Posted by
5137 posts

I don't think it would even occur to me to look for airports and flights before I'd settled on where I was going, for how long, and whether or not I needed a multicity or return ticket. Seems like that's putting the cart before the horse. Once I've got an itinerary, then I use Google Flights for the choices of direct flights. Or easiest connecting flights if absolutely necessary.

Posted by
538 posts

Thanks for the replies everyone, they were helpful.

I suppose I should try to clarify a bit. When I was planning my first solo overseas trip and asking tons of questions, it was suggested that I should also look at departing from perhaps Philadelphia or Newark or other airports. I don't actually remember the reason, and I ended up using IAD, but it's been in the back of my mind. For example, for the trip I'm planning to Puglia, I'll most likely fly into Rome and take the train since I can get a direct flight and not worry with a layover and I know the train route is doable, but what if someone didn't know those things? How would one find out if the airport in Bari was a direct flight from some other airport not so far from home, making it a worthy consideration? Or how would you know if going to Rome and taking a train was better than going to Naples and taking a train from there?

Anyway, I like the idea of checking to see what airlines fly into what airports. For round trip, I find google flights is helpful for finding a decent price with their grid, but I don't know how to use that for a multi city trip, and sometimes (again, with round trip), tickets can be significantly higher or lower just by changing a few days on the calendar. I understand that some people don't have that flexibility, but I fortunately do.

Posted by
4689 posts

You just have to do the legwork--direct flights are fairly rare, even from a major market like DC. I still sometimes google "airports and X" to give me a visual aid when planning, but luckily you can select "nearby airports" on some sites. I believe on Kayak you can still see the table for flexible dates with multi-city searches, but I may be recollecting wrong.

PS Google Maps is one of my most used tools for all types of transport research--looking at your Naples v Rome query about onward travel, you can get your answers in seconds.

PS For your Puglia trip (to Bari or Brindisi), check also Lufthansa out of Dulles (possibly codeshare with United), as if you were not otherwise planning on spending time in Rome, that might save you time and/or money. It's just a brief layover in Germany (though I prefer Munich over Frankfurt for layovers, based on multiple experiences). That's how I got there twice, and it would be preferable to me over flying into Rome and taking the train (again, unless you otherwise had time to spend there).

Posted by
23472 posts

Not sure I responded appropriately to your first question since most of us only have access to one departure airport and I thought you were trying to determine your destination airport. You are fortunate to have choice but still I would look at convenience, schedule and cost for choosing an airport.

Posted by
5688 posts

How would one find out if the airport in Bari was a direct flight from some other airport not so far from home

I often look at the airport wiki page which will show a list of airlines and destinations. For example, here is the one for Bari
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bari_Karol_Wojtyła_Airport

You’ll notice there are no flights from the U.S.

I know wiki is not definitive, but it a fast way of seeing a pretty complete list of the cities and airports you might be able to use to get to or from a particular city. You can then further narrow your search either on an airline site or something like googleflights.

Posted by
18832 posts

I go to Wikipedia and enter the name of my destination's airport. Then
I go to the list of airlines and where they fly to/from non-stop. If
there are numerous airports within close distance of home, That's
where I start investigating airfares, etc. on Google Flights or Matrix
ITA.

David, someone may have already said this. But on Google Flights you can put in IAD (for instance) to Europe one way. Then choose non-stop or one stop or whatever you want. Sometimes the airlines dont fly the same route every day so you have to change the dates to see what changes. Nice to check it with up to one change because that can save hundreds sometimes.

Posted by
538 posts

I just hope you all know how much I appreciate your knowledge and your willingness to share. Sometimes what seems obvious to people here doesn't even occur to me. This is very helpful. Now I just have to find the time to sit down and do some more research so I can hopefully make a plan. Thank you!