The Destination: Chicago
Chicago Midway Airport Drive time to downtown: Twenty-five minutes without traffic. Taxi $25. Trains take 30 minutes and cost just $1.50. Airlines: Fifteen, including Southwest and ATA. Fares: O'Hare's fares have dropped recently, making Midway's comparable on many routes. Pros: A new terminal has finally brought Midway up to the standard of most airports—with an appropriate number of check-in counters and baggage-claim areas. Cons: Construction is under way on the final phase of the redo, so some airlines still use old gates. Four carriers stopped service in 2001, including America West, reducing flight options. The verdict: A good alternative to O'Hare, which routinely has some of the worst delays in the country.
The Destination: Boston
T. F. Green Airport (Providence, R.I.) Drive time to downtown: One hour without traffic (beware of the morning rush into the city). The easiest and least expensive transportation option to Boston is the bus, which leaves directly from the airport ($19). Airlines: Nine, most of which fly here through major hubs or from other East Coast cities. Fares: Consistently more expensive than Logan. Pros: An attractive, light-filled terminal. Quicker access to Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket than driving from Boston. Cons: Few direct flights. Delays are comparable to Logan's. The verdict: Unless you can get a direct flight on Southwest or another competitively priced airline, it's not really worth it.
Manchester Airport (New Hampshire) Drive time to downtown: One hour without traffic. $60 for car service, or you can take a bus for about $24 ($10 plus $14 taxi from the airport to the bus terminal). Airlines: Twelve, including Southwest, which flies direct to Orlando and Baltimore. Fares: More expensive than Logan on many routes. Pros: No lines—you'll never need to arrive more than an hour before departure. Just as far from the city as Worcester, another touted alternative to Logan, but with better flight options. Good track record on delays. Cons: Nonstops limited mostly to East Coast cities. The verdict: Layovers and the long drive mean you probably won't save time over flying into Boston, even factoring in Logan's delays. But if you're headed to New Hampshire, Vermont, or western Massachusetts, it's worth a look.
The Destination: New York City
Islip Long Island MacArthur Airport Drive time to downtown: One and a half hours, without traffic. Bus $25. Or take the Long Island Rail Road to Penn Station (1 hour and 25 minutes; $11.50). Airlines: With a few exceptions (notably Southwest), mostly carriers making short hops to cities in the Northeast. Fares: Typically, more expensive than the major New York airports, unless you're flying Southwest. Pros: No lines, no hassles. Cons: Few amenities. And the drive could be longer than your flight. The verdict: Unless you're Hamptons-bound, too far from the city.
The Destination: Washington, D.C.
Baltimore Washington International Airport Drive time to downtown: An hour in typical traffic—avoid the morning rush into D.C. at all costs. Taxi $55. A bus to the Metro station, for trains into D.C., runs every 40 minutes ($2). Airlines: All the majors, including international and low-fare carriers, and enough routes to get you across the country without a layover. Southwest just launched its first transcontinental route from Baltimore to LAX. Fares: Some good deals. We found a flight to Seattle for 30 percent less than from Reagan National. Pros: The fares, plus what may be the best security in the country—this was the first major airport to be federalized by the Transportation Security Administration. Cons: Relatively far from the city, and more delays than National or Dulles. The verdict: Worth it if you're not pressed for time.
The Destination: Miami
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport Drive time to downtown: Forty minutes at off-peak times. Beware of arriving in the morning or departing in the evening—you could spend more than an hour en route. Taxi $50. Airlines: All the majors, including low-fare carriers such as JetBlue. Fares: Many great deals, such as $195 nonstop to Los Angeles, compared with $424 out of Miami International. Pros: Clean and efficient terminal. Cons: See "drive time." Flight delays are comparable to those at Miami. The verdict: Good for price-conscious vacationers, less advantageous for time-challenged business travelers.